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Kirtland AFB, New Mexico
3502'N 10636'W

The 377th Air Base Wing is the host organization for Kirtland AFB. The Wing supports more than 200 tenant organizations, including the Air Force Research Laboratory, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, 58th Special Operations Wing, New Mexico Air National Guard, Field Command Defense Special Weapons Agency, Air Force Inspection Agency, Air Force Safety Center, the Department of Energy Albuquerque Office and Sandia National Laboratories.

Kirtland Air Force Base is located in the southeast section of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is one of the largest installations in the Air Force Materiel Command. The base employs approximately 19,800 people. The base covers an area of 21,320 hectares (52,600 acres) on the southeast boundary of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Approximately 8,300 hectares (20,500 acres) of this area is withdrawn public lands.

The impact of Kirtland AFB on the economy of Albuquerque and New Mexico is substantial. In fiscal year 1997, local military procurement amounted to $117 million. Kirtland's payroll in fiscal year 1997 was nearly $755.8 million. The total economic impact of Kirtland AFB on the City of Albuquerque was put at $1.6 billion for FY 97.

The story of Kirtland AFB is really the story of three bases, since the merger in 1971 of Kirtland, Manzano and Sandia Bases which brought the three installations together under one command. Sandia Base was originally created in 1942 as an Air Corps training site for aircraft maintenance people. By late 1943, however, Sandia was in a caretaker status. A year and a half later, the Manhattan Engineering District created the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project at Sandia Base to coordinate military nuclear activities.

Kirtland's story had its beginnings in the 1920s, when a private air field was built on what is now the east side of the base, and in the late 1930s, when Albuquerque's municipal airport began operating near what is now the base's west side. That field and airport eventually became two large military complexes now unified as one base. During World War II the US Army Air Forces established a training depot for aircraft mechanics to the east of Kirtland Field, near the original private airport, Oxnard Field. The depot later became known as Sandia Base.

The base began in the late 1930s as an Army Air Corps training field. In 1939, the year the war broke out in Europe, the little town of Albuquerque sent two representatives to Washington, DC, to confer with the chief of the Army Air Corps -- Major General H.H. "Hap" Arnold -- on the possibility of establishing an air base here. Late that same year, the U.S. Army leased land east of the city's new airport to establish a flying training base which thousands of New Mexico residents, working under the WPA program, helped to build.

By early 1941, the dusty pasture land was springing up with new wooden buildings, replacing tents and Quonset huts with permanent barracks, warehouses and a chapel. Albuquerque's new Army Air Base got its first base commander in March 1941 when Colonel Frank D. Hackett arrived to assume his duties. The following month the base got its first military aircraft. On April 1, 1941, a lone B-18 bomber, piloted by Lieutenant Sid Young, landed on the north-south runway. With the assignment of five pilots to the aircraft, the day marked the official opening of Albuquerque's Army Air Field.

The summer of 1941 saw the arrival of the first troop train, loaded with 500 base support people, as well as arrival of the 19th Bombardment Group under the command of Lt. Col. Eugene L. Eubank. Business on the new air field really began to boom with the arrival of 2,195 pilot, bombardier and navigator trainees for the new B-17 "Flying Fortress."

The 19th was moved out shortly thereafter for duty in the Philippines and South Pacific, where many crew members were decorated for bravery. Even in the absence of the 19th, activity at Kirtland began to pick up. Just a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the first class for bombardiers began with the establishment of the Army's first wartime advanced flying school under the command of Colonel Hackett.

Many of Kirtland's graduates saw action during World War II in the Pacific and other theaters of operation. Many of the pilots flying heavy transports across the oceans received their training at Kirtland under Col. John P. Ryan, who was credited with rapidly organizing the nation's first permanent bombardier training school.

In February 1942, Albuquerque's Army Air Base was renamed Kirtland Army Air Field. It was named for Col. Roy C. Kirtland, one of the Army's oldest pilots who had died a year earlier. Colonel Kirtland was one of the first students to fly with the Wright Brothers and later became the first commandant of Langley Field, Virginia. Since the airfield originally opened, Kirtland's aircraft inventory had grown to 50 AT-11s and 28 B-18s.

The war years at Kirtland continued to be filled with distinguished records of training entire flight crews for the B-17 and B-24 bombers. Under the command of Col. William B. Offutt in 1943 and succeeded by Col. Lewis W. Proper in 1944, the base's three schools -- advanced flying, bombardier training and the multi-engine school -- operated at full capacity. From 1941 through 1945 Albuquerque's flying training field turned out 5,719 bombardiers and 1,750 regular pilots for the four-engine B-24s.

In June 1943, Public Land Order #133 withdrew 7,620.11 acres of National Forest for the Department of the Navy-directed research for development and testing of the Variable Time (VT) Proximity Fuze. Considered the second most important scientific project of World War II after the atom bomb, the top secret project was disclosed on September 21, 1945.

