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How We Got Here: AFNIC at 75 Years and Counting

  • Published
  • By Daniel P. Williams
  • Air Force Network Integration Center History Office

When the United States Air Force celebrated its birth as an independent service September 18, 1947, what would eventually be designated the Air Force Network Integration Center was already four years old. On April 26, 1943, the Army Airways Communications System Wing was activated in the midst of a globe engulfing conflict we recognize as World War II.


It was well before America’s involvement in the Second World War that the destinies of aircraft and communications would be closely linked. On November 15, 1938, the United States Army Air Corps established the Army Airways Communications System to operate all fixed Air Corps radio facilities in the continental United States. Placed as a staff function of Headquarters Army Air Corps Directorate of Communications, within the Training and Operations Division, this was a system and not an established organization. Because of this, the system has no “official” lineage and honors dating from 1938 despite the significant accomplishments of the organization before and into World War II.


When the official lineage begins in 1943, AACS would find itself assigned to the newly created Flight Control Command with its first station in Ashville, North Carolina, where it will remain until the end of the war. Like most military organizations, post war demobilization brought significant reorganization. With its wartime strength seeing a high of nearly 50,000 personnel dedicated to communications and air traffic control, post war demobilization brought AACS down to just 8,635 by June 1946, and with it more change. 

Today’s cyberspace professionals are well acquainted with frequent and fast moving change, this was just as true over seventy years ago. AACS would see a series of redesignations, or name changes, from Army Airways Communications System, April 26, 1944, Air Communications Service, March 13, 1946, and Airways and Air Communications Service, September 11, 1946 to preserve the familiar AACS acronym. In addition to names, assignments would change as well from Air Transport Command, March 13, 1946, to Military Air Transport Service, August 16, 1948, both of which trace their lineage to today’s Air Mobility Command. The stations AACS was assigned to after the war were varied as well and included Langley Field, Virginia, December 29, 1945, Gravelly Point, Virginia, December 12, 1946, ending for a time at Andrews AFB, Maryland, November 22, 1948.


After its decade’s long assignment at Andrews, and continuing to follow the Military Air Transport Service, AACS relocated to Scott AFB, Illinois January 15, 1958. By the end of the 1950s, communications, computers, air traffic services, and many other missions fell under various authorities. At the direction of Headquarters USAF, a special study of Air Force communications recommended a single manager for most communications efforts Air Force-wide. This study led to the redesignation of AACS as the Air Force Communications Service, July 1, 1961, becoming the Air Force’s sixteenth major command. In this new role, AFCS executed its mission to provide air traffic control and telecommunications services with all communications organizations Air Force wide falling under the command. AFCS would remain at Scott until July 16, 1970, when the command was reassigned to Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base, Missouri. This would be a relatively short stay, and on September 30, 1977, AFCS returned to Scott, a place it has called home ever since.


Over the next decade the command grew in its responsibilities beyond being the single manager for communications and air traffic control. On November 15, 1979, AFCS was redesignated as Air Force Communications Command with responsibilities focused on engineering, programming, installing, operating and maintaining telecommunications, electronics, and air traffic control facilities. The latter of which included an assigned fleet of aircraft to perform worldwide inspections of airfield navigational aids. These efforts would require significant numbers of personnel and AFCC reached its high water mark having over 58,000 personnel assigned in 1987. It would be two years later that AFCC would move into its current home on Scott AFB, building 1700, which was named for the first major command commander, Lieutenant General Harold W. Grant. As the United States emerged victorious from the Cold War with the Berlin Wall down and the Soviet Union no more, significant change for AFCC was on the immediate horizon.


On July 1, 1991, the status of AFCC changed from a major command to a field operating agency of the USAF. Service wide communications units were now assigned locally at the wing and group level under their respective major commands and significant numbers of AFCC’s assigned personnel went to these units. The flight check mission and aircraft had already transferred to Military Airlift Command by 1987, and by 1992, the Air Traffic Control mission that the organization had been responsible for since its first days was transferred to the Air Force Flight Standards Agency. This marked a significant change given the close relationship held between the organization and the flight control mission it had always known.


The mid to late 1990s saw substantial change in the way organizations responsible for computers and information systems were organized. AFCC would be redesignated the Air Force Command, Control, Communications, and Computers Agency May 28, 1993, and would change names yet again three years later to the Air Force Communications Agency, June 13, 1996. It was the following year, April 1, 1997, that AFCA went from being assigned as a field operating agency of the USAF to a subordinate unit of the newly created Air Force Communications and Information Center. This would not last long as AFCA would be reassigned back as a field operating agency of the USAF, October 1, 2000. If you’re keeping track, that’s three names and four assignments in a decade. As any “old timer” from the 1990s will remember, that was a period of significant organizational change in the Air Force.


The current status of the organization today began May 4, 2009, when AFCA was no longer a field operating agency of the USAF and became a direct reporting unit of Air Force Space Command, the lead command for all Air Force cyberspace operations. Two months later, July 15, 2009, AFCA was redesignated as the Air Force Network Integration Center.


It comes as no surprise to the cyberspace professionals of the United States Air Force that, yet again, change is in the air. In our Air Force today are cyber professionals just beginning their USAF careers and it is likely that some will be in this organization for AFNIC’s centennial celebration. For today, and as this organization’s long storied past proves, the men and women of the Air Force Network Integration Center stand ready to be the Air Force engineering and integration center of excellence for decades to come. Happy 75th Anniversary AFNIC!