First Air Force will provide Air Force support to the recently re-established U.S. Space Command, making the organization responsible for both protecting the homeland and now supporting operations in space, the department announced March 11.
The numbered Air Force also will continue to support U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command.
“First Air Force was the natural choice to serve as Air Force component to U.S. Space Command,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. said in a release. “In this new role, First Air Force will be better able to identify and address gaps and seams when integrating space power into the support of the homeland defense mission. This will also inform efforts to better fuse space operations into air operations centers around the globe.”
Air Combat Command is working out how to organize, train, and equip First Air Force for the new mission, with initial operational capability expected by the end of calendar year 2021.
In its current role, First Air Force provides aerospace control and air defense of the continental United States, and coordinates air response for natural disasters such as wildfires.
“We have a staff of seasoned professionals with decades of proven success in protecting the air domain in defense of the homeland. We look forward to supporting USSPACECOM in their efforts to defend against threats to the space domain,” said Lt. Gen. Kirk S. Pierce, First Air Force commander, in the release.
USAF assets already provide support for human space flight, with missions such as rescue aircraft and Airmen on alert for launches.
“The U.S. Air Force is a critical contributor to the U.S. Space Command mission as evidenced by their support to Human Space Flight,” said U.S. Army Gen. James H. Dickinson, USSPACECOM commander, in the release. “We welcome First Air Force to our joint team.”