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AN/TPQ-18 radar turns 50

  • Published
  • By Steve Daly
  • 30th Range Management Squadron
The 30th Space Wing's AN/TPQ-18 Radar achieved a milestone, providing faithful service to the U.S. Air Force mission for the past 50 years. The Radar was installed in its present location in 1965. It was accepted for operational support in November of the same year. The Radar supported its first mission as a commissioned asset in March of 1966.

The AN/TPQ-18  is the first of three long range Missile Precision Instrumentation Radar Class Radars in use by the 30th Space Wing today, providing precision long range target position and velocity data. The AN/FPQ-6, located at Pillar Point Air Force Station just south of San Francisco, and the High Accuracy Instrumentation Radar located on north Vandenberg Air Force Base next to Space Launch Complex two, complement the AN/TPQ-18. It was originally installed in a series of trailers connected to a 29-foot dish antenna that could be disassembled and relocated. This high precision antenna is still in service and provides a pointing accuracy that remains unsurpassed today.  The Radar stayed in its original transportable configuration until 1988 when a three trailer modular building was constructed to house the majority of the radar subsystems and operations console. In this configuration five of the original trailers remained, three of them containing the three-megawatt transmitter, and one provides space for administrative and logistic functions.

In 1994 the TPQ-18 was funded to receive a facility upgrade to consolidate equipment from the trailers into a permanent building. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers managed the project, and a construction company built the new 6,400 square foot facility.  

Construction was completed in July of 1995 at which time the Radar's subsystems including the transmitter were relocated into the new facility. The remaining trailers were removed and the Radar became operational in February of 1996, where it remains today.

During the Radar's tenure at VAFB the AN/TPQ-18 has participated in every major program supported by the Western Range to include Thor, Atlas, Minuteman, Titan, Peacekeeper, Delta, Trident, SCUD, ASAT and Pegasus to name a few. In addition, the radar also provided support to NASA programs including tracking for the Space Shuttle on-orbit and during landings. The radar also collects vehicle performance measurement data for range users and launch vehicle designers.  When not supporting range activities, the radar remains busy supporting Edwards Air Force Base's aeronautical development missions for such aircraft as the F-15, F-117, F-22, F-35, B-1, B-2, and numerous missions for the Naval Air Weapons Center out of Point Mugu. Currently the AN/TPQ-18 is operated and maintained by the Range Generation Next team under contract to the U.S. Air Force.

The AN/TPQ-18 continues to make significant contributions today. The radar provides an independent tracking source to validate onboard launch vehicle safety data for all current and future 30th SW launch and landing missions.