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Fourteenth Air Force

Fourteenth Air Force provides space warfighting forces to U.S. Space Command, and is located at Vandenberg AFB, CA. Fourteenth Air Force also manages the generation and employment of space forces to support U.S. Space Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) operational plans and missions.

The Flying Tigers of Fourteenth Air Force are the day-to-day operators and managers of Air Force Space Command's space forces and are responsible for their operational planning and employment in wartime and major worldwide exercises. Fourteenth Air Force plans and executes operations for space support, force enhancement and space control and serves as the operational Air Force component to the unified United States Space Command. Space support consists of spacelift and satellite operations; actions required to put space forces in orbit and keep them active.

The command is made up of more than 14,000 military and civilian members, 13,500 defense contractors and 131 units at five bases and 44 other worldwide locations.

Fourteen Air Force's primary task is to ensure space enhances the combat capabilities of air, land, sea and special forces. As a result, most of the military's communications traffic routed through space, largely by the Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS), is controlled by 14th Air Force operators. The DSCS is a Super High Frequency (SHF) satellite constellation established in 1966 which provides priority multi-media capability to defense users. NATO III satellites provide communication links between officials of the various North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nations while the planned Military Strategic and Tactical Relay (MILSTAR) system will upgrade current satellite communications with improved secure, jam-resistant communications links through all levels of conflict, linkincommand authorities with a wide variety of resources, including ships, submarines, aircraft and ground stations.

The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) is the Defense Department's most important source of weather data. Its satellites orbit 500 miles above the Earth, collecting and transmitting data on regions where weather information isn't available through conventional means.

As well, through radar ground stations and communication links, 14th AF operators pass data and voice warning through the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and USSPACECOM early warning centers at Cheyenne Mountain, CO, to National Command Authorities. In geosynchronous orbits 22,000 miles above Earth, Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites use onboard infrared sensors to detect both theater and strategic ballistic missile launches, space launches and above-ground nuclear detonations. While not designed for short-range missile warning, in Desert Storm, DSP satellites detected SCUD launches, providing evacuation warning to civilian population centers and coalition forces. The newer Space-Based Infrared (SBIR) System may eventually replace DSP to help counter the potential use by rapidly growing numbers of Theater Ballistic Missile capable countries.

Another aspect of 14th AF's force enhancement mission concerns space surveillance. This involves detecting, tracking, cataloging and identifying man-made objects orbiting Earth, including active and inactive satellites and space "debris" from spent rocket bodies and fragmentation. The Space Surveillance Network has been tracking space objects since 1957 when the Soviet Union opened the space age with the launch of its Sputnik satellite. More than 20,000 space objects have, since then, been tracked; about 7,500 of which 14th Air Force still tracks by making 30,000-50,000 satellite observations daily from Space Surveillance Network sites in Maui, HI; Florida's panhandle; Greenland and the Indian Ocean.

Fourteenth Air Force also operates the Navstar Global Positioning System (GPS) which is a space-based radio navigation system that provides worldwide passive, all-weather, precise navigation information to both military and civilian users. Its 24 satellite constellation beams continuous navigation signals to Earth, allowing users to determine their location, velocity within a fraction of a mile per hour and the time within a millionth of a second.

Another mission of Fourteenth Air Force concerns space control, as it is tasked with monitoring space activities and reducing satellite vulnerability through survival measures such as hardening, in order to protect US space systems.

Fourteenth Air Force is also tasked with spacelift or launch duties. This includes preparing the satellite and booster (also called a launch vehicle or rocket) and joining the two. Fourteenth Air Force professionals and the system's defense contractors work side-by-side to conduct the checkout prior to launch, carry out launch and conduct on-orbit checkout.

The 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg AFB, on California's Central Coast is responsible for launch to polar orbits while the 45th Space Wing at Patrick AFB and Cape Canaveral Air Station, on Florida's Central Coast, is responsible for launching to equatorial orbits. These 14th Air Force launch wings are also responsible for West and East Coast range operations, respectively.

The final mission of Fourteenth Air Force concerns satellite operations. Satellite operations, the other component of space forces support, are conducted by the 50th Space Wing at Schriever AFB, CO. These 14th AF space operators track and control the various weather, warning, communications, and navigation satellites, operate their payloads and disseminate data from them. With ground-based radars and deep space-looking optical sensors located at 25 different locales globally, the "Masters of Space" ensure the various constellations provide continuous information to warfighters.

