Laredo Air Force Station

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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.

Laredo Air Force Station circa 1972, FSS-7 in the Radome.

History

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.

SLBM Systems

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:

Early Missile/Satellite Radar Locations
SAGE ID Location State Equipment 14th MWS Notes
Moorestown AFS NJ Prototype FPS-49 Det 1
Z-37 Point Arena AFS CA Not Modified Replaced by Mill Valley AFS
Z-38 Mill Valley AFS CA Modified FPS-26 Det 3 Replaced Point Arena AFS
Z-65 Charleston AFS ME Modified FPS-26 Det 6
Z-76 Mount Laguna AFS CA Modified FPS-26 Det 4
Z-l00 Mount Hebo AFS OR Modified FPS-26 Det 2
Z-115 Fort Fisher AFS NC Modified FPS-26 Det 5
Z-129 MacDill AFB FL Modified FPS-26 Det 7
Z-230 Laredo AFS TX New FSS-7 Det 8


416N System Diagram.

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.

Closure

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.



Laredo AFS Major Equipment List
Search Radar HF Radar Data Systems Comm
Unit Designations
  • Det 1, 1st Aerospace Surveillance & Control Squadron (1961-1962)
  • Det 1, 1st Aerospace Control Squadron (1962-1964)
  • 4783rd Surveillance Squadron (1967-1972)
  • Det 8, 14th Missile Warning Squadron (1972-1975)

1st Aerospace Surveillance & Control Squadron

  • 14 Feb 61 - Activated at Ent AFB, CO, assigned to ADC
  • Mar 1961 - Laredo Station transferred From ARDC to Det 1
  • 1 Oct 61 - Sq transferred to 9th Aerospace Defense Div

1st Aerospace Control Squadron

  • 1 Jul 62 - Redesignated from 1st Aerospace Surveillance & Control Sq to 1st Aerospace Control Sq.
  • 15 July 1964 - Laredo site deactivated

4783rd Surveillance Squadron

  • 1 Jul 1967 - Organized at Laredo MTK, TX, assigned to the 31st AD
  • 15 Nov 1969 - Reassigned to the 27th AD.
  • 19 Nov 1969 - Reassigned to the 26th AD.
  • 8 Jul 1972 - Reassigned to 14th Aerospace Force and moved to Laredo AFB, TX.
  • 8 Jul 1972 - Inactivated.

Det 8, 14th Missile Warning Squadron

  • 8 July 1972 - Activated
  • 30 Jun 1975 - Discontinued


Laredo Air Force Station Partial Commanders List (edit list)
Assumed Relieved Rank Name Cullum Notes
1961~ Major Hill, Lloyd C. N/A
1970~ Major Owens, Marvin R. N/A

Current Status

Laredo Air Force Station Roadblock.

Access to the site is blocked by a locked gate across the road at 27.59404, -99.42930 some miles from the actual site.


Location: Laredo in Webb County, Texas.

Maps & Images

Lat: 27.61889 Long: -99.38667

  • Multi Maps from ACME
  • Maps from Bing
  • Maps from Google
  • Elevation: 587'


GPS Locations:

See Also:

Sources:

  • Cornett, Lloyd H. & Johnson, Mildred W., A Handbook of Aerospace Defense Organization (1946-1980), Office of History ADC, Peterson AFB, Colorado, 31 Dec 1980, 179 pages, Pdf, page 148-149, 151.
  • Winkler, David F., Searching the Skies: the Legacy of the United States Cold War Defense Radar Program, USAF Hq Air Combat Command, 1997, 192 pages, Pdf, page 95, 200.
  • NORAD/CONAD Historical Summary Jul-Dec 1965, Declassified, 1 May 1966, Pdf, page 60-64.
  • NORAD/CONAD Historical Summary Jan-Dec 1966, Declassified, 20 Dec 2012, Pdf, page 70-90.
  • USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Database Entry: 2087775
  • Laredo Sensor Site to Track Satellites, The Laredo Times (Laredo, Texas), 30 Aug 1961, page 1, (Newspapers.com by Subscription)
  • Garces, Ramon, Laredo Gets Set For Space Shot: Tracking Station To Be First To Follow Flight, The Laredo Times (Laredo, Texas), 26 Jan 1962, page 1 (Newspapers.com by Subscription)
  • In The Armed Forces: Medal Recipient, The Kokomo Tribune (Kokomo, Indiana), 15 Nov 1970, page 26 (Newspapers.com by Subscription)
  • Site Survey & Findings of Fact for DERP-FUDS Site No. K06TX021600, Web County, Texas.


Links:

Visited: 9 Oct 2019 Area only


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