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
Active 25 July 1947 – present
Country United States
Allegiance United States
Branch United States Air Force
Type Headquarters
Role Surveillance
Part of Twenty-Fifth Air Force
Garrison/HQ Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.
Motto(s) In God we trust. All others we monitor.
Col. Steven Gorski

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]


AFTAC's mission is the detection of nuclear detonations (NUDETs) anywhere in the world: below ground, in water, surface blasts, free-air and in space. The global network of monitoring is referred to as the United States Atomic Energy Detection System (USAEDS). The purpose of maintaining the vast network is to ensure that countries who are signatories on various nuclear treaties comply with the intent of the nuclear treaties.[1][2]

Upon detection of any disturbance in USAEDS, the applicable AFTAC laboratories analyze the event for identification. Should the event detected be nuclear in nature the event is referred to national command authorities.[1][2][3]


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][2][4]

Notable detections[edit]


On 16 October 1964, AFTAC detected a Chinese atmospheric test.[5]

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.[6]


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.[7]

North Korea[edit]

AFTAC confirmed North Korea's 2006 nuclear test.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Air Force ISR Agency – AFTAC". U.S. Air Force. June 2007. Retrieved 19 January 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d Sellers, Laurin (16 October 2008). "Brevard unit checks nukes". Orlando Sentinel.
  3. ^ a b c "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. ^ "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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "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]