Alaskan Air Command

Alaskan Air Command

Infobox Military Unit
unit_name= Alaskan Air Command

caption= Alaskan Air Command emblem
dates= 1945-1990
country= United States
branch= United States Air Force
role= Air Defense of North America
command_structure=Major Command
garrison= Elmendorf AFB, Alaska

Alaskan Air Command (AAC) (1945-1990) was a Major Command of the United States Air Force (USAF) charged with early warning of an aerial attack on the United States or Canada.


Alaskan Air Command performed its mission through conducting air defense of Alaska, supporting Strategic Air Command elements operating through and around Alaska, and performing other operational support missions as directed by the Commander-in-Chief, Alaskan Command HQ and Headquarters USAF.


Alaskan Air Command controlled two Air Divisions:

; 10th Air Division : Provided for the air defense of Alaska south of the Alaska Range on 1 November 1950. Subordinate units flew numerous interception and training missions. Between June 1957 and March 1960, the division operated and maintained Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, plus several smaller installations. It was replaced by the 5070th Air Defense Wing (for air defense), and the 5040th Air Base Wing (for base operations) in August 1960.; 11th Air Division : Provided for the air defense of northern Alaska and supervised base operations at major and minor installations in that area. It furnished detachments at Ice Station Alpha, Drift Station Charlie (November 1957–August 1960), and Drift Station Bravo (T-3) (July 1959–August 1960), in the Arctic Ocean.

Known Major Bases

*Amchitka AFB, Alaska (Closed 1948)
*Big Delta AFB, Alaska (Transferred to US Army 1948)
*Cape AFB, Alaska (Closed 1950)
*Davis AFB, Alaska (Transferred to US Navy 1950)
*Elmendorf AFB, Alaska
*Eielson AFB, Alaska
*Galena AFB****, Alaska (Closed 1993)
*Ladd AFB, Alaska (Transferred to US Army January 1, 1961. Became Ft. Wainwright)
*Marks AFB**, Alaska (Closed 1950, used until 1956)
*Naknek AFB/King Salmon AP*****, Alaska (Closed 1994)
*Nenana AFB***, Alaska (Closed 1948)
*Point Spencer AFB, Alaska (Closed 1948)
*Shemya AFB/Eareckson AS, Alaska (Closed 1994)
*Thornbrough AFB, Alaska (Closed 1953)
*Walseth AFB, Alaska (Closed 1948)

In addition to these bases, Alaskan Air Command controlled eleven known non-flying Air Force Stations, and fourteen known WHITE ALICE RADAR/Communication sites.

Note:** Marks AFB was used as a cold weather survival school and a fighter-interceptor forward base. Marks was too close to the USSR to operate defending fighter-interceptors, so they were pulled back to Galena Airport. Marks AFB shared the airfield with Nome Airport. Although Marks AFB closed in 1950, an air base squadron was at Nome Airport until December 1956.

Note:*** Nenana Airfield redesignated Nenana AFB, 26 Mar 1948. Abandoned while under construction. Also known as Nenana Area and Nenana Project. Later Clear AF Auxiliary Field. Clear AFS is on part of the site. Work began in 1947 on a SAC B-36 base along the Nenana River, about convert|26|mi|km south of Nenana and about fifty miles south of Fairbanks. A convert|14500|ft|m|sing=on runway was laid out. But, while early construction was underway, a series of earthquakes revealed a fault beneath the runway and the project was cancelled. Eielson AFB was eventually used by SAC instead.

Note:**** Galena AP is maintained by a private contractor as a weather/emergency diversion airfield since Regular Air Force fighter-interceptor alert operations ended in 1993.

Note:***** King Salmon AP is a standby base maintained by the Alaska Air National Guard since regular Air Force fighter-interceptor alert operations ended in 1994.


During the Cold War, Alaska became strategically important in posturing against threats from the Soviet Union. The vast construction completed during World War II brought Alaska distinctly into a new age and into the American consciousness. The United States Army Air Forces Eleventh Air Force became the Alaskan Air Command (AAC) on 18 December 1945, and its headquarters was moved from Davis AAF to Elmendorf AAF on 1 October 1946 to manage Alaska's emerging air defense system.

Alaskan Air Command was divided into two air defense sectors - Aleutian and Yukon. The defense of the Yukon sector was directed from Ladd AAF, near Fairbanks, Alaska. During the summer of 1947 the Aleutian sector was deactivated, and defense operations were centered at Elmendorf and Ladd.

