USAF Technological milestones: The 2000s

Missiles, missile warning, missile defense, tactical missiles

Dec. 13, 2001: President George W. Bush informed Russia that the United States would withdraw from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, which prevented the United States from developing and implementing a missile defense system.

Oct. 1, 2002: Gen. John Jumper, Air Force chief of staff, authorized deactivation of the Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile system. Each missile was originally designed to carry 10 independently targeted warheads, but the end of the Cold War made the system unnecessary.

Dec. 18, 2007: A ballistic missile target was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sands, Kauai, Hawaii. The Japanese ship Kongo crew detected and tracked the target missile and their Aegis Weapon System developed a fire control solution; three minutes later a sea-based missile-3 Block IA was launched and three minutes after that, the SM-3 successfully intercepted the target about 100 miles above the Pacific. This was part of ballistic missile defense systemtesting.

An MQ-1 Predator armed with an AGM-114 Hellfire missile flies a training mission. The MQ-1s primary mission is interdiction and conducting reconnaissance against critical, time-sensitive targets. (Air Force photograph)

New aircraft technology

September 2000: The first test versions of the CV-22 Osprey were delivered to Edwards Air Force Base. The CV-22 Osprey, the special operations forces variant of the U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey, is a tiltrotor aircraft that combines the vertical takeoff, hover and vertical landing qualities of a helicopter with the long-range, fuel efficiency and speed characteristics of a turboprop aircraft. Its mission is to conduct long-range infiltration, exfiltration and resupply missions for special operations forces.

The versatile, self-deployable aircraft offers increased speed and range over other rotary-wing aircraft, enabling Air Force Special Operations Command aircrews to execute long-range special operations missions. The CV-22 can perform missions that normally would require both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. The CV-22 takes off vertically and, once airborne, the nacelles (engine and prop-rotor group) on each wing can rotate into a forward position.

Feb. 21, 2001: An RQ-1 Predator fired a Hellfire missile to hit a tank at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., becoming the first unmanned aerial vehicle to destroy a ground target. A remotely controlled MQ-1B Predator destroyed an enemy target for the first time when it fired a Hellfire missile to kill a group of senior al Qaeda members in southeastern Afghanistan on Feb. 4, 2002. On Sept. 25, 2007, the MQ-1 completed its first operational sortie, part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

April 23, 2001: The Northrop Grumman RQ-4A Global Hawk completed the first nonstop crossing of the Pacific Ocean by remotely piloted aircraft. It flew from Edwards AFB to Edinburgh, Australia — a distance of 7,500 miles—in about 23 hours. The flight demonstrated the potential of the world’s most advanced high-altitude, long-range, remotely operated aircraft.

Oct. 26, 2001: The Defense Department chose Lockheed Martin over Boeing to build the Joint Strike Fighter. The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps planned to purchase thousands of the stealthy aircraft, designated the F-35. On July 7, 2006, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley were among those attending the unveiling of the first flight-test model of the F-35 at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas, plant. At the ceremony, Moseley announced that Lightning II had been selected as the name of the F-35 and said that the name “was a win for aviation heritage and culture.” He noted that the Lightning II was named after “two great pieces of air power history:” the World War II Lockheed P-38 Lightning and the supersonic English Electric Lightning interceptor, developed in the early 1950s. On Dec. 15, 2006, the F-35 Lightning II flew for the first time. At the controls was the F-35 program’s chief test pilot Jon Beesley, a 1979 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. On Oct. 1, 2008, the first F-35 in the Air Force’s conventional take-off and landing configuration arrived at Edwards Air Force Base for testing.

On June 20, 2005, the Air Force redesignated Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field, Nev., as Creech Air Force Base. It was the first Air Force base primarily dedicated to remotely piloted aircraft — at the time referred to as unmanned aerial vehicle — operations.

On Nov. 28, 2006, the Air National Guard redesignated the 163rd Refueling Wing at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., as the 163rd Reconnaissance Wing. The wing would operate the MQ-1 Predator, becoming the ANG’s first RPA unit.

May 1, 2007: In a major organizational development, the Air Force activated the 432nd Fighter Wing at Creech AFB, Nev., renaming it the 432nd Wing. The service’s first RPA wing, it took charge of rapidly expanding intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions.

May 22, 2002: The X-45A unmanned combat air vehicle flew for the first time at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. It was the first unmanned aircraft designed for combat operations, such as suppression of enemy air defenses, in an extremely hostile environment.

April 23, 2001: The Northrop Grumman RQ-4A Global Hawk completed the first nonstop crossing of the Pacific Ocean by remotely piloted aircraft. It flew from Edwards AFB to Edinburgh, Australia — a distance of 7,500 miles—in about 23 hours. The flight demonstrated the potential of the world’s most advanced high-altitude, long-range, remotely operated aircraft.

Feb. 8-March 21, 2006: A congressionally directed demonstration of the Northrop Grumman-produced U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system was conducted to test the system’s ability to conduct maritime drug interdiction surveillance. During test flights, the system successfully detected and tracked preplanned maritime and airborne targets and maritime ad hoc targets. The system’s final report stated that the Global Hawk system was making satisfactory progress toward demonstrating utility to support maritime counterdrug operations.

Nov. 17, 2006: The Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center Detachment 5 Global Hawk test team concluded the first operational flight test of the RQ-4A Global Hawk Block-10 unmanned aircraft system. The team was composed of AFOTEC Det. 5, 452rd Flight Test Squadron, Global Vigilant Combined Test Force, 31st Test Squadron, the 303rd Aeronautical Systems Group and Northrop Grumman, with operators from the 9th Reconnaissance Wing and 480th Intelligence Group also helping. The team’s final report concluded that the RQ-4A was effective with limitations that had a substantial impact on persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations.

