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San Mateo County coastal landscape
It’s a coastal headland that any developer would love to have for expensive coastal housing or an amazing resort overlooking the Pacific Ocean and a visually stunning manmade Pillar Point Harbor that is part of Half Moon Bay.

Pillar Point is also a headland to be preserved in the eyes of environmentalists and others who have tired of California’s high-density coastal development close to urban centers (Los Angeles, Long Beach, Malibu, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Monterey, etc.).

That debate may be waged one day, but first, the U.S. Air Force will have to vacate the property and return it to as close to its natural condition as possible.

That day may be a long ways away because Pillar Point sports sophisticated tracking equipment that remains a critical part of the Vandenberg Air Force Base’s mission.

If you travel from Pillar Point to Interstate 280 to Highway 101, VAFB is located about 280 miles, and four and a half hours, south of Pillar Point near Lompoc along California’s Central Coast.

If you were to take the more scenic Highway 1 along the California Coast, it would take about two or more hours longer to reach VAFB from Pillar Point.

“Pillar Point the northernmost instrumentation site of Vandenberg AFB,” notes Vandenberg’s officially brief description of this important installation located just a few minutes south of the historic town of Half Moon Bay.

Although there is not often a military presence at Pillar Point, security is present because its mission as a radar-tracking station provides support for intercontinental ballistic missiles that are launched from VAFB.

Furthermore, it provides tracking support for polar-orbiting space satellites.

“The station houses radar, command control, meteorological and telemetry systems,” states a San Mateo County National Historic Preservation Act report on Pillar Point AFS.

"Pillar Point has near-perfect geographic location for side-looks at Vandenberg launches. For example, if a launch deviates from its projected flight path and threatens public safety, Pillar Point is in a better position to detect the malfunction and to cancel the launch by initiating destruction of the launch vehicle."

A California Coastal Commission report (CD-013-08) on modernization of the Pillar Point facilities said the station is also used as part of the Missile Defense Agency’s Ground-Based Mid-Course Defense missile interceptor program for the western range.

While a military installation, Pillar Point is operated by a military contractor. It is not accessible to the public, and I wouldn’t recommend trespassing because that would be a federal crime.

The largest structures at the site are a 76-foot tall telemetry antenna and a 62-foot diameter radome.

“MDA is moving forward to provide a limited defensive capability against a long-range ballistic missile attack aimed at any of our 50 states,” states the Coastal Commission report. “An important part of MDA's program is the realistic testing of the entire system. Dual launch tests (i.e., two targets fired from Alaska followed by two intercept missiles from the WR {Western Range}), require support from WR assets. The range must add a second telemetry antenna at {Pillar Point Air Force Station} to track two missiles.”

As a result, antennas and two smaller radomes were added to accomplish this missile-defense capability. Although I do not have an aerial photo of the facility, there is an excellent photo available at the Aerial Archives Web site.
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Keywords:California Coast, California's Central Coast, Glenn Franco Simmons, Pacific Coast, Pillar Point, Pillar Point Harbor, Pillar Point headland, San Mateo Coast, U.S. Air Force, boats, harbor