Alaska's air defenses greatly expanded during 1945-1955 period. The United States built an extensive aircraft control and warning (AC&W) system along Alaska's coast and interior. The Alaskan segment of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line was built, and later the DEW Line was extended to the Aleutian Islands. The Command was initially equipped with P/F-51 Mustangs, which were replaced in succession by F-82H Twin Mustangs, F-80 Shooting Stars, F-94 Starfires, F-89 Scorpions and F-102 Delta Daggers in the air defense role.

By 1957, Alaskan Air Command had reached its peak strength with over 200 fighter interceptors assigned to six Air Defense squadrons in addition to Strategic Air Command elements operating through and around Alaska, and performing other operational support missions as directed by the Commander-in-Chief, Alaskan Command HQ and Headquarters USAF. AAC maintained Fifteen major air force bases, Eighteen aircraft control and warning sites and 12 DEW Line locations provided early warning and fighter direction. The White Alice Communications System tied the network together. AAC's assigned strength was 20,687. The forces were organized into two air divisions (10th and 11th AD) providing "Top Cover for America."

The late 1950s and the 1960s saw a major reduction in AAC's forces as Air Force air defense doctrine began changing, and emphasis shifted to a defense against a mixed threat of missile and bomber attacks. The number of fighter interceptor squadrons shrank to one, the air divisions were inactivated, and the aircraft control and warning sites declined to 13. The assigned strength dropped to 9,987 in 1969. The Aleutian DEW Line segment was dismantled. Emphasis shifted towards supporting other commands.

The F-102s were replaced with McDonnel-Douglas F-4E Phantoms in 1970. The arrival of the versatile F-4E marked another turning point in AAC's history. It gave AAC a tactical air-to-ground attack capability.

The Command's command, control, communications and surveillance system underwent a modernization during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The labor-intensive, 1950s era aircraft control and warning system radars were replaced with minimally attended AN/FPS-117 long range radars. The system achieved its operational capability in October 1985. The outdated, semi-automated Alaskan NORAD Control Center was replaced with the fully automated Regional Operations Control Center. It achieved an operational capability on 14 June 1983.

Further improvements were made to the force structure with the arrival of McDonnel-Douglas F-15A Eagles in 1982, upgraded to "F-15C" models during 1986-87. On 1 July 1986, the 962d Airborne Warning and Control Squadron (AWACS) activated at Elmendorf AFB. It operated two E-3 Sentry aircraft on rotational duty to Alaska. (The aircraft were later assigned to the squadron.) A second F-15C squadron was added the next year. The modern radar system, F-15s and the E-3 resulted in a greater capability to protect the air sovereignty of North America.

The number of Soviet aircraft intercepts increased dramatically from an average of ten a year during the first half of the 1980s to a record of 31 in 1987, after which the numbers began to decline dramatically following the breakup of the Soviet Union, and today such intercepts are rare occurrences. The air sovereignty role while still important, has diminished in utility to that of the "Polar Thrust" whereby Alaskan aircraft deploy anywhere in the globe on short notice to deliver whatever ordnance or capability is required.

Joint operations in Alaska are a practical necessity. After the initial sub-unified "Alaskan Command" (ALCOM) was disestablished in 1975, The Commander, AAC assumed the additional responsibility of Commander, Joint Task Force-Alaska, a provisional joint command that could be activated in the event of an emergency, such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill in March 1989. Emergency activation did not provide the daily resources needed by the vast Alaska mission, however, and ALCOM activated again shortly after the spill on 7 July 1989, as a subordinate unified command under the U.S. Pacific Command in recognition of Alaska's strategic importance to the defense of the Pacific.

With the activation of the Alaskan Command, the next logical step was to place its air component (AAC) under the Pacific Air Forces. By reorganizing from AAC to a Numbered Air Force, the Air Force was able to reduce its administrative manpower requirements during a period of massive reoragnization and down-sizing throughout the Air Force. On 9 August 1990, the Alaskan Air Command was deactivated and was redesignated as the Eleventh Air Force once again.

ee also

* Pacific Air Forces
* Strategic Air Command
* Eleventh Air Force
* Alaska World War II Army Airfields


* [ Alaskan Air Command]
* [ AFHRA Organizational History Branch]
* [ Joe McCusker's list of Air Force Bases]

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