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Anniversaries bring change to Vandenberg

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Twenty years ago, the first of three major reorganizations swept across Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., that helped propel Air Force Space Command to the front seat of America's space program. The first of these changes occurred on Oct. 1, 1990, and involved what was called the "Launch Transfer."

The Transfer of Space Launch Responsibilities

At the start of the space program in the late 1950's, Air Force Systems Command held the dominant role in the acquisition, development, and operation of space systems. When Air Force Space Command was established in September 1982, it was based on the assumption that space launch operations had matured sufficient enough to transfer some of these activities to AFSPC which was label an operational command.

During the next few years, Systems Command transferred some space assets to AFSPC. But to the frustration of AFSPC leadership, Systems Command vigorously retained the main prize its two launch organizations: the Western Space and Missile Center (WSMC) at Vandenberg, and the Eastern Space and Missile Center (ESMC) at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.

In March 1990, the launch transfer issue was elevated to the Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Larry D. Welch. Concurring mostly with AFSPC, General Welch directed that a Launch Operations Transfer Steering Committee be organized to further examine the topic, and that a transfer plan be formulated for placing space launch activities on an operational footing. A Review Team and functional panels were also organized with representatives from the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, Systems Command, and AFSPC. After an initial kickoff meeting in late March 1990, the three groups began the arduous task of gathering data and assessing the merits of various transfer options.

The transfer options that were most viable boiled down to (1) transferring in total WSMC and/or ESMC to AFSPC, (2) transferring only their respective test groups, (3) transferring only their ranges, (4) transferring the bases, (5), devising a combination thereof, and finally (6) implementing a programmatic transfer based on the booster, upper stage, and payload type. The two commands also had to decide whether it was best to transfer control of launch systems immediately or in phases. If a gradual transition were chosen, an interim organization composed of personnel from both commands would have to be formed to manage the process. Such an arrangement would give AFSPC personnel on-the-job training and the necessary time to acquire vehicle processing and launch experience.

Both commands were also determined to form a management structure with clear lines of responsibility between the users and the operators. This was essential for maintaining accountability, mission success, contractor liability, and the integrity of launch operations.

In May 1990, a final consensus was reached on one option. The joint AFSPC/Systems Command recommendation was then forwarded through the Air Staff to the Secretary of the Air Force, Donald B. Rice, who signed the Air Force space policy letter on June 12, 1990, authorizing the transfer.

Having anticipated Secretary Rice's approval of the transfer plan, staff agencies at both commands were already beginning work on a programming plan (P-Plan) that would explain how the launch transfer was to be implemented.

According to the final P-Plan signed in August, both WSMC and ESMC, and their respective ranges were to transfer from Systems Command to AFSPC on Oct. 1, 1990. Parts of both organizations were to transfer in phases at later dates. At Vandenberg, all support functions of WSMC and the Atlas E Division because a cohesive AFSPC organization. The division was re-designated the 2nd Space Launch Squadron. The two 6595th test groups, formally a part of WSMC, remained for the time being with Systems Command and were re-designated as detachments.

A similar transition occurred at ESMC on the East Coast. The Delta II program was pulled from its parent organization the 6550th Aerospace Test Group, re-designated the 1st Space Launch Squadron, and reassigned to the new ESMC. Unlike Vandenberg AFB which was operated by the Strategic Air Command, both Patrick AFB and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida were System Command assets that transferred to AFSPC.

The remainder of the 6595th and the 6550th test groups, consisting of Atlas II, Titan II, and Titan IV vehicles were eventually transited to AFSPC in phases. This was to be done by forming an AFSPC/AFSC Combined Test Force for each of the booster systems.

In September 1990, both commands issued special orders consummating the launch transfer effective on Oct. 1, 1990. The transfer resulted in some 2,000 military and Department of Defense civilians at ESMC and 500 personnel from WSMC joining Air Force Space Command. Overall, the command increased in size from about 8,600 people to more than 11,000.

Following the realignment, the new WSMC and ESMC entered a period of adjustment with no major reorganizations. But plans were already in work to restructure both Centers into operational wings, and to transfer Vandenberg to Space Command.

The Transfer of Vandenberg AFB

On Aug. 10, 1990, Gen. John T. Chain Jr., Commander in Chief of the Strategic Air Command, and Lt. Gen. Thomas S. Moorman Jr., Commander of Air Force Space Command, agreed in principal to transfer the operation of Vandenberg AFB from SAC to AFSPC. The proposed transfer was viewed by both commanders as mutually beneficial. For AFSPC it was an opportunity to build a unified and compatible organization when coupled with the elements it was scheduled to receive from Air Force Systems Command in October 1990. For SAC the benefit was less visible, but no less important. Over the past two decades the emphasis at Vandenberg had shifted from ballistic missile operations to space launches. Given this situation it was likely that a large percentage of Vandenberg's operating budget was being used to support space and other non-SAC programs. Following the transfer, SAC would no longer bear the expense of operating and maintaining the installation. As a tenant unit at Vandenberg it would still be entitled to receive base support.

In late August 1990, SAC and AFSPC representatives met in Washington D.C. with officials from the Air Staff to map out a general strategy for implementing the proposed base transfer, and established a target date of Jan. 15, 1991, for transferring the base.

