Story by MC3 Grant Wamack
Photo by MC3 Will Tyndall
Towering more than 100 feet into the sky, a large square radar looms over the ship’s island as two small figures, suspended in a harness, dangle somewhere inside the radar running operational checks on the system.
Many different job ratings require personnel to work aloft, but the fire controlmen, or FCs, of Combat Systems Department’s 7-Fox Division are responsible for maintaining the AN/SPS- 48E, one of the air search radars aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN74).
“Radars are continuously spinning and they’re always exposed to the weather,” said Fire Controlman 1st Class (SW/AW) Carlos Cruz. “We have to make sure they’re rotating correctly and conducting maintenance checks on the internal side.”
The SPS-48E, also known as the “twister,” is located on the forward portion of the ship’s mast, and is used for tracking range, bearing, and altitude. FCs make sure the radar is kept in alignment and good working condition to ensure the information it collects is precise and consistent.
“If we don’t maintain our radars properly then we do not get the right information,” said Fire Controlman 2nd Class (SW/AW) Michael Cox, work center supervisor for 7-Fox.
Because of the importance of the SPS-48E, the Sailors in 7-Fox routinely inspect the equipment for cracks, leaks, oil levels and overall condition to ensure the radar is functioning properly.
“The SPS-48E is an expensive piece of equipment,” said Fire Controlman 2nd Class Cameron Moyer. “It’s important that we stay consistent with the required maintenance and make sure we are well trained.”
Not just any Sailor with a maintenance requirement card, which lists the physical steps in order, can conduct maintenance on the twister. Sailors in 7-Fox must complete a series of prerequisites regarding the radar system’s inner workings as well as work under the observation of an FC with experience as a radar repair technician.
“It’s not just about understanding the maintenance, a Sailor must be aware of many things like weather conditions, high voltage and their surroundings,” said Fire Controlman 2nd Class (SW/AW) Dragos Craciun. “We observe new Sailors before they are qualified so we are confident that they are competent and safe to work there.”
Safety is always essential to proper maintenance on the twister, and many variables come with working on the radar. According to Cox, every precaution is taken to ensure the process is a safe one.
“If everyone follows the safety procedures and dons the harness correctly, then things will be fine,” said Cox. “It’s actually much safer than people think.”
The SPS-48E is a mission-essential piece of equipment aboard the ship and with the help of well-trained FCs, Stennis will remain ready to conduct theater security cooperation efforts, maritime security and combat operations when needed.