Space


21st Space Wing [21st SW]

The 21st Space Wing, headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, CO, is the Air Force's only organization providing missile warning and space control to unified commanders and combat forces worldwide.

Units of the 21st SW are located in 8 countries, crossing 14 time zones, and consist of 5 groups, a director of staff, 30 squadrons at 22 locations, making it one of the very largest organizationally.

The 21st Space Wing is the Air Force's only organization responsible for worldwide missile warning and space control. The wing provides support to national Command Authorities, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), unified commanders, and U.S. combat forces deployed worldwide.

With a budget of $241.3 million, the 21st Space Wing (21st SW) accomplishes its mission through the management and control of space warning, communications, and surveillance squadrons. The Wing also operates and maintains satellite inter-station and intra-station communication equipment, and forwards information to approved users such as Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), the US Space Command (USSPACECOM), NORAD, Air Combat Command (ACC), the National Military Command Center (NMCC), and the Alternate national Military Command Center (ANMCC). The 21st SW also supports the assigned units of Peterson Air Force Base (AFB), Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station (AFS), Schriever AFB, area tenants based in Denver, Colorado, and the wing's geographically separate units (GSU).

The 21st Space Wing is tasked with:

  • Providing early warning of strategic and theater ballistic missile attacks and foreign space launches;
  • Detecting, tracking and cataloging more than 9,500 manmade objects in space, from those in near-Earth orbit to objects up to 22,300 miles above the earth's surface;
  • Exploring counterspace warfighting technologies in the field;
  • Hosts HQ NORAD, HQ USSPACECOM, HQ Air Force Space Command and the 302nd Airlift Wing; and
  • Operating and supporting Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station; Thule Air Base, Greenland; and Clear AFS, Alaska.

Members of the 21st SW operate and maintain a complex system of U.S. and foreign-based radars that detect and track ballistic missile launches, launches of new space systems, and provide data on foreign ballistic missile events.

The 821st Space Group at Buckley Air Force Base, CO, acts as host unit for military units in the Denver area.

The 21st Operations Group manages all operation units in the 21st Space Wing. The 21st OG provides space-based missile warning data, serving as a focal point for transition to the Space-Based Infrared Satellite system, and providing space communication data and relay.

The 2nd Space Warning Squadron, Buckley AFB, CO, controls, receives, processes and reports DSP mission information.

The 11 SWS, Schriever AFB, CO, reached initial operational capability in March 1995. The squadron uses data from DSP satellites as part of the Attack and Launch Early Reporting to Theater, or ALERT, system to provide in-theater warning of tactical missiles and other threats in direct support of warfighters worldwide. It is the first operational missile warning unit to use technologies and procedures developed directly from the lessons of Desert Storm. The squadron provides near instantaneous accurate warning information on short-range ballistic missile launches.

The 137th Space Warning Squadron, Greeley, CO, is a Colorado National Guard asset that provides mobile DSP missile warning and reporting.

The wing's ground-based radars are comprised of a sea-launched ballistic missile, or SLBM, warning system-PAVE PAWS; a Ballistic Missile Early Warning System, or BMEWS; and a Perimeter Attack Radar Characterization System, or PARCS. SLBM warning units are the 6th SWS, Cape Cod AFS, MA, and the 7th SWS, Beale AFB, CA. Their mission is mainly to watch America's coasts for incoming sea-launched or intercontinental ballistic missiles, and warn the appropriate authorities.

The wing's two BMEWS radar units are the 12th SWS, Thule AB, Greenland, and the 13th SWS at Clear AFS, AK. The 21st SW also has a detachment at RAF Fylingdales, United Kingdom, to coordinate cooperative missile warning and space surveillance with RAF counterparts.

The wing's PARCS unit is the 10th SWS, Cavalier AFS, ND.

The 1st Command and Control Squadron, Cheyenne Mountain AFS, provide collision avoidance support during each shuttle mission as well as maintain an extensive satellite catalog. This catalog is used by U.S. civilian and military agencies when launching new satellites into space, as well as by U.S. allies.

The 20th Space Surveillance Squadron, Eglin AFB, FL, provides dedicated active radar space surveillance. In addition, other collateral and contributing missile warning and research radars are used to support the surveillance mission.

There are two types of passive surveillance units: the Deep Space Tracking System, or DSTS, and the Low-Altitude Space Surveillance, or LASS system. DSTS antennas are at the 3rd SPSS, Misawa AB, Japan, and the 5th SPSS, RAF Feltwell, United Kingdom. The 5th SPSS also operates the LASS system. The 4th SPSS, Holloman AFB, NM, performs mobile space surveillance communications and space data relay.

