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Just what is that golf ball on top of Francis Peak?

1st Lt. Jorge L. Tameron

1st Lt. Jorge L. Tameron

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- Cruising on I-15 South from Hill Air Force Base you have the sparkling Great Salt Lake on your right and the majestic Wasatch Mountains on your left. Your eyes drift to the jagged peaks of the mountains, sharp as knives slicing into the warm summer sky. But wait, one of these peaks is not like the others. Instead of piercing into space there lies a white dome, more closely resembling a golf ball than anything else. That peak is Francis Peak and the dome is an enclosure for something very special: a fragment of the blanket for our national defense ... the Common Air Route Surveillance Radar, or CARSR (pronounced car-sir).

The CARSR (inside the golf ball) probes the sky, sending out over 20,000 pulses of electromagnetic energy on every 360 degree rotation of its massive antenna. If there is something in the sky, these pulses will reflect off of the object and complete their round trip back to the CARSR. Combine this influx of pulsed energy with identification information aircraft transmit and the CARSR can paint a detailed image of the skies for about 200 miles in every direction.

Enough of the science lesson, I know what you are thinking, "Our nation is larger than 200 miles in every direction from a 9,515 foot mountain peak in Northern Utah, so how does the rest of our country get this awesome layer of protection?" The short answer is ... with many CARSRs!

There are 81 CARSRs spread out throughout the country, each one methodically scanning its neighboring sky. The magic is what they can do collectively. Together these devices create a 4.4 million square mile blanket across our nation, ensuring any adversaries, foul play or off-course flights in the air will not go unnoticed.

These eyes towards the sky are capable of bringing extra focus to particular regions in the country where significant events, political or otherwise, are occurring, providing the first alert towards any wrongdoing in the skies overhead.

These radars have been in existence for quite some time and have seen better days.

In response, the 84th Radar Evaluations Squadron at Hill AFB have been collaborating with the FAA on a major service life extension program since 2011. This will bring all 81 CARSRs into the 21st century with the same technology that is in your smartphone, increasing their reliability and furthering extending their lifespan.

So the next time you take a glance toward Francis Peak, take comfort in knowing a little bit more about the service these radars provide. Vigilant warriors forever looking up and out, forever giving us the heads up when something is awry, forever ensuring our domestic air sovereignty.