Laredo Air Force Station
Laredo Air Force Station (1956-1974) - A Cold War U.S. Air Force Radar Station. Located near Laredo, Webb County, Texas. Assigned a Sage ID of Z-230. Operational from 1956 to 1964 and 1966 to 1974. Also known as Laredo Tracking Site, Laredo Test Site and Laredo Sensor Site.
Initially established on a U.S. Government leased 318.62 acre site (later purchased on 23 Oct 1958) and became operational in 1956 as Laredo Tracking Site. The site was transferred from the initial Air Training Command (ATC) owner to Air Defense Command (ADC) ownership in July 1961. ADC built out the site much as a normal ADC radar site with some 13 buildings and utilities.
Initial equipment included a FPS-17, later a FPS-78 was added, and finally, the last Avco FSS-7 SLBM Detection Radar (not a converted FPS-116) was added in 1966. Laredo AFS tracked White Sands Missile Range tests, provided satellite tracks, and sent missile warning data to Cheyenne Mountain's computers. The site was in use 1956 to 1964, primarily as a satellite tracking station and again in 1966 to 1974 as a missile launch detection system.
Laredo AFS was deactivated in 1974, and the site transferred to the U.S. Army that same year. The site was then used for weekend training by local U.S. Army Reserve components until it was deactivated in 1980.
Air Training Command (ATC) Site
On 22 Jul 1955, the site was acquired, and ATC constructed a radar operations building for a high-power long-range radar facility. The nearby Laredo Air Force Base was an ATC training base. Funding came from a special Air Force appropriation, and Rome Air Development Center (RADC) was responsible for the installation and operation of the site, which became operational in 1956. The site was supported by the nearby Laredo Air Force Base.
By 1958, an FPS-17 was at the station. In 1960 the site tracked artificial satellites.
Air Defense Command (ADC) Site
ADC took over the site in July 1961, and by the end of 1961, the station was built out, much like a traditional ADC radar station with a separate cantonment area. Cantonment buildings included barracks, a dining hall, and an orderly room. The separate operations area included the operations building and the radar set.
There some evidence that the only building that was ever used in the cantonment area was the orderly room. None of the barracks were used over the years, possibly because of the water supply or because the site was operated by contractors in the early years.
By 30 Aug 1961, the site was known as the Laredo Sensor Site, manned by Det. 1, 1st Aerospace Surveillance & Control Squadron and commanded by Major Lloyd C. Hill. The FPS-78 was in place at the Laredo Site on that date, and the site was later used to track the first U.S. earth orbital space shot with John Glenn and later in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The site was operated by some 26 General Electric employees.
Cuban Missile Crisis
The attempt by the USSR to deploy missiles to Cuba in October 1962 caused the Moorestown and Laredo radars to be withdrawn from Space Track (SPADATS) service and realigned to provide missile surveillance coverage over Cuba. The FPS-78 at Laredo began missile detection operations on 26 Oct 1962. The crisis was soon over and the missiles were withdrawn from Cuba but the event highlighted the need for a missile launch detection system and the inadequacies of the existing radars. The Laredo sensor site was deactivated on 15 Jul 1964.
Responding to contract proposals for an interim missile launch detection system, AVCO Corporation's plan to modify existing FPS-26 height finder radars at six prime SAGE System radar sites and to install a new one near Laredo AFB, Texas was approved in July 1965. Radars were to be located at the following sites:
It was expected that the Avco 474N Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) Detection and Warning System would be operational by the end of 1967. The system included GSQ-89 data processing equipment and the modified radars were called FSS-7's. The radars provided seaward coverage of about 750 nm and with three basic modes of operation: search, acquisition, and track.
In operation, a warning and impact message was generated for transmission to the central processor at the Cheyenne Mountain 425L System Complex within 50 seconds from the initial detection of a missile. The Cheyenne Mountain Complex then relayed 474N data to SAC, the National Military Command Center (NMCC), and the Alternate NMCC over BMEWS circuits. At maximum detection range, this provided approximately 7 to 10 minutes of warning.
Laredo Air Force Station was reactivated on 1 Apr 1966, manned by Detachment 8 of the 14th Missile Warning Squadron using the newly installed FSS-7 radar with a mission of detecting SLBM launches/Space Surveillance and Satellite Tracking. That mission was later taken over by a PAVE PAWS phased array FPS-115 radar at Eldorado Air Force Station in 1987.
Laredo AFS and the 14 AF/14 MWS Det. 8 were deactivated in 1974. On 22 May 1974, the abandoned station transferred to the Army and was then used for weekend training by local Army Reserve components until it was deactivated in 1980.
1st Aerospace Surveillance & Control Squadron
1st Aerospace Control Squadron
4783rd Surveillance Squadron
Det 8, 14th Missile Warning Squadron
Access to the site is blocked by a locked gate across the road at 27.59404, -99.42930 some miles from the actual site.
Visited: 9 Oct 2019 Area only