The history of Fourteenth Air Force goes back to 1937, when Claire L. Chennault, a retired Army Air Corps captain, accepted the gigantic task of reorganizing Chiang-Kai-Shek's Air Forcein China. From the onset of the Sino-Japanese Chennault repeatedly called for U.S. aid to China in the form of airplanes. Despite opposition by Generals Marshall and Arnold, a secret executive order from President Roosevelt (April 1, 1941) permitted Chennault to recruit volunteers among active duty personnel. A group of volunteers, 100 pilots and 200 ground crew members formed the American Volunteer Group (AVG) and proceeded to Burma. At same time, 100 crated P-40s rejected by the British as obsolete, were secretly sold and shipped to China. For 14 months in Toungoo, Burma the pilots were personally trained by Chennault.

To enhance esprit de corps, aircraft noses were painted to symbolize the grinning mouth, flashing teeth, and evil eye of the tiger shark. Subsequently, newsmen used the tagline "Flying Tigers" which rapidly caught on worldwide. Fighting against numerically superior forces, the AVG compiled one of the greatest records of the war. Between December 18, 1941 and July 4, 1942, the AVG was officially credited with the destruction of 286 Japanese aircraft. In sharp contrast, the Flying Tigers had only eight pilots killed in action.

Upon expiration of the AVG contract, Chennault was recalled to active duty in the rank of Brigadier General as the AAF moved into China. The China Air Task Force and 23rd Fighter Squadron carried on as the Flying Tigers under the command of Brig. Gen. Chennault. Subsequently, as AAF numbers grew in China and a visit to Kunming by AAF Chief "Hap" Arnold in March 1943, the 14th Air Force was established by special order of the President. Chennault continued as the commander and was promoted to Major General. The Flying Tigers conducted effective fighter and bomber operations along a 5,000 mile front from Chunking and Cheng Tu in the west to Indo China in the south; from the Tibetan Plateau in Burma to the China Sea and Formosa in the east. The Tigers eventually grounded the Japanese Air Force as the war came to a close.

Chennault's record of achievements, unparalleled in the annals of World War II, boasted a courageous air strategist who produced a fighting force in spite of continuous obstacles. The man, a legend in his own time, was responsible for the destruction of more than 2,100 Japanese planes, the sinking of 2,135,489 tons of enemy shipping, and 59,450 enemy casualties.

After inactivation in January 1946, the reactivated 14th Air Force served Air Defense Command, Continental Air Command (CONAC) and the Reserve until 1960. Inactived for six years, the 14th became part of Aerospace Defense Command (ADCOM) in 1966.

In 1968, the 14th was inactivated and on the same day assumed the functions of ADCOM's Ninth Aerospace Defense Division and became the 14th Aerospace Force (AEROF), the first command dedicated to space surveillance and tracking.

The 14th AEROF mission performed a major portion of the CONAC space defense responsibilities. The Space Defense Center located in Cheyenne Mountain and operated by the 14th AEROF served as a command post for a global network of electronic and optical sensors that detected, tracked, and identified all man-made objects orbiting the earth. The primary detection and tracking network was the USAF SPACETRACK system. Also turned over from AFSC to ADCOM, were the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System and the Sea Launched Ballistic Missile System with sites located around the world. The 14th AEROF also maintained the 10th Aerospace Defense Squadron which provided launch services for AFSC at Vandenberg AFB, with a subordinate unit at Johnston Island in the Pacific.

On 8 October, 1976, the 14th AEROF was redesignated as 14th AF (Reserve) at Dobbins AFB, Georgia where it managed airlift resources for the Military Air Command. Eventually, it was transferred from the Reserve to the Air Mobility Command fulfilling the same airlift mission.

On July 1 1993, the 14th Air Force returned to its former space role and the Flying Tigers became a Numbered Air Force for Air Force Space Command responsible for performing space operations.

As the only space Numbered Air Force, Fourteenth Air Force's mission is space operations including space launch from the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, satellite control, missile warning, space surveillance, with the overall goal of ensuring the warfighters are supported by the best space capabilities available.

Fourteenth Air Force consists of two launch wings (the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg AFB, CA, and the 45th Space Wing at Cape Canaveral AS and Patrick AFB, FL), one missile warning wing (21st Space Wing at Peterson AFB, CO), and one satellite control wing (50th Space Wing at Schriever AFB, CO). Originating in China in 1943, the Flying Tigers now act as the Air Force component of US Space Command.

In Fall 1997, Fourteenth Air Force opened its permanent Aerospace Operations Center (AOC) at Vandenberg AFB for the 24-hour command and control of all space operations resources.

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Page last modified: 20-07-2011 23:25:15 ZULU