Watertown Air Force Station

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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.

Former Watertown AFS Housing Area Now Abandoned.
Former Watertown AFS GATR Site now an Emergency Services Training site.
Empty Radar Tower at the Former Watertown AFS now a Correctional Facility.


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.

Initial equipment included the FPS-3 and FPS-5 radar sets.

SAGE Transition

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.

The vacuum tube FST-2 Coordinate Data transmitter was replaced in the early 1970s with the solid state FYQ-47 Common Digitizer.

BUIC System

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.

Gap Fillers

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 Gap Filler Radar Sites (edit list)
ADC NORAD Location State Type From To GPS Notes
P-49A Z-49A Suttons Corner NY FPS-14, FST-1 1957-08 1967-12 43.35481,
Building exists
P-49B Z-49B Oswegatchie NY FPS-18, FST-1 1958-05 1968-06 44.16687,
Building exists
Communications Tower in place


Watertown AFS and the 655th Radar Squadron were deactivated on 1 Nov 1979.

Physical Plant

Former Watertown Main Gate Area now Entrance to Correctional Facility.

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.

Watertown AFS Major Equipment List
Search Radar HF Radar Data Systems
Unit Designations
  • 655th Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron (1952-1959)
  • 655th Radar Squadron (SAGE) (1959-1974)
  • 655th Radar Squadron (1974-1979)
655th Assignments
  • 1 Jan 1951 - Assigned at Pine Camp, NY, assigned to the 540th AC&W Gp.
  • 1 Feb 1951 - Moved to Watertown, NY.
  • 6 Feb 1952 - Transferred to 32nd AD.
  • 16 Feb 1955 - Transferred to 4711th Def Wg.
  • 1 Mar 1956 - Transferred to 32nd AD.
  • ca Sep 58 - Transferred to Syracuse ADS.
  • Feb 1959 - Redesignated from AC&W Sq to 655th Radar Sq (SAGE).
  • 4 Sep 1965 - Transferred to Boston ADS.
  • 1 Apr 1966 - Transferred to 35th AD.
  • 19 Nov 1969 - Reassigned to 21st AD.
  • 1 Feb 1974 - Redesignated 655th Radar Sq.
  • 1 Nov 1979 - Inactivated.

Watertown Air Force Station Partial Commanders List (edit list)
Assumed Relieved Rank Name Cullum Notes
1966 1968 Major Allen, Chuck J. N/A
1968 1971 Major Ross, Ronald D. N/A
1977 1979 Major Ennis, Carl A. N/A

Current Status

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.

Location: 23147 Swan Road, Watertown in Jefferson County, New York.

Maps & Images

Lat: 43.92528 Long: -75.90917

  • Multi Maps from ACME
  • Maps from Bing
  • Maps from Google
  • Elevation: 958'

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 157.
  • 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 142.
  • USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Database Entry: 2091471


Visited: 19 Jun 2016

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