21st Space Wing

The 21st Space Wing (21 SW) is a United States Space Force wing assigned to Space Operations Command and stationed at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. The 21st Space Wing is responsible for ground-based missile warning and space control operations. In addition to Peterson Air Force Base, the 21st Space Wing also exercised operational control over Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Thule Air Base in Greenland, Clear Air Force Station, Cape Cod Air Force Station, and Cavalier Air Force Station. It was activated as a space wing on 15 May 1992, replacing the 1st Space Wing and 3rd Space Support Wing. [7]

21st Space Wing
21st Space Wing.png
Shield of the 21st Space Wing
Founded15 May 1992; 28 years
1 January 1953 (as 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing)
Country United States
Branch United States Space Force
TypeSpace wing
RoleMissile warning and space control[1]
Size4,200 personnel [2]
Part ofSpace Operations Command
HeadquartersPeterson Air Force Base, Colorado, U.S.
Motto(s)"Strength and Preparedness"
EngagementsWorld War II - American Campaign Streamer (Plain).png Antisubmarine Campaign, American Theater
Streamer APC.PNG Air Offensive, Japan[4]
DecorationsStreamer PUC Army.PNG Distinguished Unit Citation
US Air Force Outstanding Unit Award - Stremer.jpg
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award[5]
CommanderCol Sam Johnson [6]
Command ChiefCCM Jacob C. Simmons


The 21st Space Wing is the United States Space Force's ground-based missile warning and space control wing. It is also the Space Force's most geographically dispersed wing, with forces spread across 22 locations. Its ground-based radars include the Precision Acquisition Vehicle Entry Phased Array Warning System (PAVE PAWS), Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS), and Perimeter Attack Radar Characterization System (PARCS [8]

The 21st Space Wing is also the host unit for Peterson Air Force Base, providing base support for United States Space Command, United States Northern Command, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and the United States Air Force's 302nd Airlift Wing.[9]


21st Operations Group (21 OG)[10]

21st Mission Support Group (21 MSG)

  21st Medical Group (21 MDG)

721st Operations Group (721 OG)

  821st Air Base Group (821 ABG), Thule Air Base

  21st Comptroller Squadron (21 CPTS)


21st Space Wing shield

The 21st Space Wing shield was approved for use on 23 July 1957. The blue shield represents the sky, which is the 21st Space Wing's area of operations. The upraised sword represents the strength and readiness of the 21st Space Wing to perform its mission, in both peace and war. The lightning is symbol of the heavens beyond and the power of the 21st Space Wing. The blue, red, and yellow signify the three original fighter squadrons of the 21st Fighter-Bomber wing. The motto of the 21st Space Wing, "Strength and Preparedness" was derived from the original motto of the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing, "Fortitudo et Preparatio."[11]


21st Fighter-Bomber Wing (1953–1958)Edit

72nd Fighter-Bomber Squadron North American F-86F Sabre

On 1 January 1953 the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing was activated as a part of Tactical Air Command's Ninth Air Force at George Air Force Base, California. It initially was comprised of the 21st Fighter-Bomber Group, 72nd Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 416th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, and the 531st Fighter-Bomber Squadron. All flew North American F-51 Mustang piston engine fighters, but within six months of activation upgraded to the North American F-86F Sabre. The wing itself participated in several exercise and underwent arctic indoctrination training at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The wing also participated in Project Willtour, which was a goodwill and training tour across twelve Central American, Caribbean, and South American states. In 1954 the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing participated in Operation Boxkite, which was designed to test the ability of a tactical wing to deploy to a forward base and sustain combat operations for thirty days.[12]

On 22 June 1954 it was a announced that the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing would be transferred to Europe to reinforce NATO. On 12 December 1954 it was reassigned to United States Air Forces in Europe's Twelfth Air Force and stationed at Chambley Air Base, France. While in Europe the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing practice close air support operations with United States Army Europe, took first place in a gunnery meet at Wheelus Air Base, Libya and took part in the Carte Blanche atomic warfare exercise. In 1956 the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing took second place in a gunnery meet at Nellis Air Force Base and won the United States Air Force in Europe award for tactical proficiency in 1957. On 8 February 1958 the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing was inactivated.[13]

