Fort Huachuca Aerostat Radar Site

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Fort Huachuca Aerostat Radar Site (1988-Active) - A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Aerostat Radar Site located on Fort Huachuca near Sierra Vista, Cochise County, Arizona. Assigned a TARS ID of B-41. Active Aerostat radar site.

Fort Huachuca 420K Aerostat Moored.
Fort Huachuca 420K Aerostat Mooring Dock.
Fort Huachuca 420K Aerostat Airborne.

U.S. Customs Service (1988-1992)

The site was operational in June 1988 at a reported cost of $22 million. The Fort Huachuca Aerostat Radar Site was one of three operated and maintained by Westinghouse Co. (TCOM) contractors to the U.S. Customs Service. Three other Texas sites were operated and maintained by contractor General Electric Company. The project was code-named SOWRBALL for Southwest Radar Balloon and it fed radar data to the U.S. Customs West Coast command center at March Air Force Base in Riverside, California. Initial equipment included the TPS-63 search radar.

On Wednesday 10 May 1989 while the Fort Huachuca aerostat balloon was moored, a sharp gust of wind ripped and deflated the balloon. Some said it was a dust devil that caused the damage. The balloon was shipped to a Westinghouse facility in Elizabeth City, NC where it was repaired at a cost of $1.3 million. The repaired balloon was returned and reinflated on 12 Jul 1989 and returned to service the next week.

U.S. Air Force (USAF) (1992-2013)

By 1992 the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Customs were operating three separate Aerostat systems. In 1992 Congress mandated that DoD consolidate and manage the separate programs. The Air Force was designated as the executive agent. The Air Force made the 4700th Operations Support Squadron (OSS), a component of the Air Combat Command (ACC), responsible for the management of the system. The resulting system became known as the Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS).

Immediate problems emerged as USAF accepted the turnover of sites from other agencies. The newly acquired systems had not gone through the normal acquisition process and proper support was not in place. Provisioning problems caused five TARS sites to be nonoperational for up to 28 months. Telephone Hot Line complaints from personnel resulted in a 1994 Department of Defense Inspector General Audit Report that documented the issues and provided guidance for getting the system on track. Issues with the General Electric aerostats dictated a contracting effort to replace the three existing systems with a single standard configuration.

A 30 Dec 1995 NORAD configuration document shows the Fort Huachuca TARS site as one of the six border TARS sites furnishing radar data to the Western Air Defense Sector (WADS) direction center at McChord AFB in Washington State. It was shown with a TARS ID of B-41.

In 1999 Lockheed Martin was awarded a contract to modernize six TARS site installations and by March 2002 they had transitioned three of the six sites to a standard 420K Aerostat balloon and the L-88 radar system. The first site to be transitioned was the Deming Site and the Fort Huachuca was second. The site was taken out of service on 18 Jul 2001 and expected back online on 10 Sep 2001.

In March 2002 Lockheed Martin announced they had been awarded a $70 million contract to supply USAF Aerostat sites with their updated L-88(V)3 radar. Lockheed Martin was to build, install, test, and support the L-88(V)3 radar system which included the airborne payload, the telemetry system, and radar control/monitoring console.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) (2013-Present)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) assumed responsibility for the TARS program from USAF on 1 Jul 2013, including official program and contract management. The program then consisted of eight TARS aerostat sites with six along the Southwest Border (Yuma and Ft Huachuca, Ariz.; Deming, N.M.; Marfa, Eagle Pass, and Rio Grande City, Texas) and additional sites in the Florida Keys and Puerto Rico.

Fort Huachuca Aerostat Major Equipment List
Search Radar Data Systems Scopes Comm IFF/SIF/Beacon

Current Status

Active Aerostat radar site operated by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.

Location: Sierra Vista in Cochise County, Arizona.

Maps & Images

Lat: 31.48581l Long: -110.29555

  • Multi Maps from ACME
  • Maps from Bing
  • Maps from Google
  • Elevation: 4,874'

GPS Locations:

See Also:


  • NORAD Region Ground Environment System Configuration, NORAD, 30 Dec 1995, Chapter 2, Table 2.2.
  • Flight International, Surveillance Balloons, 11-17 Aug 1993, pages 40-42, Pdf
  • Hotline Allegations Pertaining to Aerostat Operations, Audit Report, Office of the Inspector General, Department of Defense, Report No. 94-136, 16 Jun 1994, Pdf
  • BORDER SECURITY:Additional Actions Needed to Strengthen Collection of Unmanned Aerial Systems and Aerostats Data, U.S. Government Accountability Office, February 2017, GAO-17-152, 62 pages, Pdf
  • Summary Report of DoD Funded Lighter-Than-Air-Vehicles, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Rapid Reaction Technology, TARS PM office, 2012, page 34-36, Pdf
  • Varb, Gene, Anti-drug "Fat Albert": Shadow stirs praise, ire, Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona), 14 May 1989, Page 1, 15.
  • Williams, Joel, Anti-smuggling fence completed, Del Rio News Herald (Del Rio, Texas), 15 Jun 1991, Page 1, 3.
  • Ibarra, Ignacio, Air Force seeks new drug blimp: Balloon has better radar, Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Arizona), 4 Aug 1995, Page 15, 16.
  • Aerostat ready to return to skies, Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Arizona), 14 Jul 1989, Page 1.
  • USAF ACC Fact Sheet - Tethered Aerostat Radar System January 2003
  • USAF Fact Sheet - Tethered Aerostat Radar System 29 Mar 2010
  • CBP Fact Sheet - Air and Marine Operations Tethered Aerostat Radar System


Fortification ID:

  • AZ0095 - Fort Huachuca Aerostat Radar Site

Visited: 3 Nov 2019

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