Watertown Air Force Station
Watertown Air Force Station (1952-1979) - A Cold War Air Force Radar Station first established in 1952 near Watertown, Jefferson County, New York. Named Watertown Air Force Station after the location. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of P-49, later a Sage ID of Z-49. Abandoned in 1979.
Established in 1952 and became operational in June 1952 as Watertown Air Force Station manned by the 655th AC&W Squadron. Watertown AF then assumed coverage of the area from the Pine Camp Lashup Radar Site L-6. Watertown AFS initially had both a Ground-Control Intercept (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 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.
The site began operation as a SAGE site on 1 Jan 1959 initially feeding the Hancock SAGE Direction Center DC-03. The search radar was upgraded to an FPS-20 and a pair of FPS-6 height-finder radars were added. In 1961 the FPS-20 was upgraded to the FPS-66 configuration and in 1963 one of the FPS-6 height-finders was replaced with an FPS-26A, the other FPS-6 was removed in 1964. In 1964 the FPS-66 was replaced with an FPS-27 Frequency Diversity (FD) search radar. The final configuration of the site radars was one FPS-27 search set and one FPS-26A height-finder.
Watertown AFS was incorporated into BUIC I in 1962. BUIC I was a manual backup interceptor control system that provided limited command and control capability in the event the SAGE System was disabled. Watertown AFS served as a backup NORAD Control Center during the BUIC I period.
Watertown AFS was responsible for the maintenance of two remote unattended gap-filler radar sites. The unattended gap filler sites were placed in locations where the main search radar lacked coverage. These sites were equipped with short range FPS-14 or FPS-18 search radars and FST-1 Coordinate Data transmitters that sent digitized radar target data to a SAGE direction center and to the main radar site. Both the radar set and the FST-1 were dual channel to increase site up time. Maintenance teams were dispatched for regularly scheduled maintenance or when fault indicators on the FSW-1 remote monitoring equipment suggested the site had problems. The FSW-1 also allowed remote operation of specific functions such as channel changes for the radar and for the FST-1, it also allowed remote operation of the diesel generators at the gap filler site. The Watertown AFS gap-filler radars were located at Suttons Corner, NY, and Oswegatchie, NY. Other sites were planned but never built.
Watertown AFS and the 655th Radar Squadron were deactivated on 1 Nov 1979.
The physical plant of the site was divided into the main site, a cantonment area, a housing area and a radio site. The main site housed the operations buildings, the radar towers, and the backup generators. The cantonment area housed the enlisted barracks, the bachelor officer's quarters, the orderly room, the dining hall, the motor pool and other support buildings. Apart from the main site was a small 27 unit housing area for married personnel. A separate Ground to Air Transmitter/Receiver (GATR) radio site housed the radio equipment for directing aircraft intercepts.
The main site and the cantonment area are in use as the Watertown Correctional Facility. One of the former radar towers still exists and can be viewed from the public road. The housing area appears to be abandoned and deteriorating. The GATR site is in use by the Jefferson County Volunteer Firefighters Associations and the Watertown Correctional Facility as a Fire/Emergency Medical Services Training Center. No public access.
Visited: 19 Jun 2016