21st Tactical Fighter Wing (1958–1960)Edit

416th TFS F-100D at Kunsan AB, South Korea

On 1 July 1958 the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing (21 TFW) was activated at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Initially part of Pacific Air Forces' Fifth Air Force, on 10 November 1958 the 21 TFW became part of the 39th Air Division. The 21st Tactical Fighter Wing was comprised of the 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 531st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 21st Armament and Electronics Squadron, 21st Field Maintenance Squadron, and the 21st Tactical Hospital. The 21st Tactical Fighter Wing was tasked with the air defense of northern Japan against Soviet Air Forces and executing strategic bombardment operations in the event of war with North Korea. The 21st Tactical Fighter Wing was initially equipped with Republic F-84G Thunderjet fighter-bomber, but quickly upgraded to the North American F-100D Super Sabre. The 21st Tactical Fighter Wing became one of the premier units in the region, having the best bomb score average in the history of the Fifth Air Force. Intercepts of Soviet Air Forces Tupolev Tu-16 and Myasishchev M-4 were frequent for the 21 TFW. In October 1959 a 21st Tactical Fighter Wing pilot made the first ever intercept of the M-4 Bison bomber in the far east. In addition to air defense, the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing frequently deployed squadrons to South Korea and even made the first transpolar flight by an American jet on 7 August 1959. The 21st Tactical Fighter Wing was inactivated on 18 June 1960 and its assets were directly subordinated to the 39th Air Division.[14]

21st Composite Wing (1966–1979)Edit

317th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron Convair F-102A Delta Dagger interceptor

On 8 July 1966 the 21st Composite Wing (21 CW) was activated at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. Assigned to Alaskan Air Command. The 21st Composite Wing supported Continental Air Defense Command and the Alaskan NORAD Region. The three primary missions of the 21st Composite Wing were air defense, conducted by the 317th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, airlift, conducted by the 17th Troop Carrier Squadron, which was redesignated as the 17th Tactical Airlift Squadron in 1967, and search and rescue, which was conducted by the 21st Operations Squadron.[15]

The 317th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron flew Convair F-102A Delta Dagger, two of which were always on alert at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Eielson Air Force Base, King Salmon Airport, and Galena Airport. The 17th Tactical Airlift Squadron flew Lockheed C-130 Hercules tactical transports for logistics airlift support to Alaskan Air Command and Army aircraft control and early warning sites. In addition, two cold-weather C-130s were station at Sondrestrom Air Base, Greenland to support the Distant Early Warning Line. The 21st Operations Squadron flew Piasecki H-21 helicopters for search and rescue, as well as Douglas C-47 Skytrain, Douglas C-54 Skymaster, and Douglas C-118 Liftmaster transports to assist in the airlift mission.[16]

43rd Tactical Fighter Squadron F-4Es at Mount McKinley.

The technologically outdated F-102s were starting to become ineffective against Soviet Air Forces intruders, resulting in Alaska Air Command to try to upgrade them to more advanced F-4 Phantom IIs, however units tasked for the Vietnam War got first priority. Air Defense Command augmented Alaska Air Command by sending squadrons equipped with Convair F-106 Delta Dart to Alaska on a rotational basis. In 1969, due to the age of their fighters, the 317th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron was inactivated. In 1970 the 43rd Tactical Fighter Squadron was assigned to the 21st Composite Wing and equipped with advanced McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II. The 43rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, despite mechanical issues due to the Alaskan winter, also assumed a close air support mission role in support of the Army.[17]

In 1975 the 21st Composite Wing was divested of its helicopter and transport forces, which were reassigned under Military Airlift Command, however the 21 CW gained two airbase wings and responsibility for all air control and warning sites. In 1977 the 343rd Tactical Fighter Group and 18th Tactical Fighter Squadron, equipped with F-4Es, was activated under the 21st Composite Wing. The 18th Tactical Fighter Squadron assumed responsibility for close air support while the 43rd Tactical Fighter Squadron maintained the air defense mission.[18]

21st Tactical Fighter Wing (1979–1991)Edit

43rd Tactical Fighter Squadron F-15s over Alaska Range

On 1 October 1979 the 21st Composite Wing was redesignated as the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing (21 TFW), reorganizing it along the lines of a standard tactical fighter wing. The 40 F-4E fighters were split among the 18th Tactical Fighter Squadron and 43rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, while the 21 TFW's 12 Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star trainers and single Beechcraft C-12 Huron became part of the 5021st Tactical Operations Squadron. In March 1981 the 43rd Tactical Fighter Squadron was equipped with McDonnell Douglas F-15A Eagle and the 18th Tactical Fighter Squadron was moved to the 343rd Composite Wing and equipped with A-10 attack planes. The 21st Tactical Fighter Wing made its first intercept of a Soviet Air Forces Tupolev Tu-95 in 1982. The 21st Tactical Fighter Wing conduced exercise in the Arctic, Canada, South Korea, and Japan. In 1987 the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing received upgraded F-15C and F-15D Eagles. In May 1991 the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing activated the 90th Tactical Fighter Squadron which was equipped with McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle strike fighters.[19]

In 1991 the Air Force directed the implementation of the one wing, one base policy resulting in the redesignation of the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing as the 21st Wing (21 WG) before being inactivated on 19 December 1991.[20]

