116th ACS acquires new Radome Assembly

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Steven Wilcox and Senior Master Sgt. William Payne
  • 142nd Wing / 116th Air Control Squadron

The 116th Air Control Squadron (ACS), located at Camp Rilea in Warrenton, Oregon, received an early Christmas gift-- a radar radome assembly! The radome is a domed structure made to house the ACS’s mission-critical equipment. Installation was completed on December 13, 2021. A week later, the ACS radar shop craned their AN/TPS-75 antenna array, a tactical transportable long-range air surveillance radar, the center piece of the ACS mission, inside the structure.


The 116th ACS is a geographically separated unit of the Portland Air National Guard Base’s 142nd Wing. Since moving to Camp Rilea on the Oregon coast in the late 1980’s, the 116th has been tasked to backfill multiple Federal Aviation Administration radar systems along the Pacific Northwest coast in addition to providing radar coverage in Jackson Hole, Wyoming after the events of 9/11, in support of Operation Noble Eagle.


The AN/TPS-75’s ability to mount onto a 5-ton truck and convoy to remote locations makes it a vital asset for Air Defense, Command and Control, and search and rescue missions across the Pacific Northwest as well as Combatant Commands around the world. Additionally, the 116th provides tactical command and control support to the 123d Fighter Squadron whenever the 142nd Wing’s aircraft fly training sorties in north coast air spaces. The newly constructed radome ensures long term viability of AN/TPS-75 radar until the Air Force fields a replacement, which is not programmed until fiscal year 2028 or later.


The ACS began its trek towards acquiring a radome back in 2015, when now retired Chief Master Sgt. Greg Bosin initiated several higher headquarter level requests in search of funding sources for the project. After many phone calls and brain storming sessions, he found success by way of the Air Force’s Small Business and Innovative Research Program (SBIR), which allows a streamlined contracting process managed by the Air Force Life Cycle Management at Hill Air Force Base (AFB).


The “streamlined” acquisition process took nearly five years to secure, then the pandemic delayed the manufacture and delivery several more months, but the end result was well worth the time and persistent efforts.


The ACS maintenance superintendent, Chief Master Sgt. Steve Wilcox remarked on the impact of this project.


I’m really excited to have our radar system under cover and protected from the elements. Not having to recall my radar personnel in from home to fold the antenna in the midst of sudden weather events and exposing them to 30+ mph wind gusts and sideways rain is a game changer.”  


Radome structures are not new and have been around for decades, however, the radome that the 116th acquired utilizes the latest in composite materials and manufacturing technology. Historically speaking, the biggest downside to radome structures is the long term maintenance costs, mainly due to materials delamination.


Ebert Composites, the company that made and installed the new radome, recently solved this delaminating issue by first developing robotic technology for inserting three dimensional fiber through sandwich structures in thermosets. Next, a permanent water repellent barrier was created by utilizing a fluoropolymer coated fabric made by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics. Ebert Composite’s solution provides the structural strength for the radome while the coated fabric repels water, which could otherwise cause serious degradation to radar signals.


An analysis from the early 2000s showed the Air Force could save more than $130 million over a 30-year period by mitigating the most pressing radome maintenance issues, according to David Lindquist, lead engineer for the tactical shelters, radomes and towers division of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Hill AFB.

In addition to the long-term cost savings associated with the new radome technologies, the 116th conducted an in-depth cost analysis of the TPS-75 radar system to determine the return on the $263,000 investment. Data from 2018 maintenance records indicated the unit expended just over $300,000 in non-fly Depot Level Repair funds to keep the radar system operational.

They further concluded the root cause in the majority of these parts failure was attributed to corrosion, caused by the harsh coastal conditions. Therefore, they estimated the radome cost would be returned within four short years. More importantly, the radome will extend the life cycle of the critical sensor system.

Capt. Daniel Hicks, the 116th assistant director of operations, summed it up this way: “The radome ensures the longevity of our radar – which ensures we stay in the fight!”