Under the supervision of Dr. E.J. Workman, University of New Mexico (UNM) Physics Department chairman, a group of professor scientists, students and technicians perfected the fuze in association with Dr. James Van Allen, Dr. Tuse, and Dr. J.S. Rhinehart, and proved it could be used successfully in combating buzz bombs and Baka rockets. The fuze, which was developed at a cost of $800,000 to the Navy Department, contained a five tube radio set so sturdy it could remain in operation after being fired from a gun.

Most of the weapon proving was conducted on a 46,000 acre tract in the Manzano Mountains, on the southern part of Kirtland AFB, including Forest Service lands withdrawn for testing purposes. Artillery emplacements were set up; observation stations were built; fragmentation areas were prepared; and two 248' oak towers were erected near the Starfire Optical Range.

The first Japanese plane to be shot down by a VT-fuzed projectile was destroyed by the cruiser Helena on January 5, 1943. During the siege of Okinawa, the destroyers Hadley and Evans used the fuze in standing off 156 enemy planes. The VT fuze was important in turning the Battle of the Bulge. By the end of WW II, 80,000 persons were employed making the fuze, 85% of whom were women. "The new shell with the funny fuze is devastating. I think when all armies get this shell we will have to devise some new method of warfare." General George S. Patton, Jr.

In February 1945, Kirtland Field was also engaged in training combat crews for the B-29. This was the "Super fortress" which eventually brought an end to the hostilities with Japan by dropping the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Training for B-29 crews continued at Kirtland until the war's end. The base, under the command of Col. Frank Kurtz in October 1945, went on a standby basis for a short time following the war.

The need for extensive flight support and test facilities reasonably near Los Alamos led to the September 1945 move of units of the Z Division of Los Alamos Laboratory to Sandia Base. The Manhattan Engineering District created the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project at Sandia Base to coordinate military nuclear activities. The unit was the predecessor of Sandia Corporation, which was organized in 1949. It became, and remains (as Sandia National Laboratories) the largest tenant unit on Kirtland and has consistently been involved with development and testing of special weapons.

In February 1946, Kirtland was placed under the Air Materiel Command and its flying training activities became history. Its new job entailed flight test activities for the Manhattan Engineering District, the wartime organization which produced the atomic bomb. The commander of Kirtland Field, with its new mission, was Lt. Col. Lyle G. Zumwalt.

The new role for Kirtland was to develop proper aircraft modifications for weapons delivery and to determine ballistic characteristics for these weapons of the future -- nuclear weapons.

The establishment of such activities at Kirtland was considered ideal because of its proximity to Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory and to Sandia Base, where the Department of Defense had established the Armed Forces Special Weapons Command to direct military employment of the new weapons to be built.

Armed Forces Special Weapons Command also constucted two operational sites. One of these sites was known as Site Able, located in the foothills of the Manzano Mountains, just east of Sandia Base. The other base was Site Baker near Kileen, Texas. Construction on Site Able started in 1946, with the first operational facilities activated on April 4, 1950. Although activated in 1950, construction on the major facilities wasn't finished until 1961. On February 22, 1952, Site Able was renamed Manzano Base, and operated by the Air Force, while Site Baker was renamed Kileen Base and turned over to the U.S. Army.

Kirtland's role in the testing and evaluation of these special weapons increased in 1947 as the Army Air Corps became the US Air Force. At this time, Kirtland Army Air Field, with a population of 972 military and civilian personnel, became Kirtland Air Force Base.

Other nuclear-related units were formed at Sandia Base and Kirtland AFB, as the west side was redesignated in 1947. The Armed Forces Special Weapons Project (later the Defense Atomic Support Agency, then the Defense Nuclear Agency, then the Defense Special Weapons Agency, and currently the Defense Threat Reduction Agency) operated Sandia Base and provided support to the Secretary of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and military departments in matters concerning nuclear weapons, nuclear effects, and testing.

In 1947, the new aircraft requiring modifications to mate them with nuclear weapons included the first B-36, the world's largest land-based bomber, which arrived at Kirtland in September 1948. That airplane was followed by the first B-47 jet bomber in December of that year.

As it became evident that the Air Force's primary weapons were to be nuclear, Kirtland continued to expand as Air Force responsibilities for delivery of nuclear weapons increased. The pioneering agencies which had occupied the base since early 1946, gaining information on nuclear weapons development and employment, now constituted the greatest body of knowledge and training capability available anywhere.

In December 1949, Kirtland became headquarters for the newly-created Special Weapons Command with Col. Howard G. Bunker as commander. The nucleus of this organization was composed of the pioneering Air Force agencies which had located here to determine future employment of nuclear weapons.