21st Space Wing (1992–present)Edit

Solid State Phased Array Radar (SSPAR) at RAF Fylingdales, England

On 15 May 1992, the 21st Space Wing (21 SW) was activated at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. Assigned to Air Force Space Command, the 21st Space Wing replaced the 1st Space Wing and the 3rd Space Support Wing. Activated on 1 January 1983, the 1st Space Wing managed ground and space-based sensors, while the 3rd Space Support Wing was the host wing for Peterson Air Force Base and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station. Replacing the 1st Space Wing with the 21st was a part of a larger Air Force initiative designed to preserve early Air Force flying heritage, and bestowed upon the 21st Space Wing the history and honors of the World War II-era 21st Fighter Group and 21st Bombardment Group. On 20 September 1993, the 21st Space Wing was assigned to the newly created Fourteenth Air Force.[21]

The 2nd Space Warning Squadron, stationed at Buckley Air National Guard Base and 5th Space Warning Squadron, stationed at Woomera Air Station, Australia, flew the Defense Support Program constellation. The 4th Space Warning Squadron, stationed at Holloman Air Force Base, operated the Mobile Ground Station, before having its mission transferred to the Air National Guard's 137th Space Warning Squadron in 1997. The 21st Space Wing activated the 11th Space Warning Squadron, stationed at Falcon Air Force Base in 1994 to operate the Attack and Launch Early Reporting to Theater (ALERT) system.[22]

United States Space Surveillance Network telescope.

In addition to space-based systems, the 21st Space Wing also operates the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) with the 12th Space Warning Squadron out of Thule Air Base, Greenland, the 13th Space Warning Squadron out of Clear Air Force Station, Alaska, and a British detachment out of RAF Fylingdales. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the BMEWS was updated to the more modern Solid State Phased Array Radar System (SSPAR). The Phased Array Warning System (PAVE PAWS) was operated by the 6th Space Warning Squadron out of Cape Cod Air Force Station, the 7th Space Warning Squadron out of Beale Air Force Base, 8th Space Warning Squadron out of Eldorado Air Force Station, and 9th Space Warning Squadron out of Robins Air Force Base. The 10th Space Warning Squadron out of Cavalier Air Force Station operates the AN/FPQ-16 Perimeter Acquisition Radar Characterization System (PARCS).[23]

In 1995 the 721st Space Group (later rennamed the 721st Support Group, and in 2002 the 721st Mission Support Group) and 73rd Space Group were merged into the 21st Space Wing (with only the 721st Support Group remaining intact). The 73rd Space Group brought the space control mission to the 21st Space Wing. Until 1999, the 19th Space Surveillance Squadron operated the AN/FPS-79 radar at Pirinclik Air Force Station, which monitored space and missile launches from the Soviet Union and Middle East. The 20th Space Surveillance Squadron operated the AN/FPS-85 at Eglin Air Force Base. The 21st Space Wing also inherited the Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System, which had detachments at Socorro, New Mexico, Diego Garcia, and Maui, Hawaii. Further developments included the instillation of the Transportable Optical System (TOS), later known as the Moron Optical Surveillance System (MOSS) at Moron Air Base, Spain. The Deep Space Tracking System (DSTS) was also inherited by the 21st Space Wing, being operated by the 3rd Space Surveillance Squadron out of Misawa Air Base, Japan, and the 5th Space Surveillance Squadron out of RAF Feltwell. The Low Altitude Space Surveillance System (LASS) was operated by the 1st Space Surveillance Squadron out of Griffiss Air Force Base, the 4th Space Surveillance Squadron out of Lackland Air Force Base and Osan Air Base, and the 17th Space Surveillance Squadron out of RAF Edzell. Command and control units inherited included the 721st Mobile Command and Control Squadron, 1st Command and Control Squadron out of Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, 2nd Command and Control Squadron out of Schriever Air Force Base, and the 3rd Command and Control Squadron out of Offutt Air Force Base.[24]

The 821st Space Group was activated at Buckley Air National Guard Base to centralize the management of the Defense Support Program. In 1997 the 84th Airlift Flight also transitioned to Air Mobility Command, ending the 21st Space Wing's last association with the flying mission. The 821st Space Group was inactivated in 2002, transferring the DSP mission to the 460th Air Base Wing. The 21st Space Wing also began moving to a counterspace mission, activating the 76th Space Control Squadron in 2001. The remaining space surveillance squadrons were redesignated as space control squadrons in light of their new mission role.[25]

On 20 December 2019 the 21st Space Wing, along with the rest of Air Force Space Command became part of the United States Space Force. The Fourteenth Air Force was redesignated as Space Operations Command, which the 21st Space Wing remained assigned to.[26]


  This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website http://www.afhra.af.mil/.

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  10. ^ https://www.peterson.af.mil/Units/
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