Upgraded Early Warning Radars (UEWR)

- , December 2018

Quick Facts

Mobility Stationary
Role Provide detection and tracking of ballistic missiles and interceptors, and classification of space objects
Frequency Ultra High Frequency
Range Up to 3,000 miles
Status 3 operational, 2 undergoing upgrades
Producer Raytheon Co.


The United States has several Upgraded Early Warning Radars (UEWR) at bases around the world and is in the processes of upgrading other early warning radars to ensure they are integrated into the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) and able provide the system with critical early warning, tracking, object classification and cueing data. The three UEWRs at Thule AB, Greenland; Beale AFB, California; and RAF Fylingdales, United Kingdom are solid-state, phased-array, all-weather, long-range radars that are designed to provide a variety of data for the BMDS. The expertise of the UEWR includes providing integrated tactical warning and attack assessment to the National Command Authority, supporting the Space Surveillance Network by classifying reentry vehicles and other space objects, and providing BMDS midcourse coverage by detecting sea-launched or intercontinental ballistic missiles, sharing real-time information with BMDS command and control nodes, tracking interceptors while they are in flight, and providing ballistic missile threat tracking data before and after interceptor launch.[i]While the UEWRs each vary slightly in their design they all have the above abilities and are able to detect objects up to 3000 miles away and operate in the Ultra High Frequency Band.

The UEWRs are strategically located at bases around the United States and at allied bases. The positioning of these radars are designed to provide the U.S. with complete coverage and allow for early warning detection of any incoming ballistic missile threat regardless of the point of origin.


Thule Air Base, Greenland (Denmark)

The Thule Ballistic Missile Early Warning Radar System (Thule BMEWR) is located at Thule Air Base in northwestern Greenland. Thule AB is the northernmost installation of the U.S. Department of Defense and is 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and 947 miles south of the North Pole.[ii]Positioned between Europe and North America, Thule AB is in a strategic location to monitor and track ground-launched ballistic missile threats on trajectories over the North Pole from countries such as Russia or North Korea, and submarine-launched missiles from the Arctic and North Atlantic Oceans. The Thule BMEWR is a 2-faced phased array radar and is operated by the 12th Space Warning Squadron. In December of 2016, the Air Force awarded Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems a $40 million contract to modify the Upgraded Early Warning Radar station on Thule Air Base.


  • May 2017: The Thule station will undergo software and hardware improvements, replacing aging processors and delivering cyber security updates. Processor and software modifications to reduce the amount of equipment required to operate the radar, which reduces energy consumption and sustainment costs over the long-term. The Air Force plans to complete all current modifications by 2020.[iii]
  • March 2011: U.S. defense contractor, Raytheon, completed all system requirements and testing of the UEWR system.[iv]
  • March 2008: The construction phase of the UEWR was completed at Thule AB.
  • April 2006: The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) awarded Raytheon the contract for the UEWR at Thule.
  • May 2004: Denmark agreed to allow the Thule radar to be upgraded to the UEWR.
  • June 1987: The old 12 SWS radar was upgraded to a solid-state, phased-array system making operation more efficient and effective.[v]
  • 1960: A 12 SWS radar system was constructed at Thule AB and integrated into the larger Ballistic Missile Early Warning Radar (BMEWR) network.
  • 1951-1953: Thule AB was built under the code name Operation Blue Jay and was completed in 1953 serving as a NATO listening post during the Cold War.

RAF Fylingdales, United Kingdom

The Fylingdales Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (Fylingdales BMEWS) is located at the Royal Air Force Fylingdales in the United Kingdom. The Fylingdales Solid State Phased Array (SSPAR) has three faces and uses changes in electrical phase to steer the radar beam and continually search out to 3,000 miles for incoming objects or missiles. The Fylingdales BMEWS is designed to detect and track ballistic missiles headed towards the United States mainland and United Kingdom from the Middle/Near East.


  • 2007: The UEWR underwent testing and acceptance, following upgrades.
  • 2003: Following an agreement with the British, the U.S. made upgrades to the SSPAR to improve the radar’s missile tracking capabilities.
  • 1988/1989: U.S. contractor, Raytheon, and U.K contractor, John Laing Ltd, were awarded contracts for the radar and buildings for the new radar system.[vi]
  • May 22, 1986: The U.S. and the U.S. announced an agreement to modernize the old mechanical radar system into a new phased array radar system.
  • 1963: RAF Fylingdales was first declared operational as one of 3 radar sites in the BMEWS to provide radar coverage for the East coast of the United States and the United Kingdom.

Clear Air Force Station, Alaska

The Clear AFS Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) is one of the three original BMEWS sites. The radar system is operated by the 13th Space Warning Squadron and detects, tracks, and identifies over 9,500 man-made objects orbiting the Earth. The radar also provides total coverage of the North American continent in the event of ground-based or sea-launched ballistic missile attack. Since FY12, the Solid-State Phased Array Radar System (SSPARS) has been one of two radar systems undergoing upgrades to further integrate it into the BMDS, and these upgrades are expected to be completed in FY16. The upgrade will allow a missile defense mission to the radars’ core capabilities of missile warning and space surveillance, without requiring significant additional construction or an increase in manning at the sites.[vii]


  • 2016: The UEWR is due to be completed and operational during FY16.
  • September 2012: Raytheon was awarded a $125.3m contract by MDA and USAF to upgrade the EWR system.[viii]
  • 1981: The radar at Clear AFS was upgraded to a AN/FPS-123 Solid-State Phased Array Radar System.
  • September 1961: The radar deployed as part of the BMEWS achieved full operational capability.

Beale Air Force Base, California

The early warning radar at Beale Air Force Base has been part of the United States BMEWS since 1979 when the 7th Missile Warning Squadron brought the Phased Array Warning System (PAVE PAWS) Radar site to Beale.[ix]Since 1979, the radar site has undergone hardware and software upgrades to its electronic and computer systems. The Beale AFB BMEWS has two faces and is designed to detect and track land and sea-launched ballistic missiles headed towards the United States mainland from the Pacific.

Cape Cod Air Force Station, Massachusetts

The PAVE PAWS early warning radar at Cape Cod AFS was activated in 1980 and is operated by the 6th Space Warning Squadron. The radar site is designed to guard North America’s East Coast against sea-launched and intercontinental ballistic missiles, with a secondary mission of tracking Earth-orbiting objects such as the International Space Station, the Space Shuttle, any object that deviates from its known orbit, or any new orbiting objects. Since FY13, the Cape Code AFS radar site has been undergoing upgrades and is set to be competed in 2017. The upgrade to Cape Cod also adds a missile defense mission to the radars’ core capabilities of missile warning and space surveillance, without requiring significant additional construction or an increase in manning at the sites.[x]

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