Replacing power components keeps USAF early warning radar online

USAF says its Program Executive Office Digital will save more than $2 million in energy costs annually by replacing radar Sub-Array Power Supplies, or SAPS, with more responsive and reliable models.

The 6th Space Warning Squadron, located at Cape Cod Air Force Station, Mass., operates a Pave PAWS early warning radar. This station, along with four others located throughout the Northern hemisphere, will undergo a power system upgrade orchestrated by Program Executive Office Digital at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass.
The 6th Space Warning Squadron, located at Cape Cod Air Force Station, Mass., operates a Pave PAWS early warning radar. This station, along with four others located throughout the Northern hemisphere, will undergo a power system upgrade orchestrated by Program Executive Office Digital at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass.
U.S. Air Force

By Benjamin Newell, 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Program Executive Office Digital will save more than $2 million in energy costs annually by replacing radar Sub-Array Power Supplies, or SAPS, with more responsive and reliable models.

Digital, which oversees both the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System and PAVE Phase Array Warning System, or BMEWS and PAVE PAWS radars, avoided ‘contract capture’ by working directly with the small business that produces the parts. 

“This contract is a story of cutting out the middle man,” said David Roy, the PEO Digital program manager at Hanscom Air Force Base, who oversees the replacement effort. “We could have worked with the prime contractor, and they could have subcontracted this effort out to the same vendor, but by taking this approach we are directly supporting a small business and getting products faster, and at lower cost.” 

Roy estimates the program will pay for itself through energy savings within 15 years. The U.S. Air Force will reap an additional $30 million in energy savings over the remaining life of this component. 

Each power supply provides several kilowatts of power to sensors on the radar faces, or about enough power to run dozens of desktop computers for one day. The five radars require hundreds of SAPS units, generating a potential total output of up to more than 5 megawatts per day. This maximum output isn’t always used, but is available on an as-needed basis to warfighters who must constantly scan the horizon for signs of expected and unexpected missile launches, as well as track space-borne objects. 

Savings on the project come from day-to-day use of these newer and more efficient SAPS units. Each SAPS is 28% more efficient than the legacy model and able to provide more consistent and ‘cleaner’ flow of power to the radar based on real-time need. The new design also improves maintenance by reducing repair time 50 percent, cutting the number of possible repair parts from 61 to four, and improving operational availability. 

According to acquisition documents, the selected vendor, Switching Power Inc., already provided 84 SAPS units in 2015 under a prime contractor maintenance and sustainment contract executed by the Harris Corporation. The current production contract is a firm-fixed price contract for Switching Power, with specific delivery orders for each site. The contractor will field a full complement of power supplies and spares to sustain each radar. 

The vendor expects each SAPS unit to last 30 years. The total cost of the contract is $58 million, and the program office projects completing fielding of the SAPS by the third quarter of 2025. 

BMEWS sites at Thule Air Base, Greenland; Clear Air Force Station, Alaska; and Royal Air Force Station Fylingdales, United Kingdom; as well as PAVE PAWS sites at Cape Cod Air Force Station, Massachusetts, and Beale Air Force Base, California, are all slated for SAPS replacements over the next six years.

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