Key West NAS Radar Site
Key West NAS Radar Site (1962-Active) - A Cold War Air Force Radar Station first established in 1962 near Key West, Monroe County, Florida. Named Key West NAS Radar Site after the location. Initially assigned a Sage ID of Z-209, a JSS ID of J-07 and an FAA ID of NQX. Active FAA Radar Site.
Established in 1962 and became operational in 1962 as Key West NAS Radar Site manned by the 671st AC&W Squadron. The station initially had both a Ground-Control Intercepan t (GCI) and early warning mission. The early warning mission involved tracking and identifying all aircraft entering their airspace while the GCI mission involved guiding Air Force interceptors to any identified enemy aircraft. Controllers at the station vectored fighter aircraft at the correct course and speed to intercept enemy aircraft using voice commands via ground-to-air radio.
The site was incorporated into the BUIC I system as a NORAD Control Center in 1962. This was a manual back-up interceptor control system that provided limited command and control capability in the event the SAGE System was disabled. This allowed the site to operate independently should it become isolated.
Initial equipment included an in-place Navy FPS-37 search radar (which shares many components with the FPS-8 radar). This radar was considered a pre-SAGE System radar and by 1966 it had been replaced by a SAGE compatible FPS-67B.
SAGE System Transition
The transition of the manual GCI system to the automated SAGE system began with the installation of the FST-2 coordinate data transmitter and search radar upgrades. The FST-2 equipment digitized the radar returns and transmitted the digital returns to the SAGE direction center. Under the SAGE System, interceptor aircraft were directed to their targets by the direction center computers and controllers, greatly reducing the need for local controllers and equipment at every radar station.
The FST-2 was a very large digital system using vacuum tube technology. Over 6900 vacuum tubes were used in each FST-2 requiring 21 air-conditioned cabinets, 40 tons of air conditioning, 43.5 kva of prime power and usually a large new addition to the operations building. The FST-2B modification added two more cabinets but with newer solid state (transistor) technology to process coded responses from aircraft transponders.
SAGE System Operation
Cuban Missile Crisis (October 1962)
In October 1962 the Cuban Missile crisis began with the installation of Russian missiles on Cuban soil. A series of escalations put the United States and Russia at the edge of war with a U.S. embargo on shipping into Cuba. During this period all U.S. Radar sites were on high alert and the Key West NAS Radar Site provided surveillance over much of western Cuba and coverage of southern Florida. The missile crisis was averted but it had demonstrated the need for radar coverage of this critical area.
A U.S. Army Hawk missile battery was deployed on the Key West NAS during the missile crisis and data was shared with them. The Army AADCP site was designated KW-18DC.
SAGE System Operation
It was not until the search radar was upgraded to an FPS-67B and two FPS-90 height-finder radars were installed that the site had a normal SAGE site configuration. At this point, the 761st AC&W Squadron was redesignated 671st Radar Sq (SAGE) on 15 Jun 1965. This is probably close after the date that full automatic operation was achieved.
Prior to the closure of the Gunter SAGE Direction Center DC-09 on 31 Dec 1969, the site was switched to control by the Fort Lee SAGE Direction Center DC-04 on 14 Nov 1969. The vacuum tube FST-2 coordinate data transmitter was replaced with the solid-state FYQ-47 Common Digitizer circa 1972.
Radar Squadron Deactivation (1980)
In 1979 Air Defense Command and all its remaining radar sites were transferred to the Tactical Air Command. A reorganization followed and the 671st Radar Squadron was deactivated on 30 Jun 1980, replaced by the 20th Air Defense Squadron, Operating Location Alpha Juliet (OL-AJ) who operated remaining USAF equipment including the height finder(s).
With the deactivation of the 671st Radar Squadron on 30 Jun 1980, the FAA assumed operation of the radar site within a small compound. In 1982 the FPS-90 height finder was supported by USAF operating location OLAJ 20th ADS with 6 USAF operations personnel. The last USAF height-finder was removed circa 1988 leaving the search radar a beacon set and a common digitizer under FAA operation and maintenance.
A FYQ-47 Common Digitizer was probably placed in service by February 1973 when the USAF/FAA FST-2 to FYQ-47 replacement program was completed. By 1990 the site was equipped with a CD-2C Common Digitizer and the original FPS-67B search radar. The Key West CD-2C was scheduled to receive an upgrade kit to implement three level weather data processing in December 1992. The Key West FPS-67B search radar was phased out and replaced by an ARSR-4 3D radar between 1996 and 1999. Currently, the primary search radar is the ARSR-4 while the secondary radar at this site is a ATCBI-6M Beacon set. The U.S. Navy is listed as the owner of the ARSR-4 radar in the 2016 list of sites.
The radar site data is now available to the USAF/NORAD Battle Control System-Fixed (BCS-F) operations centers (EADS & WADS) as well as the FAA Miami ARTCC (ZMA) and adjacent ARTCCs. Other federal agencies have access to the data under the Homeland Security umbrella.
Transitioned to civilian FAA maintenance in Key West, Monroe County, Florida. Listed as Navy-owned on the FAA 2016 site listing.