Preparations for the proposed transfer of Vandenberg began in September with WSMC, technically still and Air Force Systems Command organization, and SAC's Strategic Missile Center, setting up respective transition teams and coordinating their activities with counterpart groups established at Headquarters AFSPC and Headquarters SAC. In December, the Vandenberg teams merged into the Vandenberg Transfer Joint Task Force.

The task force reviewed innumerable issues and concerns. They ranged from manning and funding questions to office space and computer systems, and various agreements including the all-important host-tenant support agreement.

Based on information provided by the Vandenberg Transfer Joint Task Force, Headquarters AFSPC and SAC issued a joint P-Plan in October 1990 for the transfer of the base. Authority to execute the plan was vested in a joint Program Change Request that was approved by the Air Staff and Congress in December.

By special orders issued by Headquarters SAC and Headquarters AFSPC, not only did Vandenberg AFB transfer to AFSPC, but virtually all SAC base support organizations including the hospital transferred to AFSPC, and were realigned under WSMC on Jan. 15, 1991. The event was heralded by a formal change of command ceremony held on the parade grounds at Vandenberg, and the removal of the SAC shield from the walls at the Main Gate. The former SAC units added to WSMC were not necessarily integrated into the organization at this time, resulting in a patch-quilt command structure that operated for several months until the next big change.

The transfer of Vandenberg and the realignment of several SAC units to AFSPC increased the combined military and civilian strength at WSMC from about 500 people to nearly 2,800 immediately after the change.

From WSMC to the 30th Space Wing

Inherent in AFSPC's plans to acquire WSMC and ESMC from Air Force Systems Command was the goal of restructuring and re-designating both units as numbered Air Force wings. Since the command was organized around a wing structure, Headquarters AFSPC considered the re-designation a necessity for standardizing the reporting network. In October 1990, AFSPC directed both centers to provide a recommended wing structure, and to develop milestones leading up to their re-designations. At WSMC, the same working group handling the base transfer was given the task of developing a proposed wing structure.

Various proposals were advanced for reorganizing WSMC. Some were based on a center/wing concept; others suggested a wing/deputy commander and group commander combination. For instance, if a center designation was retained; one proposal envisioned the new WSMC organization consisting of dual positions, one each for operations and resource management. Additionally, there would be separate commanders for a communications group, an aerospace support wing, and of course, the hospital. If WSMC were re-designated a wing, as suggested in another proposal, the existing base organization the 4392nd Aerospace Support Wing would be downgraded to a group and its reporting groups turned into squadrons. There was even some discussion of having two wings.

By November 1990, the wing and Headquarters AFSPC were nearing a final decision for restructuring WSMC. The plan was discarded after the new Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Merrill A. McPeak, directed that all Air Force operational commands adopt the objective wing structure.

Headed by a wing commander, the objective wing was to consist of an operations group, a logistics group, a support group and a medical group - the latter group only if the installation had a large medical contingent. Certain other alternations to the concept might also be acceptable, providing they were kept to a minimum.

According to the AFSPC commander at the time, Lt. Gen. Thomas S. Moorman, applying the objective wing concept to WSMC would "minimize the differences between space and the rest of the Air Force."

Proposed objective wing structures for both WSMC and ESMC were approved by General McPeak around early November 1991. The only notable deviation from the objective wing at WSMC was the addition of a medical group and a civil engineering group. Since CEG consisted of nearly 800 people and was to undergo a separate defense management review, which ultimately reduced its size down to a squadron, it was permitted to remain a group under the new wing.

When AFSPC assumed control of ESMC and WSMC in October 1990, it had tentatively planned to re-designate both units in April or May 1991 as the 4th and 5th Space Wings, respectively. The plan changed after General McPeak disapproved of the proposed unit designations. He turned down several other number designations before approving the 30th SW for WSMC, and the 45th SW for ESMC. General McPeak made his selections based on the lineage and honors of inactivated flying units. The 30th Bombardment Group (Heavy) was inactivated in January 1941 and flew combat missions in the Pacific during World War II. The group was inactivated in June 1946. The 45th Bombardment Group (Light) was also activated in January 1941, and flew patrols and search missions off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts until its inactivation in December 1942.

With an approved wing structure and a designated unit number in place, the final phase in establishing 30th and 45th Space Wings consisted of activating the new organizations and realigning their respective subordinate units.

On Nov. 1, 1991, Headquarters USAF announced the re-designation, inactivation and consolidation of several units, as well as establishing the new organizations at WSMC and ESMC. In turn, Headquarters AFSPC issued Special Order GD-003 on Nov. 13, 1991. This second order reiterated those portions of the Air Force order that pertained to Vandenberg, and reassigned the units to the forthcoming 30th SW that was activated by this order on Nov. 19, 1991. The order resulted in major internal realignments and consolidations that eliminated the patch quilt organization under WSMC, and brought the wing very close to its current configuration.

Throughout this turbulent period of change at Vandenberg, WSMC was commanded by Col. Orlando "Earl" Severo, Jr. On Sept. 10, 1991 he was succeeded by Brig. Gen. Sebastian F. Coglitore, making him the last WSMC commander and the first 30th SW commander in just over two months time.