A SHORT HISTORY OF THE 53D WING
The 53d Wing was established as the 53d Pursuit Group (Interceptor) on 20 November 1940 and it was activated on 15 January 1941 at MacDill Field, Fla. The group was initially assigned to fly P-35 and P-40 aircraft and then it moved to Tallahassee, Fla., in May that same year. They had been engaged in training pilots for about 11 months when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. With the United States actively engaged in World War II, the group was sent to Panama to reinforce defenses at the Canal Zone. In less than one year at that location, the group successfully ferried 80 P-39 aircraft to Panama from the United States. It was during this time the unit was re-designated the 53d Fighter Group.
The group returned to Florida in November 1942 where it made its home first at Dale Mabry Field, Tallahassee. It later moved to Drew Field before settling at Fort Myers Army Airfield (Page Field), Fort Myers, Fla. While at Page Field, the group trained fighter pilots to be sent overseas as replacements. The group completed its World War II service and was disbanded on 1 May 1944. It was reconstituted 11 years later on 20 June 1955, as Headquarters, 53d Fighter Group (Air Defense) and assigned to the Air Defense Command. Located at Sioux City Municipal Airport (now Colonel Bud Day Field), Sioux City, Iowa. The group flew F-86 aircraft and provided air defense protection to the central portion of the United States until it was discontinued on 1 April 1960. While in an inactive status, the group was re-designated as the 53d Tactical Fighter Group.
The USAF Tactical Air Warfare Center was activated on 1 November 1963, and re-designated as the USAF Air Warfare Center on 1 October 1991. On 1 October 1995, Headquarters Air Combat Command consolidated the USAFAWC, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., with the inactive 53d Tactical Fighter Group, and it was re-designated as the 53d Wing.
The USAFTAWC originated as a result of a U.S. Army request in 1961 for additional air support. Gen. Curtis LeMay, then Air Force Chief of Staff, tasked the USAFTAWC to prove the Air Force could support the Army's need for close air support and tactical airlift more effectively than a separate air arm of the Army. The center's first task was to prepare plans for joint Army Air Force tests and evaluations. Its role expanded to include the general improvement of tactical air in support of ground forces.
In 1964, USAFTAWC proved the Air Force's capability to provide support to the Army during exercises "Indian River" and "Goldfire." As expected, there were shortfalls in equipment, tactics and training. The Air Force broadened USAFTAWC's mission to address these deficiencies and included the acquisition and testing of off-the-shelf equipment items, with emphasis on strengthening the Air Force tactical air capabilities. This was the beginning of USAFTAWC's support to then-Tactical Air Forces, known now as the Combat Air Forces (CAF).
In 1965, the North Vietnamese began launching surface-to-air missiles against U.S. aircraft. The Air Force had little or no defense against these missiles and assigned the USAFTAWC the critical mission of developing effective surface-to-air missile (SAM) countermeasures to protect aircrews over the skies of Vietnam. In response to this new threat, USAFTAWC originated and fielded the Wild Weasel program. Simultaneously, the center was testing radar homing and warning equipment and self-protection electronic countermeasures jamming pods.
Between 1965 and 1966, USAFTAWC personnel saw combat in Vietnam while simultaneously performing the combat evaluation of the F-5 aircraft, known as Skoshi Tiger. The center was conducting this evaluation to determine if an inexpensive, uncomplicated fighter would be beneficial in lower levels of conflict, such as in Southeast Asia.
In November 1966, USAFTAWC established the Deputy Chief of Staff (DCS) for anti-SAM. This became the DCS for Electronic Warfare, a precursor to the 68th Electronic Combat Group. As the Vietnam War continued, USAFTAWC's mission expanded to include new programs that dealt with night operations, improved tactical communications, and weapons systems designed to interdict enemy supply lines and troop movements. In 1971, USAFTAWC absorbed the mission of the tactical airlift and tactical reconnaissance centers and became the Air Force focal point for tactical airlift, reconnaissance, and special operations. The center added the air-to-air weapons system evaluation program in 1972, and this marked the beginning of the USAFTAWC role in evaluating fielded combat capabilities. In 1974, Headquarters Tactical Air Command (now Air Combat Command) added the acquisition and testing of aircraft simulators, while Headquarters U.S. Air Force transferred the tactical airlift mission from USAFTAWC to the Military Airlift Command.
USAFTAWC's command, control, and communications mission, first introduced in 1966, added a new dimension when the Blue Flag program was incorporated in March 1977. The 4441st Tactical Training Group (Blue Flag), re-designated the 41st Training Group on 1 November 1991, provided direction for training personnel in command and control. On 15 April 1993, HQ ACC re-designated the unit the USAF Battle Staff Training School.