The wing also controls and operates optical space tracking systems under the 18th SPSS, Edwards AFB, CA. The Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance system, or GEODSS, is operated by Detachment 1, Socorro, NM; Detachment 2, Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territories; Detachment 3, Maui, HI; and Det 4, 18 SPSS at Moron, Spain. In addition, Detachment 3 also operates the Maui Space Surveillance System, or MSSS.

The 21st Space Wing's operations center is the Air Force's only Missile Warning Sensor Management/Command and Control organizations responsible for 14 space weapons systems in 31 subordinate units at 22 locations in eight countries. The center provides immediate global and theater missile warning sensor management to NORAD, the Joints Chiefs of Staff, unified commanders and combat forces worldwide. The center also provides the wing commander command and control of assigned missile warning units and space assets, as well as real-time configurations and contingencies to maintain operational and system capabilities and required peacetime and wartime taskings. Additionally, the center responds to higher headquarter taskings and assumes tactical control of forces when directed.

As host wing for the Peterson Complex, the 21st SW's 21st Logistics Group and the 21st Support Group provide complete logistical and base support services for Peterson AFB and Cheyenne Mountain AFS, and certain logistics and support functions for Schriever AFB, CO. Through these units and the 10 MDG-OL, the wing also helps meet the medical, housing, educational, recreational and family support needs of assigned people, local retirees and their families. It also provides such services as personnel, security, civil engineering, communications and computer support, finance, contracting, transportation, flightline services, supply and maintenance.

In addition, the wing provides mission and personnel support to all geographically separated units and host base support at Thule AB and Clear AFS.

The 821st SG provides educational, medical, recreational, family support, personnel, security, finance, and contracting services for active duty personnel assigned to Buckley AFB and in the Denver, CO, area. Civil engineering, transportation, communications and computer support are provided to all 821st units at Buckley AFB. The unit also supports more than 19,000 retirees.

The wing's 721st Support Group is responsibile for the upkeep and maintenance of facilities and equipment in Cheyenne Mountain AS. This responsibility requires civil engineering, computer and communications and security support. It makes sure the space operators are able to continue with their mission.

The 21st Space Wing activated on 15 May 1992 in Colorado Springs, CO. Nevertheless, the lineage and honors of the 21st date back to the epic events of World War Two. The wing and group which flew under the numerical designation "21st" achieved a distinguished operational record while deployed to such exotic locales as Hawaii, Iwo Jima, Saipan, Guam, France, Japan, Greenland, and Alaska. Moreover, flights and detachments of the old "21st" conducted exercises in Libya, Germany, Korea, the Caribbean, and South America.

Redesignated over the years as the 21st Fighter Group, the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing, the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing, the 21st Composite Wing, the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing, the 21st activated again, and was redesignated as the 21st Space Wing, at Peterson AFB on 15 May 1992. The new unit, which acquired the mission, assets and personnel of the former 1st Space Wing and 3rd Space Support Wing (both previously located at Peterson AFB), assumed the primary mission of missile warning. The missile warning network had operated under the direction of Air Defense Command (later Aerospace Defense Command) and Strategic Air Command since the early 1960s. The network then passed under the aegis of Air Force Space Command when that command stood-up in September 1982. The 21st Space Wing, which assumed the lineage and honors of the old 21st dating back to World War Two, soon would become the Air Force's premier operational unit in the arena of space.

Central to the entire mission of missile warning is the Defense Satellite Program. DSP is a constellation of geosynchronous satellites equipped with infrared detectors to help locate and identify ballistic missile and nuclear testing activities around the world. DSP warning centers entered the world scene in the early 1970s. The first, at Woomera AS, Australia, was closely followed by the first stateside center at Buckley ANG Base in Denver, CO. The survivability of DSP was enhanced when the mobile ground system (MGS) activated at Holloman AFB, NM, in 1983. The importance of DSP was further underscored after the Gulf War in 1991 when Air Force Space Command and the 21st Space Wing activated the 11th Space Warning Squadron for the specific purpose of providing theater tactical ballistic missile warning.

Several other systems are associated with the missile warning network currently operated by the 21st Space Wing. The oldest, the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS), came on line at Clear AS, AK, Thule, Greenland and Fylingdales, England in the early 1960s. The Air Force replaced the BMEWS at Thule with the Solid State Phased Array Radar (SSPAR) in 1987 and followed by similarly upgrading Fylingdales in 1992. The Phased Array Warning System (PAVE PAWS) replaced the old AN/FSS-7 submarine-launched ballistics missile network along the coastal United States from 1980-1987 at Cape Cod AS, Massachusetts, Beale AFB, CA, Robins AFB, GA, and Eldorado AS, TX. The Air Force inherited the AN/FPQ-16 Perimeter Acquisition Radar Characterization System (PARCS), located at Cavalier AS, ND, from the United States Army in 1976. Cavalier now serves as a part of the Sea Launched Ballistic Missile warning network covering the Hudson Bay and central Arctic region.

