KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
On Oct. 8, 2021, the 377th Air Base Wing at Kirtland AFB, N.M., assumed responsibility for the 576th Flight Test Squadron, a geographically separated unit operating at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.
The 576th FLTS is the United States’ only dedicated intercontinental ballistic missile test squadron, professionally executing tests that accurately measure the current and future capability of the ICBM force.
To meet the unit’s special geographic, logistical and operational requirements, missile test launches will remain at Vandenberg, while its administrative control aligns under the 377th Air Base Wing command structure.
“We’re happy to welcome the 576th FLTS onto the 377th Air Base Wing team. The squadron has a unique mission in our Air Force and a distinguished heritage. Bringing us together as one team aligns our critical missions supporting the nuclear enterprise,” said Col. Jason Vattioni, 377th ABW commander.
In executing the ICBM initial operational test and evaluation and force development evaluation programs, the 576th FLTS prepares for and conducts ground and flight tests to collect, analyze, and report performance, accuracy, and reliability data for the Joint Staff, U.S. Strategic Command, Air Force Global Strike Command, and the Air Staff. The 576th FLTS identifies missile system requirements, demonstrates current and future warfighting capabilities, and validates missile system improvements and upgrades.
“At the 576th Flight Test Squadron, we are tasked with verifying and validating the mission readiness, reliability, and accuracy of the Minuteman III ICBM. Our team’s mission is foundational to Air Force Global Strike Command’s ability to provide ready forces to the warfighter, facilitate extended deterrence to our allies, and put our adversaries on notice that we are always ready,” said Col. Omar Colbert, 576th FLTS commander.
“As a geographically separated unit, we are excited about our recent administrative control transition to fall under the 377th ABW. This new command structure significantly enhances our ability to organize, train, and equip Airmen to conduct a unique mission supporting our command’s core mission set. We are proud and honored to be joining Team Kirtland,” he said.
The squadron has a long and distinctive history, beginning in World War II. It was activated at Davis-Monthan Field, Arizona, on Jan. 26, 1943, as the 576th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), and soon transferred to Wendling Air Field, England. There, it participated in the strategic bombardment campaigns of Europe as part of 8th Air Force, known as the “Mighty 8th.” Its service in multiple air campaigns, including the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge, resulted in seven European-African-Middle Eastern Theater campaign streamers and one Distinguished Unit Citation over a two-year period from July 1943 to June 1945.
The 576th was inactivated on Sept. 13, 1945, with the close of World War II. It was reactivated on Sept. 24, 1947, as a Reserve Bombardment Squadron (Very Heavy) at Barksdale Field, Louisiana, and briefly reassigned as a light jet bombardment squadron on June 27, 1949 before being inactivated again on Nov. 10, 1949. With the Cold War in full swing by the end of the 1950s, the squadron was re-designated on March 6, 1958, as the 576th Strategic Missile Squadron, and activated shortly afterwards on April 1 under the 704th Strategic Missile Wing at Cooke Air Force Base, California (now Vandenberg Space Force Base), as part of Strategic Air Command. In this capacity, it served as the nation’s first Atlas ICBM unit. On April 2, 1966, the 576th was once again inactivated.
Redesignated the 576th Test Squadron on August 29, 1991, it re-activated at Vandenberg AFB on September 1, 1991. The 576th designation aligned the squadron’s history and lineage with its new mission, this time testing the Minuteman III and Peacekeeper weapon systems. In July 1993, the 576th was assigned to the 30th Operations Group under the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg AFB, and redesignated the 576th Flight Test Squadron on July 1, 1994. Then, on February 22, 1996, the squadron was reassigned to the Space Warfare Center at Schriever AFB, Colorado, as a direct reporting unit, maintaining operations at Vandenberg.
On March 14, 1996, the 576th, the 30th Maintenance Squadron, and portions of the 30th Logistics Support Squadron merged under the banner of the 576th FLTS, aligning all personnel directly involved with ICBM testing at Vandenberg under a single mission commander. Squadron testing of the Peacekeeper system ended in 2004.
The 576 FLTS was reassigned to Air Force Global Strike Command on Dec. 1, 2009, as a direct reporting unit to the Director of Operations at HQ AFGSC, followed by a reassignment to 20th Air Force on October 1, 2016, also in the capacity as a direct reporting unit.
On Oct. 8, 2021, administrative control of the 576th FLTS was transferred to the 377th Air Base Wing at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, as the squadron prepares for the next stage in the evolution of ICBMs – the imminent testing and deployment of the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent platform.