From Thule Air Base, Greenland the U.S. Air Force monitors the skies for missiles from its Arctic location strategically positioned at the halfway point between Washington, D.C. and Moscow. Thule pronounced "Two Lee" is Latin for northernmost part of the inhabitable world. Thule Air Base is located in the northwestern corner of Greenland, in a coastal valley 700 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 950 miles south of the North Pole. For over half a century, the base has been home to active-duty Air Force members who live and work in this remote and harsh environment to perform National security.
In the early 1950's, the base's main mission was to be an aircraft refueling stop. It was home to 10,000 U.S. military airmen and there were many buildings spread throughout the entire base. During the Cold War Era, the base's mission changed and it is now performing missile warning and space surveillance for the United States. Today, the base is home to 650 personnel - 200 are U.S. Military and the rest are Danish and Greenlandic residents.
Thule Air Base is the U.S. Armed Forces’ northernmost installation, located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Thule’s arctic environment offers some of the most spectacular scenery found anywhere in the world, including majestic icebergs in the North Star Bay, the massive polar ice cap and Wolstenholme Fjord–the only place on earth where three active glaciers join together.
Thule Air Base is home to the 21st Space Wing’s global network of sensors providing missile warning, space surveillance and space control to North American Aerospace Defense Command and Air Force Space Command. Thule Air Base is also home to the 821st Air Base Group and is responsible for air base support within the Thule Defense Area for the multinational population of “Team Thule.” The base hosts the 12th Space Warning Squadron who operates a Ballistic Missile Early Warning System designed to detect and track ICBMs launched against North America. Thule is also host to Detachment 1 of the 23rd Space Operations Squadron, part of the 50th Space Wing’s global satellite control network. In addition, our modern airfield boasts a 10,000-foot runway and more than 3,000 U.S. and international flights per year. Finally, Thule is home to the northernmost deep water port in the world.
Two tenant units contribute to the space superiority mission here. The 22nd SOPS's Detachment 3 is a tenant unit and is part of the 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo. The unit's primary mission is to communicate with polar orbiting satellites by sending information to and receiving data from these satellites using three massive satellite dishes at the automated remote tracking station. They provide telemetry, tracking and command operations for U.S. and allied government satellite programs. Detachment 3 specialists communicate with polar orbiting satellites 10 to 14 times per day and receive and relay data used for communications, navigation and weather. They make more than 22,000 satellite contacts per year. Indirect support to war fighters is made by moving data and information that may be used on the battlefield.
The Ballistic Missile Early Warning System, or BMEWS, is operated by the 12th Space Warning Squadron, a tenant unit from the 21st Space Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. They have a primary mission of intercontinental ballistic missile and sea-launched ballistic missile detection high over the northern polar cap. They have a secondary mission of space surveillance, monitoring all the objects in space that come through their polar coverage area. They perform these missions with a large two-faced, solid-state, phased-array radar system. They relay gathered space information to Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo., to update a master space catalog. Two or three American or Canadian service members monitor the console at all times.
Located 13 miles from the center of the base, the BMEWS site sits atop a large hill, allowing its radar to have an open view northward. Because of the severe winter weather here, the BMEWS site has it's own "storm dorm" with 15 rooms to house personnel when travel to the base is suspended. Security forces Airmen stand at the ready at the BMEWS site 24-hours-a-day. BMEWS is undergoing an upgrade to its radar and will become a part of a new missile defense system called the ground-based midcourse defense. The new capability will support a larger Department of Defense system that could destroy incoming missiles before they enter the atmosphere.
Based on a 1962 aide memoir associated with the 1951 Defense Agreement that established Thule, the U.S. and Denmark agreed that all future procurement for Thule would be conducted through mainland Denmark. As such, it is the only Air Force acquisition office in the world located at an Embassy!
Detachment 1 executes and manages on behalf of the 21st Space Wing (Peterson AFB, Colorado) contracts which provide full sustainment of operations at Thule AB, Greenland; e.g., everything from basic construction, supplies, subsistence (food) items and wide-ranging logistical and maintenance support services, to critical airlift, and sealift support. Typically, we annually award contracts valued over $80 million. However, 2005 has proven to be banner year in that on 29 Mar we executed our largest acquisition to date, namely a 10-year, 950 million dollar contract with Greenland Contractors…for continuing comprehensive O&M support at Thule AB.
Given the short port and construction seasons, prevailing arctic conditions, and lack of transportation infrastructure in Greenland, Det 1 values its special role as providing a “crucial lifeline” to Thule. Each member of Det 1 takes his or her responsibilities very seriously...as we realize that the products and services we contract for directly impact on the 21st Space Wing’s ability to provide ballistic missile early warning and space control to NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense-Cheyenne Mountain) and USSPACECOM.
Far north -- so far the northern lights are to the south -- is Detachment 1 of the Air Force’s 23rd Space Operations Squadron, a remote unit situated nearly on top of the world in the ice fields of Thule Air Base, Greenland. As the northernmost U.S. military installation, Thule Air Base’s unique location almost 1,000 miles north of the Arctic Circle allows Detachment 1 to efficiently and frequently track satellite movements. Relaying this information in a timely manner is vital to the Air Force Satellite Control Network, and as part of the Colorado-located, Schriever Air Force Base’s network of geographically separated units, Detachment 1 serves as a testament to its worldwide outreach.
Providing telemetry, tracking and commanding operations for U.S and its allies through its mission, Detachment 1’s northern location allows contact with polar orbiting satellites 10-12 times a day -- much more frequent than other AFSCN tracking stations, which are limited to sparse daily contact. “The location enables the mission,” said Air Force Maj. Uri Mandelbaum, the Detachment 1 commander. “Without being in this area, we wouldn’t have nearly as much visibility and connection with orbiting satellites.”
The unit is a crucial part of Thule, which also hosts the 21st Space Wing’s 821st Air Base group, and a handful of Danish and Greenlander contractors.
A few place-names have undergone a change in geographic location during recent decades. For example, the original location of the place-name Thule was at Dundas; it was later moved north to the locality of Qânâq in the 1950's, whereas the original Thule place-name continued in use at its original location by being incorporated into the name of a U.S. military base at Dundas, Thule Air Base. The place-name for Thule Air Base now applied by Greenlandic authorities is Pitugfik (the new Greenlandic spelling is Pituffik).
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