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Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC)
Air Force Technical Applications Center.png
Air Force Technical Applications Center Shield
Active July 25, 1947 - Present
Country United States
Allegiance United States
Branch United States Air Force
Type Headquarters
Role Surveillance
Part of Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency
Garrison/HQ Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.
Motto(s) In God We Trust; All Others We Monitor
Col. Christopher A. Worley

The Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC), based at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. is an Air Force surveillance organization assigned to the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency. 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]

  • The Limited Test Ban Treaty limits nuclear testing to underground, and furthermore prohibits the venting of nuclear debris or radiation from those tests outside the country's national borders.
  • The Threshold Test Ban Treaty limits all nuclear testing to a yield of under 150 kilotons of TNT.
  • Finally, the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty limits all civilian purpose nuclear explosions to a yield of 150 kilotons and an aggregate group yield of 1,500 kilotons.

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 Sept. 17, 1947, Army Chief of Staff General Dwight D. Eisenhower directed the Army Air Corps to coordinate detection of nuclear detonations anywhere in the world. The following day, the United States Air Force was separated into a distinct service; the atomic detection mission was incorporated into the new entity.[1][3]

Activated April 1, 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 Russia's nuclear ambitions.[4]

On Aug. 28, 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, Aug. 1, 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 (2).[4]

AFTAC was activated in 1973, assuming control of the USAEDS mission.[1][2][4]

Notable detections[]


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

Sinking of Soviet Submarine K-129[]

On March 11, 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 May 18, 1974, by AFTAC.[4]

Vela Incident[]

On Sept. 22, 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 May 28, 1998, with another nuclear test May 30, 1998. This was several days after several Indian tests.[7]

North Korea[]

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

See also[]

External links[]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 "Air Force ISR Agency - AFTAC". U.S. Air Force. June 2007. Retrieved 2009-01-19. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Sellers, Laurin (2008-10-16). "Brevard unit checks nukes.". 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Introduction: Air Force Technical Applications Center". U.S. Air Force. 1997-10-02. Archived from the original on 7 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-19. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 "AFTAC Celebrates 50 Years of Long Range Detection". AFTAC. 1997-10-??. Retrieved 2009-01-19. 
  5. "This Week in PACAF and USAF history". U.S. Air Force. 2008-09-13. Retrieved 2009-01-19. 
  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. 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2009-10-19. 

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