In 1978, the center assumed responsibility for the USAF Air Ground Operations School. In the same year, the Electronic Warfare Evaluation Program became another one of the USAFTAWC's weapons system evaluation programs, and resulted in the activation of the 4487th Electronic Warfare Aggressor Squadron in 1990.
In 1979, the commander of the Tactical Air Command (TAC) designated USAFTAWC as "Mr. Electronic Warfare" for the Tactical Air Force. That same year, the center established a command, control, communications and intelligence complex at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The addition of the 727th Tactical Control Squadron, re-designated the 727th Air Control Squadron on 1 November 1991, reinforced USAFTAWC's role as the Air Force leader in testing tactical communications.
During the 1980s, the pace of testing quickened. HQ TAC added chemical warfare defense testing to the center's list of missions and activated detachments throughout the CONUS to manage the Wild Weasel program. The E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System program, low altitude navigation targeting infrared night (LANTIRN) program, anti-satellite missile program, EF-111 testing, operational testing of the ground launched cruise missile, and the Compass Call program were all part of USAFTAWC's testing schedule for those years.
In 1980, HQ TAC activated the 4442nd Tactical Control Group (consolidated with the 505th Tactical Control Group and ultimately re-designated the 505th Command and Control Evaluation Group in February 1993), at Hurlburt Field and placed under its command the USAF Air Ground Operations School; 727th Tactical Control Squadron; and the command, control, communications, and intelligence complex. Also in 1980, USAFTAWC received the task of developing a live-fly electronic combat exercise to be a part of the Red Flag series. The center conducted the first Green Flag exercise in 1981. This was the start of what would become the most comprehensive electronic combat exercise in the world.
In 1983, the center experienced some major changes -- its Air-to-Air Weapons System Evaluation Program was transferred to Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., and, in turn, USAFTAWC inherited all testing operations previously conducted by the Air Defense Weapons Center. This included gaining the rooftop radar test facility at Tyndall, which is a one-of-a-kind facility in or outside the service.
In 1984, the center started the Reconnaissance Evaluation Program. In October 1985, USAFTAWC added the 4486th Fighter Weapons Squadron (re-designated the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron on 1 December 1991), to oversee this program and the Air-to-Ground Weapons System Evaluation Program.
On 1 July 1988, the center established Detachment 4 at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., to plan and direct the transfer to USAFTAWC of a large-scale simulation facility that replicated the North Atlantic Treaty Organization air defense environment. This $150 million facility explored new air defense concepts, tactics, and procedures before being implemented in the CAF.
The 4443rd Test and Evaluation Group, which activated in July 1988, was re-designated the 79th Test and Evaluation Group on 1 December 1991, and it provided management of the center's extensive flying and logistics activities.
On 1 October 1990, HQ TAC activated the 4487th Electronic Warfare Aggressor Squadron (re-designated the 87th Electronic Warfare Aggressor Squadron [EWAS] on 1 December 1991) at Eglin Air Force Base and assigned the unit under the Deputy Chief of Staff, Electronic Combat (Green Flag). Under the aggressor concept, one of the squadron's analysis teams would deploy for two weeks to a unit's home station to conduct evaluations of its tactical electronic warfare systems. Using ramp testers and electronic combat mini- range equipment, EWAS personnel thoroughly checked internal and external jamming pods, radar warning receivers, and aircraft identification systems.
On 23 January 1991, HQ 475th Weapons Evaluation Group, located at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., with subordinate units, was transferred from the USAF Air Defense Center to USAFTAWC. Subordinate units included: the 81st Range Control Squadron, 82nd Tactical Aerial Targets Squadron, 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron, 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron, and Detachment 1, 475th WEG at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.
On 1 June 1992, following the inactivation of Strategic Air Command, USAFAWC gained the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron, Edwards AFB Calif.; 49th Test Squadron, Barksdale Air Force Base, La.; 513th Test Squadron, Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.; and the 3907th Systems Evaluation Squadron, Castle Air Force Base, Calif.. Then, on 15 April 1993, USAFAWC underwent a significant reorganization and the deputy chief of staff structure was replaced by a command structure and the deputy chiefs of staff became commanders of the center's four groups.
On 1 January 1995, HQ ACC activated six Air Force Joint Program Office operating locations (OL) under the USAF Air Ground Operations School. The OLs were located at Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Knox, Ky.; Fort Sill, Okla.; Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Rucker, Ala.; and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The OLs provided instruction on subjects pertaining to the Air Force component of DOD joint operations at Army centers and schools.
As mentioned earlier, the USAFAWC was re-designated the 53d Wing under command of the USAF Weapons and Tactics Center at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., which was later re-designated the Air Warfare Center. The roles and missions of the two units were combined into a single center to improve communication, efficiency and combat capability in the test and development process. The 53d Wing retained the USAFAWC mission, units and its 2,700 personnel and it also inherited the earlier history of the 53d Tactical Fighter Group.