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May the Fourth and the Cavalier Air Force Station

Today is the fourth of May, and as many Star Wars fans might say, “May the fourth be with you.”

Hatched from the mind of George Lucas in 1977, the renowned space saga is one of the globe’s most beloved pop culture phenomena. The fate of the galaxy is held in the balance as “the force” is channeled for good or evil.

While Star Wars is pure science fiction, the same era that birthed the tale also experienced a very real airspace struggle.  In the early 1970s, the Cold War was ramping up, and the Safeguard Program was initiated to protect the US from nuclear attack. 

A system of anti-ballistic missile stations was proposed. In North Dakota, his included a complex near Nekoma that featured a 125-foot-high concrete pyramid, straight out of the realm of science fiction. It contained a Perimeter Acquisition Radar Characterization System, or PARCS, a powerful ballistic missile monitoring system. Its octagonal antenna, 30 meters in diameter, contained 6,144 active antenna elements.

In February of 1976, after the signing of the “Antiballistic Missile Treaty” between the United States and the Soviet Union, the Safeguard program was abandoned and the Nekoma site was decommissioned. In December 2012, the remnants of this once-futuristic facility were purchased by the Spring Creek Hutterite Colony at auction.

However, a companion radar site near Cavalier continued in service as part of the Strategic Air Command.  Today, the Cavalier Air Force Station is part of the 21st Space Wing headquartered at the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. The Cavalier site is one of the 22 interconnected locations in 9 countries, including Singapore, Denmark, Greenland, and Australia.

The Cavalier Station’s capabilities are not intergalactic, but it is the most powerful of the five radars operated by the 21st Space Wing. It can detect a basketball-sized object 2,000 miles away.

Beyond its duties to detect incoming missiles, it also has a “space control mission,” tracking satellites and space debris. It helps prevent collisions by monitoring around 23,000 man-made objects that orbit the earth.

With its powerful vision pointed skyward, one could say “the force is strong with this one.”

Dakota Datebook written by Maria Witham






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