The command became the Air Force Special Weapons Center on April 1, 1952, and was a unit of the Air Research and Development Command. During the 1950s, Center people and aircraft participated in atmospheric nuclear tests in Nevada and the far Pacific. The first Air Force scientific capabilities at the base were created during the mid 1950s. Biophysicists deliberately flew through nuclear clouds to determine radiation hazards. And engineers launched sounding rockets so physicists could study the effects of high-altitude nuclear explosions and the nature of the recently discovered Van Allen radiation belts around the Earth.

During 1954, the Air Force completed two of the world's longest runways- at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque and Edwards Air Force Base in Mojave Desert of Southern California. The Kirtland runway, accented by three SAC double-cantilever maintenance hangars, featured a subgrade compacted earth 17 to 20 inches thick; a base grade of compacted gravel and stone eight to 13 inches thick; and a top four-inch layer of asphalt. The 1000-foot ends of the runway were concrete, 15 to 19 inches thick.

In 1958, Special Weapons Center scientists began to simulate the effects of nuclear explosions in order to strengthen missiles, missile sites and aircraft against possible enemy attack. It was in 1958 that a nuclear effects simulator was first constructed in an abandoned dining hall at Kirtland.

In 1963, the Special Weapons Center gave up much of its research and development work to the newly created Air Force Weapons Laboratory. The Center continued with its test and evaluation mission and as Kirtland's host organization.

The Special Weapons Center took over management of Air Force Systems Command's test and evaluation facilities at Holloman AFB near Alamogordo, New Mexico, during the summer of 1970. And, just one year later on July 1, 1971, Kirtland merged with Manzano and Sandia Base, its neighbors to the east, creating a sprawling military complex known as Kirtland AFB.

Early in 1974, at the direction of the Air Force Chief of Staff, the Air Force Test and Evaluation Center was organized at Kirtland to direct and oversee operational testing of aircraft and other equipment.

Because of budget restrictions and the need to save money, the Air Force Special Weapons Center was disestablished on April 1, 1976. Its responsibilities as Kirtland's "landlord" were also transferred to the Air Force Contract Management Division on the same day.

As the Special Weapons Center was being dismantled, the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service was moving its 1550th Aircrew Training and Test Wing to Kirtland from Hill AFB, Utah. And, on July 1, 1977, the 1606th Air Base Wing was created when Military Airlift Command took over responsibility for operating Kirtland from Air Force Systems Command.

On October 1, 1982, the Air Force Space Technology Center was activated at Kirtland to become the Air Force focal point for space technology planning and development and for coordinating Air Force programs for space missions. The Center managed three Air Force Systems Command laboratories: Weapons, Geophysics, and Rocket Propulsion.

In June 1990, the Air Force Contract Management Division was disestablished at Kirtland. Some of its elements were transferred to the Defense Logistics Agency in Los Angeles while a small operating location remained at Kirtland.

On December 13, 1990, the Air Force Space Technology Center was combined with three Air Force laboratories to become Phillips Laboratory. It recently joined other laboratories and became part of the Air Force Research Laboratory.

On October 1, 1991, The 1606th Air Base Wing and the 1550th Combat Crew Training Wing were deactivated and their elements and functions consolidated to form the 542nd Crew Training Wing.

On January 1, 1993, the base again changed hands as the newly-formed Air Force Materiel Command acquired Kirtland from Air Mobility Command. The 542nd Crew Training Wing became a tenant unit and the 377th Air Base Wing was re-established from support elements of the 542nd to become the base's host organization.

In the summer of 1993, the Air Force Inspection Agency and the Air Force Safety Agency moved to Kirtland From Norton AFB, California.

On April 1, 1994, the 542nd Crew Training Wing became the 58th Special Operations Wing under Air Education and Training Command.

The 377 ABW came under the Air Armament Center on October 1, 1998, reflecting the unique mission of the wing within AFMC.

Today, there are 21,716 people working at Kirtland, including over 12,000 people who work in non-federal and civilian contractor positions.

The impact of Kirtland AFB on the economy of Albuquerque and New Mexico is substantial. In fiscal year 1997, local military procurement amounted to $117 million. Kirtland's payroll in fiscal year 1997 was nearly $755.8 million. The total economic impact of Kirtland AFB on the City of Albuquerque was put at $1.6 billion for FY 97.

BRAC 2005

Secretary of Defense Recommendation: Close the Jenkins Armed Forces Reserve Center located in Albuquerque, NM, and re-locate the units into a new Armed Forces Reserve Center on Kirtland Air Force Base.

In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, DoD recommended to close Cannon Air Force Base, NM. As a result, it would distribute the 27th Fighter Wing's F- 16s to the 150th Fighter Wing, Kirtland AFB (three aircraft) and several other installations. DoD claimed that this move would sustain the active/Air National Guard/Air Force Reserve force mix by replacing aircraft that retire in the 2025 Force Structure Plan

The Army also involved Kirtland AFB in its Reserve Component Transformation in New Mexico recommendation.

