Eareckson Air Station

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Eareckson Air Station (1959-Active) - A Cold War Air Force Radar Station first established in 1959 as Shemya Air Force Station on Shemya Island, Alaska. Built on the site of the abandoned World War II Shemya Army Air Field (1943-1947). Renamed Shemya Air Force Base and then Eareckson Air Station in 1993 after Colonel William O. Eareckson, who commanded bomber operations during the Aleutian Campaign of World War II. Active Radar Station.

Cobra Dane FPS-108 Phased Array Radar on Shemya Island, Alaska.

Shemya Air Force Station

New FPS-108 Cobra Dane radar system operated by the 16th Surveillance Squadron with the old FPS-17 Antennas in the Background.

Established initially in 1959 on Shemya Island, Alaska, with the installation of the FPS-17 space detection radar that went operational in May 1960. Shemya Island was located in the West Aleutians Island chain, closer to the Russian mainland than the U.S. mainland and it provided the best opportunity to monitor the Russian space and missile programs. Other activities on the station included an active airstrip that saw some commercial uses well as military use and some classified projects. The FPS-80 tracking radar was added and went operational on 1 Apr 1962. Both systems were used to monitor Soviet Union space and missile activities through the 1960s and into the 1970s. Responsibility for the site transitioned from USAF Security Service (USAFSS) to the Aerospace Defense Command (ADC), Detachment 2, 9th Aerospace Defense Division in 1962. Both radar sets were replaced by the installation of the FPS-108 Cobra Dane system that went operational in 1977.

Cobra Dane Radar System

June 2003, Installation of two Defense Satellite Communication System terminals at Eareckson Air Station for DOD’s Missile Defense Agency.

In July 1973, Raytheon won a contract to build the "Cobra Dane" system on Shemya Island in the Aleutian Islands off the Alaskan coast. The site was completed in 1976 and became operational on 1 Aug 1977 with the FPS-108 phased array radar manned by the 16th Space Control Squadron. The mission was to track Soviet missile tests and to support the Air Force Spacetrack System. a primary mission of monitoring Soviet tests of missiles launched from south-west Russia aimed at the Siberian Kamchatka peninsula.

In 1993 Raytheon completed a four year, $60 million, major system modernization program for the Cobra Dane system. The modernization program replaced the original mission computers, peripherals and radar displays and several unsupportable radar hardware subsystems. Most of the operational software (some 300,000 lines of computer code) was rewritten in the ADA programming language. Dual redundant VAX 6000-520 computers were installed to increase reliability. The entire radar front end was retained.

In April 1994, Air Force Space Command ceased operation of the Cobra Dane System, and the corollary and secondary missions of early warning and space surveillance were terminated. Cobra Dane continued supporting its primary intelligence mission without interruption, and the early warning and space surveillance mission capabilities were retained within the software for the possibility of future need.

The space surveillance mission was suspended by the Air Force in 1994 due to budget constraints, but was reinstated as a limited duty contractor operation in 1999 for protection of the International Space Station and shuttle orbiter flights. The radar resumed full operation in 2002 to support increased spacetrack demands. The radar began its missile defense mission as a result of the Cobra Dane Upgrade program in 2004. This upgrade was largely a software modification, none of the system hardware was changed, but a new communications processor and terminal were installed.


Stated range of 2000 miles with a scan width of about 136 degrees. Typical accuracies claimed were 3 meters in range and 0.02 degrees in angle. In 1999, full-power tests focused on objects with altitudes below 600 km demonstrated that Cobra Dane could detect and track objects as small as 5 cm. It can detect objects as small as 4 cm.

Partial Timeline of Significant Events
Date Event
1958 Shemya Reactivated.
May 1960 FPS-17 Operational.
Dec 1960 Composite Support Facility occupied.
1962 ADC (Detachment 2, 9th Aerospace Defense Division) assumes responsibility for facility from USAFSS.
1 Apr 1962 FPS-80 Operational.
21 Jun 1968 Shemya was redesignated from Shemya Air Force Station to Shemya Air Force Base.
1 Aug 1977 Cobra Dane Radar declared operational.
1 Oct 1979 Transferred from the Aerospace Defense Command to the Strategic Air Command (SAC).
1 May 1983 Transferred to the Air Force Space Command (AFSC).
6 Apr 1993 Shemya AFB renamed Eareckson Air Station.
1994 Space surveillance mission suspended.
1 Apr 1995 Eareckson Air Station converted to contractor operations and maintenance with Piquniq Management Corporation (PMC).
1999 Reinstated as a limited duty contractor operation.
1 Jun 2000 Chugack Eareckson Support Services (CESS) Base Operations and Support (BOS) Contractor.
2002 Resumed full-duty operation.
2004 Began missile defense mission per Cobra Dane Upgrade program.
1 Apr 2013 AFSC re-assumed responsibility for Cobra Dane. Assigned to 13th Space Warning Squadron at Clear AFS, Alaska, and designated as 13th Space Warning Squadron, OL-Cobra Dane (13th SWS OL-Cobra Dane).

Current Status

Active Air Station. Cobra Dane maintained and operated by contractors, no military personnel assigned.

Eareckson AFS Major Equipment List
Radar Systems Data Systems
  • Cyber 74 computer
  • Dual VAX 6000-520 computers
Unit Designations
  • Detachment 2, 9th Aerospace Defense Division (1962-1967).
  • 16th Surveillance Squadron (1967-1977).
  • 16th Space Control Squadron (1977-19??).
  • 13th Space Warning Squadron, Operating Location-Cobra Dane (2013-Present)
16th Space Control Squadron Assignments
  • 1 Jan 1967 - 16th Surveillance Sq: organized at Shemya AFS, AK, assigned to the 73rd Aerospace Surveillance Wg.
  • 3 Jan 1967 - Redesignated the 16th Surveillance Sq (from the 16th Aerospace Surveillance SQ).
  • 30 Apr 1971 - Assigned to HQ 14th Aerospace Force.
  • 1 Oct 1976 - Reassigned to Hq Alaskan ADCOM Rgn.
  • 1 Dec 1979 - Reassigned to SAC.
  • 1 Apr 2013 - Reassigned to Space Command, 13th Space Warning Squadron, OL-Cobra Dane

Current Status

Active Air Station Shemya Island, Aleutians West Census Area, Alaska.

Location: Shemya Island in Aleutians West Census Area, Alaska.

Maps & Images

Lat: 52.73735 Long: 174.09125

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

See Also:


  • 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 149.
  • 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 50, 84-86, 97.
  • USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Database Entry: 2369534


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