TARS System

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TARS System - Tethered Aerostat Radar System (1978-Present) The TARS program is currently a counter-drug program funded by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counter Narcotics, Counter-Proliferation, and Global Threats. It provides an aerostat balloon mounted radar surveillance platform able to detect low-level targets along the United States – Mexico border, the Florida Straits, and southwest Puerto Rico regions in support of USNORTHCOMs and USSOUTHCOM's Counterdrug/Counter-Narco Terrorism (CD/CNT) missions. In practice, the TARS system feeds radar track data to the CBP Air and Marine Operations Center (AMOC) on March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California.

TARS surveillance data also supports the North American Aerospace Defense Command's (NORAD) air sovereignty mission. The TARS system feeds radar track data for the western sites (TX, NM, AZ) to the Western Air Defense Sector (WADS) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State and the radar track data for the eastern and Carribean sites (FL, BH, PR) to the Eastern Air Defense Sector (EADS) in Rome, New York.

Deming Aerostat Radar Balloon.


The TARS program began as three different Aerostat systems one run by the U.S. Air Force, one by the U.S. Customs Service and one by the U.S. Coast Guard. In 1992 Congress mandated a single system to be managed by the U.S. Air Force that would provide radar data to each of the stakeholders. Since none of the systems had gone through the formal acquisition process, support was almost nonexistent and the systems began to fail. At one point five of the eight sites had been down for 28 months. Dissatisfied workers and contractors complained to the DoD IG and an audit was conducted that surfaced the major issues and a management system was put in place.

By 2000 a standard system had been defined, contracted for and installations were beginning. The standard system included two different sized balloons, one 275K balloon and the rest as 420K ballons. The radars were standardized to the Lockheed Martin L-88 radar series. The first installation of the standardized system was at the Deming NM site in 2000.

TARS Subsystem Components.
TARS Internal View of Radar Equipment.

The system operated under Air Force management until funding problems in the Department of Defense caused the Air Force to abandon the project to the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) in 2013. The CBP continues to operate and maintain the TARS system with contractor personnel. The project is carried forward into the President's 2020 budget at 2019 levels.

Aerostat Radar Site Locations (edit list)
Location State NORAD JSS TARS Aerostat Radar Status GPS Notes
Cape Canaveral FL J-17 250K DPS-5 Deactivated 28.46544,
Yuma AZ B-40 420K L-88(V)3 Active 33.01589,
Fort Huachuca AZ B-41 420K L-88(V)3 Active 31.48581,
Deming NM B-42 420K L-88(V)3 Active 32.02657,
Marfa TX B-43 420K L-88(V)3 Active 30.43440,
Eagle Pass TX B-44 420K L-88(V)3 Active 28.38536,
Rio Grande TX B-45 420K L-88(V)3 Active 26.572331,
Matagorda TX - B-46 420K L-88(V)3 Deactivated 28.71048,
Glenco LA B-90 420K L-88(V)3 Deactivated 29.81067,
Horseshoe Beach FL B-92 TPS-63M Deactivated 29.499926,
Cudjoe Key FL Z-399 J-08 B-94 275K L-88A Active 24.70094,
High Rock GB B-95 L-88(V)3 Deactivated 26.63277,
Georgetown BWI B-96 TPS-63M Deactivated 23.46985,
Great Inagua BH B-97 DPS-5 Deactivated 21.10243,
Lajas PR B-98 420K L-88(V)3 Active 17.97811,

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