In another recommendation, DoD would realign Air Force Research Laboratory, Hanscom, MA, by relocating the Sensors Directorate to Wright Patterson Air Force Base, OH, and the Space Vehicles Directorate to Kirtland Air Force Base, NM. This recommendation would realign and consolidate portions of the Air Force and Army Research Laboratories to provide greater synergy across technical disciplines and functions. It would do this by consolidating geographically separate units of the Air Force and Army Research Laboratories. This recommendation would enable technical synergy, and would position the Department of the Defense to exploit a center-of-mass of scientific, technical, and acquisition expertise. Environmentally, additional operations at Kirtland might impact cultural sites, which might constrain operations. Additional operations at Kirtland might impact wetlands, which may restrict operations.

Secretary of Defense Justification: This recommendation transforms Reserve Component facilities in the State of New Mexico. The implementation of this recommendation will enhance military value, improve homeland defense capability, greatly improve training and deployment capability, create significant efficiencies and cost savings, and is consistent with the Army's force structure plans and Army transformational objectives.

The next recommendation is the result of a state-wide analysis of Reserve Component installations and facilities conducted by a team of functional experts from Headquarters, Department of the Army, the Office of the State Adjutant General, and the Army Reserve Regional Readiness Command.

This recommendation closes an Armed Forces Reserve Center (AFRC) located in Albuquerque, NM, and relocates units to a new multifunctional AFRC on Kirtland Air Force Base, NM. This recommendation reduces the number of separate DoD installations by relocating a geographically separate facility onto an existing base. Reducing the number of DoD installations also reduces the manpower costs required to sustain multiple facilities.

This recommendation provides the opportunity for other Local, State, or Federal organizations to partner with the Reserve Components to enhance homeland security and homeland defense at a reduced cost to those agencies.

Although not captured in the COBRA analysis, this recommendation avoids an estimated $0.8M in mission facility renovation costs and procurement avoidances associated with meeting AT/FP construction standards and altering existing facilities to meet unit training and communications requirements. Consideration of these avoided costs would reduce costs and increase the net savings to the Department of Defense in the 6-year BRAC implementation period and in the 20-year period used to calculate NPV.

Cannon has a unique F-16 force structure mix. The base has one F-16 Block 50 squadron, one F-16 Block 40 squadron, and one F-16 Block 30 squadron. All active-duty Block 50 bases have higher military value than Cannon. Cannon's Block 50s move to backup inventory using standard Air Force programming percentages for fighters. Cannon's F-16 Block 40s move to Nellis Air Force Base (seven aircraft) and Hill Air Force Base (six aircraft to right-size the wing at 72 aircraft) and to backup inventory (11 aircraft). Nellis (12) and Hill (14) have a higher military value than Cannon (50). The remaining squadron of F- 16 Block 30s (18 aircraft) are distributed to Air National Guard units at Kirtland Air Force Base, NM (16), Andrews Air Force Base, MD (21), Joe Foss Air Guard Station, SD (112), and Dane-Truax Air Guard Station, WI (122). These moves sustain the active/Air National Guard/Air Force Reserve force mix by replacing aircraft that retire in the 2025 Force Structure Plan.

Community Concerns: There were no formal expressions from the community.

Commission Findings: The Commission found no reason to disagree with the recommendation of the Secretary of Defense. In addition, the Commission notes that the Army's process was well thought-out and inclusive of the leadership of the Reserve Components and the State.

Commission Recommendations: The Commission found the Secretary's recommendation consistent with the final selection criteria and force structure plan. Therefore, the Commission approved the recommendation of the Secretary.

The Commission recommended the following concerning the realignment of F-16s: Realign Cannon Air Force Base, NM by disestablishing the 27th Fighter Wing and distributing its aircraft to meet the primary Aircraft Authorization (PAA) requirements established by the Base Closure and Realignment recommendations of the Secretary of Defense, as amended by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission. After disestablishing the 27th Fighter Wing, the Air Force shall establish an enclave at Cannon Air Force Base that shall remain open until December 31, 2009 during which time the Secretary of Defense shall seek other newly-identified missions with all military services for possible assignment to Cannon Air Force Base, NM. If the Secretary designates a mission for Cannon Air Force Base during this period, the enclave would revert to the status appropriate for the designated mission. If the Secretary does not find a mission for Cannon Air Force Base by December 31, 2009, Cannon Air Force Base and the enclave shall be closed. Nothing in this directive shall prohibit the State of New Mexico and the Department of Defense from entering into an agreement to close the enclave at Cannon Air Force Base earlier than December 31, 2009.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:51:42 ZULU