This newly refurbished air control radar antenna will be placed atop a 77-foot tower at Jefferson Barracks and will provide air traffic control capabilities within a 240-mile radius. (Bill Phelan photo)
By Bill Phelan
ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. - Visitors to Jefferson Barracks in south St. Louis County can't help but notice a new addition to the historic military post - a large, multi-million dollar radar installation just east of the main gate.
And as prominent as the installation is now, officers with the Missouri Air National Guard say it will be even more so once it is permanently installed.
"Eventually we will build a 77-foot radar tower that the unit will sit atop," said Capt. Eric White, of Brentwood, air battle manager for the 121st Air Control Squadron, the unit that will operate and maintain the radar. "We are in the process of bidding that out right now and hope to have the tower under construction as early as August."
The newly refurbished unit, which is undergoing testing and certification for acceptance, replaces a similar radar installation, once located on the same site, which was decommissioned in 1999.
"Locating the unit here makes it easier and more efficient to maintain," explained 1st Lt. Michael Durbin, of O'Fallon, maintenance officer for the 121st.
"We could not have put this radar at Lambert Field because the operating frequency would interfere with the airport," added Col. William Boothman, commanding officer of the 121st. "So this location is a lot more viable for our mission as opposed to Lambert."
The radar unit has an effective range of 240 nautical miles, cost about $30 million, and will provide air controllers with a real-time "air picture" of military aircraft operations.
"Our primary focus will be close air support missions within our military operating space," said Durbin. "Once our tower is up we'll get a clearer air picture that will allow us to support missions at Cannon Range near Fort Leonard Wood."
Once the radar unit is certified and accepted by the Air National Guard, the process of training operators and maintenance teams will begin.
Reestablishing an air control mission at Jefferson Barracks comes on the heels of a recommendation by the U.S. Department of Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. Ironically, the commission had once recommended closing Jefferson Barracks altogether, but did an about-face after touring the facility in January 2009. In the wake of that visit, the maintenance budget for Jefferson Barracks rose from about $20,000 a year to more than $2 million.
Established in 1826, Jefferson Barracks is the oldest continually operated military post west of the Mississippi River. The facility is owned by the U.S. Air Force.
For more information about the Missouri National Guard, please call 1-800-GoGuard or visit www.moguard.com
The addition of a newly refurbished radar installation at Jefferson Barracks marks the return of a close air support control mission at the base. (Bill Phelan photo)