If missile warning had remained the only primary mission of the 21st Space Wing, the wing still would have been one of the largest in the Air Force. However, in April 1995 the 721st Space Group (afterward renamed the 721st Support Group) and the 73rd Space Surveillance Group merged with the 21st Space Wing. From that point the 21st became the largest wing in the United States Air Force with units deployed literally throughout the world. With the 73rd came a new primary mission, that of space surveillance.

Several systems were associated with the space surveillance mission. The oldest of these was the AN/FPS-17 radar installed at Pirinclik AS, Turkey in 1955. The Air Force next added the AN/FPS-79 in 1962. Over the years, station personnel observed missile test and space launch activities, including Sputnik and Vostok.

Other systems supported the space surveillance mission. For example, the AN/FPS-85 radar at Eglin AFB, FL, became dedicated to space surveillance in 1988. Previously, the radar had supported the missile warning system, and had established a long record of service going back to 1969. Indeed, the AN/FPS-85 had been the Air Force's first electronically steered radar.

The 21st Space Wing also inherited the Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System (GEODSS). GEODSS sites began opening in May 1982, first at Socorro, NM, then at Maui, HI, Choejong-San, Republic of Korea (which closed in 1990), and finally at Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory in 1987. These advanced electro-optical telescopic cameras ultimately replaced the older Baker Nunn cameras in the arena of space tracking and allowed deep-space surveillance and space-object identification. Consequently, the last of the American operated Baker Nunn sites at San Vito AB, Italy, closed in July 1990.

Deep Space Tracking System and Low Altitude Space Surveillance Systems (DSTS/LASS) provided additional global coverage of space activities for the Air Force beginning in the 1989-1991 period at Verona AS, New York, Misawa AB, Japan, Osan AB, Republic of Korea and at RAF Feltwell and RAF Edzell in the United Kingdom. The Air Force began developing a mobile version of these space surveillance systems in 1992.

The wing additionally operated the command and control network used to relay missile warning and surveillance information from sites dispersed around the world to HQ AFSPC, USSPACECOM and NORAD. Air Force Space Command had identified the need for a mobile and hence more survivable command and control unit in 1989, a system which first would be called RAPIER, and which later would became known as the Mobile Command and Control Center (MCCC). The 721st Mobile Command and Control Squadron operated the MCCC after its activation in 1994.

The April 1995 merger, which established the 21st as the largest wing organizationally in the United States Air Force, did not signal the end of reorganization. By autumn, the wing had inactivated the 8th Space Warning Squadron at Eldorado AFB and the 9th Space Warning Squadron at Robins AFB (both PAVE PAWS radars being placed into caretaker status by Raytheon), the 1st Space Surveillance Squadron and its LASS radar at Verona AS, and the AN/FPS-17 radar of the 18th Space Surveillance Squadron at Pirinclik.

Reorganization continued into 1996. The 4th Space Warning Squadron inactivated at Holloman AFB, the MGS vans transferring to the 137th Space Warning Squadron of the Colorado Air National Guard. Further, the 17th Space Surveillance Squadron inactivated at RAF Edzell, part of its system transferring to RAF Feltwell.

Despite these losses, the 21st remained in organizational terms the largest wing in the Air Force. Recognizing the need for a second operational group to handle the prolific number of worldwide sites, the Air Force activated the 821st Space Group on 31 May 1996 at Buckley ANGB in Denver, CO, and assigned the unit to the 21st Space Wing. Additionally, the 3rd Command and Control Squadron (3rd CACS) activated at Offutt AFB, NE, to act as the alternate missile warning center for Air Force Space Command and US Space Command (USSPACECOM).

In 1997, the 21st inactivated the 19th Space Surveillance Squadron, thereby closing a long association with Turkey. Detachment 1, 3rd Space Surveillance Squadron, also inactivated in Korea. However, the wing added a new location in Europe when Detachment 4, 18th Space Surveillance Squadron, activated at Moron AB, Spain. This year saw the end of the wing's flying mission when the 84th Airlift Flight transferred to Air Material Command.

Further downsizing transpired in 1998. The 21st Medical Group transferred to the 10th Medical Group at the United States Air Force Academy. The 2nd Command and Control Squadron was reassigned to 14th Air Force and the 821st logistics Squadron inactivated. Given these losses, the 21st became only the second largest wing in the United States Air Force; however, the wing remained the most geographically dispersed.

The wing became slightly smaller in 1999 when the 3 CACS and 5th Space Warning Squadrons inactivated and the 721st Mobile Command and Control Squadron transferred to 20th Air Force. These losses were partially offset when the 76th Space Operations Squadron (now the 76th Space Control Squadron) joined the wing in 2000.




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