Nov. 16, 2009: The first of the next generation of Northrop Grumman’s Block 40 configuration of the RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system completed its first flight. The aircraft flew in California from Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale manufacturing facility to Edwards AFB.

Sept. 19, 2001: The Air Force awarded a contract for low-rate initial production of the F-22 to Lockheed Martin. The contract called for production of 10 of the new stealthy air-superiority fighters.

Dec. 15, 2005: The F-22 Raptor achieved initial operational capability. This followed a process of engine testing at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn.; flight, ground, and simulation testing at Edwards AFB and Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; missile testing at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.; tactics development at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.; pilot and maintenance training at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.; and initial deployment to Langley Air Force Base, Va.

Nov. 29, 2006: The A-10C Thunderbolt II made its official roll-out debut at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. On display at the ceremony were the upgraded jet’s enhanced capabilities, which made it a more effective and survivable attack fighter. Precision engagement technology, cockpit changes, improved communication capabilities, and numerous other enhancements accomplished under the Precision Engagement program were the most significant modifications to the A-10 in its 30-year history. The upgrade was expected to result in a much-extended operational lifespan for the A-10C, into the end of the 2020s.

Dec. 30, 2008: Northrop Grumman was awarded a production contract for the B-2 stealth bomber radar modernization program.

March 17, 2009: Northrop Grumman delivered the first operational B-2 Spirit to be equipped with the modernized radar to the 509th Bomb Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo .

June 29, 2009:The U.S. Air Force approved full-rate production for the new radar for the B-2. Northrop Grumman began fabrication of the remaining units to upgrade the entire B-2 fleet.

July 30, 2009: At Edwards AFB, the 419th Flight Test Squadron conducted the first functional check sortie of a B-1B Lancer that ended two years of modifications to the aircraft. The B-1 was upgraded with the fully integrated data link, allowing the aircraft to communicate quickly with others in the entire battlespace, even when not in theater. The data links provided real-time data, including where the warfighter needed bombs dropped, making the B-1 a more powerful asset to U.S. warfighters.

Oct. 16, 2009: Boeing successfully completed the first phase of flight testing for a B-1 bomber upgraded with the fully integrated data link digital avionics. The flight test plan for Phase 1 included nine sorties flown by the Air Force at Edwards.

May 26, 2010: The X-51A unmanned hypersonic air vehicle made its first flight, setting a distance record for a scramjet flying under its own power. The test was prematurely terminated due to a breached seal.

A U.S. Air Force airman marshals the first C-130J to land March 19, 2004, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. (Air Force photograph)


May 8, 2001: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld designated the Air Force as executive agent for the Pentagon’s space activities.

Oct. 1, 2001: The Air Force reassigned the Space and Missile Systems Center from Air Materiel Command to Air Force Space Command, giving the latter cradle-to-grave oversight of space systems.

Aug. 21, 2002: The first Lockheed-Martin Atlas V lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., inaugurating a new type of launch missile. Part of the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, the system used a standard booster, adding supplemental boosters as needed for a variety of payloads.

Sept. 25, 2010: After several delays, the Minotaur IV launch vehicle took the Space-Based Space Surveillance satellite into orbit.

March 23, 2011: Space Based Space Surveillance initial operational test and evaluation began that resulted in a recommendation for follow-on testing with the Space Fence program.

An F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, numbered AA-1, taxis past the control tower on Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Oct. 1. It marked the first time the aircraft arrived here. The F-35 will perform a series of tests, including airstart and noise testing. The aircraft flew in from Naval Air Station Fort Worth, Texas. The F-35 is a stealthy, single-engine, supersonic multi-role fighter that will replace a variety of aging fighter and strike aircraft for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and allied defense forces. The A-10 Thunderbolt, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F/A-18 Hornet and A/V-8 Harrier are among the jets it will replace. Once fielded, it will complement the fleet of F-22 Raptor air-supremacy fighters that are already operational. (Lockheed Martin photo courtesy/Andy Wolfe)


Aug, 25, 2006: Maj. Gen. Jeffrey R. “Jeff” Riemer, then commander of the Air Armament Center and Air Force program executive officer for weapons, Air Force Materiel Command, announced that Boeing’s GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bomb I was delivered to the U.S. Air Force ahead of schedule and under cost. On Oct. 2, 2006, Gen. Ronald Keys, commander of Air Combat Command, declared initial operational capability for the GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bomb I, manufactured by Boeing.

Aug. 18, 2008: The first laser joint direct attack munition (LJDAM) was successfully used against a moving enemy vehicle in Iraq.

Nov. 21, 2010: The Air Force selected Raytheon’s GBU-53/B for the small diameter bomb II program after a 42-month competition.

Nuclear developments

Aug. 24, 2001: At Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., the Air Force imploded the last of the Minuteman III missile silos in accordance with the terms of the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

May 13, 2002: President George W. Bush announced an agreement between the United States and Russia that would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in their arsenals by two-thirds.

Aug. 7, 2009: The Air Force activated Global Strike Command at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., to manage the service’s nuclear mission. The command received the lineage and honors of Strategic Air Command.


To download a copy of this week’s paper click the link below.



Click on the link below for your free, digital copy of this special issue, viewable on your desktop or mobile device.


More Stories