The EISCAT (European incoherent scatter) Svalbard radar (ESR) was officially inaugurated on August 22, 1996. This event marked the successful completion on schedule of the first phase of the EISCAT Svalbard radar project. In contrast to previous incoherent scatter radars, the ESR system design was adapted to make use of commercial off-the-shelf TV transmitter hardware, thereby reducing design risk, lead times, and cost to a minimum. Commercial hardware is also used in the digital signal processing system. Control and monitoring are performed by distributed, networked VME systems. Thanks to modern reflector antenna design methods and extreme efforts to reduce the receiver noise contribution, the system noise temperature is only 70 K, thus making the ESR about 30% faster than the much more powerful EISCAT UHF radar in F region experiments! Once the transmitter power is increased to 1 MW, it will become about 2–3 times faster than the UHF radar. State-of-the-art exciter and receiver hardware has been developed in-house to accommodate the special requirements introduced by operating the radar at the exceptionally high duty cycle of 25%. The RF waveform is generated by a system based on four switchable direct digital synthesizers. Continuous monitoring of the transmitted RF waveform by the receiver system allows removal of klystron-induced spurious Doppler effects from the data. Intermediate-frequency sampling at 7.5 MHz is employed, followed by fully digital channel separation, signal detection, and postdetection filtering in six parallel receiver channels. Radar codes for both E and F layer observation have been designed and perfected. So far, more than 40 hours of good quality ionospheric data have been collected and analyzed in terms of plasma parameters. While the tragic loss of the Cluster mission suddenly changed the plans and dispositions of a majority of the ESR user community, the radar has still been in high demand since its inauguration. It is now being operated by EISCAT staff on a campaign basis, to provide ground-based support data for a number of other magnetospheric satellites, notably Polar and FAST, and will be opened to the EISCAT user community for special program operations later in 1997.