75 Years of Dedicated Service

  • Published
  • By Col Douglas S. Dudley, Air Force Network Integration Center Commander
  • Air Force Network Integrations Center

For 75 years, the men and women of the Air Force Network Integration Center and its predecessors have played a vital role in providing communications, information technology, and cyberspace systems operations and sustainment for Air Force missions.


While our roots go back to the Army Airways Communications System mission established in 1938, our lineage as an organization began April 26, 1943, when the Army Airway Communications System Wing was activated. Over the years, the missions and organization of AFNIC and its antecedents have changed significantly. 


The original mission of the Army Airway Communications System Wing and the subsequent Airways and Air Communications Service was to operate all fixed Air Corps radio facilities, providing ground-to-ground and ground-to-air communications, dissemination of weather data, and control of air traffic by means of radar and navigational aids. In 1961, advances in communication systems and the need for better management of these services in order to keep pace with technological advances led to the organization’s elevation to major command status under the Air Force Communications Service.


The consolidation of communications and data processing functions, incorporation of the engineering and installation mission, and the added responsibility for communications system acquisition in the seventies led to AFCS’s redesignation as Air Force Communications Command in 1979. In addition to the above mentioned functions, AFCC was responsible for communications and air traffic control operations at all Air Force installations and, over the years, operated twenty different models of aircraft in order to perform its worldwide mission to inspect airfield navigational aids. One of these aircraft, a C-140A painted in its Vietnam-era camouflage, can be seen today in the Scott Air Force Base Airpark.  


Following the end of the Cold War, Air Force organizational realignments led to divestiture of AFCC’s acquisition responsibilities and the transfer of its operational units to their host wings and parent major air commands. AFCC lost its major command status and became the Air Force Command, Control, Communications, and Computer Agency in 1993. AFC4A was a Field Operating Agency reporting directly to Headquarters Air Force responsible for providing the Air Force’s primary source of technical expertise for command, control, communications and computer system standards, integration and interoperability.


In 1996, AFC4A was renamed the Air Force Communications Agency and assumed a larger role in Air Force Chief Information Officer responsibilities such as architectures, policy and governance. Today, AFNIC is a center-level organization under the Air Force lead for cyberspace, Air Force Space Command, and reports directly to the AFSPC Commander. 


Over the years, AFNIC and its preceding designations have participated in a number of significant events throughout history. Some of these include transmitting the first message from General Douglas MacArthur to the Japanese outlining surrender instructions at the end of World War II, handling nearly 28,000 airlift flights during the Berlin Airlift, bringing into operations the Apollo Launch Control Center at Patrick AFB, Florida, which was used to support the Apollo space missions, and providing air traffic control, navigation and communications support to NASA’s space shuttle program. The organization has also supported a number of global contingencies over the years such as Operation Just Cause in Panama, Operation Eldorado Canyon in Libya, and Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Iraq. 


As a major command, the institution remained key to fielding and integrating state of the art technology into Air Force systems. The first fully automated switching center for the USAF Strategic Communications System was installed in 1957 at Andrews AFB, Maryland, tripling message handling capability. In 1961, AFCS activated the first Central Notice to Airmen Facility at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, and used it to transmit weather and critical flight data to aircrews and command posts across the continental U.S. The AF Data Communications System became operational in 1962 at Norton AFB, California. It was the first automated, fully electronic, high-speed data communications network in the Air Force and was the first component of the future Automatic Digital Network.


Other significant technological advances in AFNIC’s lineage include the first Air Force Satellite Communications installation, development of the Defense Switched Network, fielding of the STU III secure telephone, the MILSTAR Satellite Communications System, the Red Switch Network and the Defense Messaging System.


 “Without communications, all I’d command is my desk,” said General Thomas S. Power, former Commander of Strategic Air Command, in 1959.


While the organization and the systems and services provided by it have changed over the years, Power’s comment remains valid today. Whether conducting activities ranging from architecting the latest evolution in our cyberspace weapon systems to leading the Air Force’s charge into cloud computing through initiatives such as Cloud Hosted Enterprise Services, AFNIC remains at the forefront of modernization of the Air Force’s information technology and cyberspace systems. 


A lot has changed in the past 75 years, and this article has merely provided a 50,000 foot view of some of those changes. Over the course of this year, AFNIC personnel will author a series of articles highlighting some of the significant achievements in the organization’s proud and distinguished history. The articles may only skim the surface of the long list of accomplishments since AFNIC’s creation in 1943, but they will focus on the significant and honored heritage of the organization.


In celebration of its birthday, AFNIC is hosting an anniversary dinner on April 19 at the Regency Conference Center in O’Fallon, Illinois. This event is open to any from the communications, air traffic control, information technology and cyberspace community who wish to celebrate with us. If you desire more information, please contact Lieutenant Justin Gallenstein at 618-229-6648 or by email at justin.gallenstein.1@us.af.mil.