SMDC History: I-PAWS

By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Historical OfficeMarch 17, 2016

SMDC History: I-PAWS
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Not to be confused with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Integrated Public Alert Warning System developed in response to the 2006 Executive Order 13407, the Army's Integrated Pager Alert Warning System or I-PAWS dates back to the early 1990s.

Developed as a result of the lessons learned from Operation Desert Storm, during which units received alerts via telephone calls through command lines, the I-PAWS sought to provide Soldiers in the field, particularly the maneuverable units, with a timely warning of a potential ballistic missile attack.

With less than 10 minutes between missile launch detection and actual impact for SCUD-type missiles, every second is important. Additional moments would allow personnel to take cover and don the necessary protective gear for possible biological or chemical attacks.

The original I-PAWS concept is attributed to Col. E. Paul Semmens, then commander of the Space and Missile Defense Battle Lab. A product of the Army Space Exploitation Demonstration Program, the I-PAWS was one of nine prototype technologies approved by Lt. Gen. Jay Garner for fiscal year 1997 demonstration.

As the Theater Missile Defense Passive Warning Operational Demonstration Capability, the goal was to illustrate the feasibility of transferring Joint Tactical Ground Station, or JTAGs, digital signal processing type impact point prediction and send this data over satellite via paging and messaging systems only to the threatened units. The concept was tested in several exercises throughout 1997 to include Roving Sands at Fort Bliss, Texas; Focus Lens in Korea; and the Division XXI Advanced Warfighting Experiment at Fort Hood, Texas.

In the next step, the I-PAWS was introduced to the operational theater in Kuwait and a tactical ballistic missile early warning exercise held during Operation Desert Thunder. The I-PAWS arrived in theater with the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command in the spring of 1998.

According to then Brig. Gen. Dennis Cavin, 32nd AAMDC commander, they initially sought to adopt a space-based system to provide the necessary alerts. In the absence of this technology, Cavin noted at the time that, "the pager system provides a needed warning mechanism for the force structure until a space-based warning system is available for implementation."

At the cost of $50,000, the 32nd AAMDC purchased 100 digital alpha-numeric pagers and associated hardware which included new lines, relays and broadcast towers. This new Theater Ballistic Missile Pager Alert Warning System augmented existing warning systems and could alert units down to the lowest level "in a matter of seconds once a tactical ballistic missile launch has been detected."

In an interview at that time Sgt. 1st Class Louie Flores explained that "within 90 to 120 seconds of its initial launch, the 32nd AAMDC force protection tactical operations center receives the data indicating where the missile is being launched from, where it's headed and its time of impact."

With this information, the TOC was able to notify the unit commanders in the affected areas or all the units in the field.

In a test conducted on March 17, 1998, users found that the I-PAWS provided a much quicker response than the traditional system. By dialing a single number it was possible to notify all the commanders in the potential impact zone. Each pager would determine if it was within the affected area and provide the alert as needed. Troops received the pager warning 2:18 minutes before a warning came over the tactical satellite and 4:58 minutes before the estimated time of impact.

Although its applications in Kuwait proved both cost-effective and successful, ultimately the I-PAWS did not proceed into full production. The dependence upon commercial infrastructure precluded a global distribution given the gaps in satellite coverage and the absence of a secure global network.

At the same time, frequency allocations and paging protocols in different countries presented additional challenges to the "effective employment" of I-PAWS. Nevertheless the I-PAWS illustrated that there were more effective methods to provide a timely missile warning to maneuvering units. As an "interim" tool, the I-PAWS met the challenge.

Related Links: