Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center

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Nuclear Weapons Center
Nuclear Weapons Center.png
Nuclear Weapons Center emblem
Active 1946-1976
2006-Present
Country United States
Branch United States Air Force
Type Nuclear Experts
Role Combat Support
Size Center
Part of Air Force Materiel Command
Garrison/HQ Kirtland Air Force Base
Commanders
Current
commander
Major General Sandra E. Finan
Emblem of the USAF Special Weapons Command (1949-1952)
Emblem of the USAF Special Weapons Center

The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center (NWC) is a USAF Named Unit, assigned to the Air Force Materiel Command at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico. The NWC operates at the Air Division level of the AMC. It is currently under the command of Major General Sandra Finan.

Mission[edit]

The center's mission is to ensure safe, secure, and reliable nuclear weapon systems to support the National Command Structure and the United States Air Force warfighter.

The NWC’s vision is to be the Air Force’s Center of Excellence for all nuclear weapon systems activities. The responsibilities of the NWC include acquisition, modernization and sustainment of nuclear system programs for both the Departments of Defense and Energy.

Overview[edit]

Established on March 31, 2006, the Nuclear Weapons Center (NWC) is Air Force Materiel Command’s (AFMC) center of expertise for nuclear weapon systems. The NWC is the single AFMC voice for integrating nuclear weapon systems requirements and nuclear weapon system resource management. The center is the primary unit servicing Kirtland AFB and its over 100 tenant units.

  • The 377th Air Base Wing furnishes the talent, resources, equipment and facilities to support the Kirtland AFB community--active duty members, retirees, dependents and civilians. That support includes supply, finance, medical care, housing, civil engineering, fire protection, administrative support, personnel services, legal assistance, transportation, security and law enforcement.
  • The 498th Nuclear Systems Wing is responsible for nuclear material on Kirtland AFB. The 498th Munitions Maintenance Group provides this support through the 898th Munitions Squadron. The squadrons perform in-depth maintenance on Air Force and Department of Energy assets from around the world. Their objective is to deliver all munitions and support to the correct location on time and in prime operating condition.

History[edit]

The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center was initially formed as a post World War II outgrowth of the Manhattan Project, which was designed by the Army from the outset to be a temporary organization to produce an atomic bomb. With the end of the war, the establishment of the "Z Division" at Sandia Base and later the Sandia National Laboratory led to the establishment of an Air Force organization to coordinate military activities with the civilian research organization in 1946.

Initially part of Continental Air Command and Air Material Command, the center was established as the Air Force Special Weapons Command as a Major Command of the United States Air Force on 1 December 1949. It was equal to the Air Defense Command, Strategic Air Command, and Tactical Air Command. It assumed all functions of the World War II Atomic Tactical and Technical Liaison Committees, its mission was to provide an organization for the development and testing of atomic weapons. The nucleus of this organization was composed of the pioneering Air Force agencies which had located there to determine future employment of nuclear weapons.

It was redesignated Air Force Special Weapons Center (AFSWC) and assigned to Air Research and Development Command on 1 April 1952, losing major command status and became a subordinate unit of the Air Research and Development Command.

As the AFSWC, it became one of the distinct research and development centers within the command. Its mission was to ensure the atomic capability of aircraft and missiles. During the 1950s, assigned personnel and aircraft participated in atmospheric nuclear tests in Nevada and the Pacific Proving Grounds. The first Air Force scientific capabilities at the base were created during the mid-1950s. Biophysicists deliberately flew aircraft through nuclear clouds to determine radiation hazards. Engineers also 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.

From the early years of Cold War, the need to test and evaluate supersonic aircraft technologies, associated munitions, and eventually space systems, required the Air Force to build specialized ground test facilities. As nuclear weapons and electronics became more a part of air power, two new locations for Test and Evaluation (T&E) were created. The Special Weapons Center (SWC) at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico concentrated on the technologies supporting nuclear weapons development.

Hanscom AFB, Massachusetts concentrated on new levels of sophistication in electronics and avionics development. However, both locations were closed for testing in the late 1970s because the Air Force felt that limited Research and Development funds were better spent on technology than on infrastructure.

One aspect of the testing environment involves the features a particular location might offer that could help (or hinder) testing of weapons such as supersonic aircraft technologies, associated munitions, and space systems. For example, the Special Weapons Center was established at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico because of the concentration of technologies and industries supporting nuclear weapons development in the region.

In 1958 Special Weapons Center scientists began to simulate the effects of nuclear explosions in order to strengthen our 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 the wake of the signing of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963, the Air Force Weapons Laboratory (AFWL) was created from the Research Directorate elements of the Special Weapons Center. 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 Weapons Laboratory built facilities during the 1960s to simulate nuclear effects such as transient radiation, X-rays, and electromagnetic pulse (EMP).

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 1 July 1971, Kirtland merged with Manzano and Sandia Base, its neighbors to the east, creating the sprawling military complex known as Kirtland AFB. The center then began providing base support services and continued to do so for the next five years, while Field Command, Defense Nuclear Agency, became a major base tenant rather than the base host organization.

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

On March 31, 2006, the Air Force reactivated the unit as the Nuclear Weapons Center.

Lineage[edit]

  • Established as: 428th Army Air Forces Base Unit (Flight Test) (later: Special) and activated, 1 February 1946
Re-designated as: 2758th Air Force Base Unit, 28 August 1948
Re-designated as: 2758th Experimental Wing, 1 June 1949
  • Established as the Special Weapons Command (a USAF Major Command), and activated on 1 Dec 1949
2758th Experimental Wing becoming subordinate unit
Re-designated: Air Force Special Weapons Center (lost Major Command status) on 1 Apr 1952
Inactivated on: 1 Apr 1976
  • Re-designated: Nuclear Weapons Center on 14 Feb 2006
Activated on: 31 Mar 2006
Re-designated: Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center on 29 Feb 2008

Components[edit]

Re-designated: 4901st Special Weapons Wing, 1 December 1949
Re-designated: 4901st Support Wing (Atomic), 1 July 1951
Re-designated: 4900th Air Base Group (later Wing), 1 April 1952-1 April 1976
Re-designated: 4925th Test Group, 1 July 1951-31 August 1961

Assignments[edit]

Stations[edit]

  • Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, 1 February 1946-1 April 1976; 31 March 2006 – Present

References[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

External links[edit]