Air Force Technical Applications Center

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Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC)
Air Force Technical Applications Center.png
Air Force Technical Applications Center Shield
Active25 July 1947 – present
CountryUnited States
AllegianceUnited States
BranchUnited States Air Force
Part ofTwenty-Fifth Air Force
Garrison/HQPatrick Air Force Base, Fla.
Motto(s)In God We Trust, All Others We Monitor
Col. Chad Hartman

The Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC), based at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. is an Air Force surveillance organization assigned to the Twenty-Fifth Air Force. Its mission is to monitor nuclear treaties of all applicable signatory countries. This is accomplished via seismic, hydroacoustic and satellite detection systems.[1]


The Air Force Technical Applications Center provides national authorities quality technical measurements to monitor nuclear treaty compliance and develops advanced proliferation monitoring technologies to preserve our nation’s security. It is the sole organization in the federal government whose mission is to detect and report technical data from foreign nuclear explosions.

Consisting of more than 3,600 sensors worldwide, AFTAC operates and maintains a global network of nuclear event detection equipment called the U.S. Atomic Energy Detection Systems (USAEDS), the largest sensor network in the U.S. Air Force. Once a disturbance is detected underground, underwater, in the atmosphere or in space, the event is analyzed for nuclear identification, and the findings are reported to national command authorities.

AFTAC’s nuclear event detection mission is directly linked to its nuclear treaty-monitoring mission. AFTAC monitors signatory countries’ compliance with the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty. This treaty prohibits nuclear testing anywhere but underground and prohibits the venting of nuclear debris or radiation from those tests into the atmosphere outside the country’s national borders. AFTAC also monitors the Threshold Test Ban Treaty of 1974 and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosion Treaty of 1976. The 1974 treaty limits the size of underground nuclear tests to 150 kilotons, while the 1976 treaty prohibits the testing of nuclear devices outside of agreed treaty sites.

AFTAC is on the leading edge of technological research and the evaluation of verification technologies for current and future treaties involving weapons of mass destruction, which threaten our national security. In 2014, AFTAC supplemented its extensive network of contracted laboratories by opening its state-of-the-art Ciambrone Radiochemistry Lab to analyze and assess compliance with nuclear weapons testing in support of USAEDS and AFTAC’s Nuclear Debris Collection and Analysis Program. The 38,000 square foot lab filled a void created when the center’s central laboratory at McClellan AFB, Calif. closed after the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure actions.[2]


On 16 September 1947, Army Chief of Staff General Dwight D. Eisenhower directed the Army Air Forces to coordinate detection of nuclear detonations anywhere in the world. Two days later, the United States Air Force was separated into a distinct service; the atomic detection mission was incorporated into the new entity.[1][3]

Activated 1 April 1948, as a field extension of the Air Force chief of staff, the 51st Air Force Base Unit was tasked to experiment on various platforms for the detection of nuclear weapons. An infrastructure for detection was constructed quickly, amidst fears of the Soviet Union's nuclear ambitions.[4]

On 28 August 1948, the 51st Air Force Base Unit was redesignated the 1009th Special Weapons Squadron. The 1009th was assigned to Headquarters Command, U.S. Air Force, 1 August 1949. One month later, an air sampler aboard an AFOAT-1 B-29 flying between Alaska and Japan detected debris from the first Russian nuclear test.[1][3][4]

By the end of June 1971, 13 detection techniques were being actively pursued by USAEDS: Seismic (B), Debris Collection (C), Whole Air Sampling (D), Geophysical Diagnostics (F), Magnetic (H), Acoustic (I), Debris Analysis (L), Hydroacoustic (0), Electromagnetic Pulse (Q), Vela Satellite system (T), Very Low Frequency Phase (U), High Frequency Radio (W), and Atmospheric Fluorescence (Z).[4]

AFTAC was activated in 1973, assuming control of the USAEDS mission.[1][5][4]

Notable detections[edit]


On 16 October 1964, AFTAC detected a Chinese atmospheric test.[6]

Sinking of Soviet Submarine K-129[edit]

On 11 March 1968, the acoustic signatures of two extended destructive events were detected and recorded by four AFTAC hydroacoustic stations in the Pacific: Midway Island; Kaneohe, Oahu; Wake Island; and Eniwetok; and by the AFTAC tap on a US Navy SOSUS array terminating at Adak, Alaska. These signals were analyzed using time-difference of arrival times at each station and were determined to originate within 2 nms of 40-06N / 179-57E and originating within a few seconds of 111200Z March 1968. This detection and localization provided the first specific data on the wreck of the Soviet Golf-II class SSB "K-129" which became the target of the CIA's Project "AZORIAN" salvage operation conducted in the summer of 1974.[7]


India's first nuclear test was detected 18 May 1974, by AFTAC.[4]

Vela Incident[edit]

On 22 September 1979, one of the Vela satellites detected a double flash of light, consistent with a nuclear explosion, centered over the Prince Edwards islands. There is still a great deal of contention about whether the detection was nuclear in origin.


AFTAC detected Pakistan's first of five nuclear tests 28 May 1998, with another nuclear test 30 May 1998. This was several days after several Indian tests.[8]

North Korea[edit]

AFTAC confirmed North Korea's 2006 nuclear test.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Air Force ISR Agency – AFTAC". U.S. Air Force. June 2007. Retrieved 19 January 2009.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b "Introduction: Air Force Technical Applications Center". U.S. Air Force. 2 October 1997. Archived from the original on 7 January 2009. Retrieved 19 January 2009.
  4. ^ a b c d e "AFTAC Celebrates 50 Years of Long Range Detection" (PDF). AFTAC. October 1997. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 19 January 2009.
  5. ^ a b Sellers, Laurin (16 October 2008). "Brevard unit checks nukes". Orlando Sentinel.
  6. ^ "This Week in PACAF and USAF history" (PDF). U.S. Air Force. 13 September 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 19 January 2009.
  7. ^ Polmar, Norman; White, Michael (2010). Project Azorian : the CIA and the Raising of the K-129. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-59114-690-2.
  8. ^ "AFTAC celebrates 60th anniversary". U.S. Air Force. 11 October 2007. Archived from the original on 22 April 2009. Retrieved 19 October 2009.

External links[edit]