Detecting the threat


Shortly after World War II, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower directed the Army Air Corps to have the ability to “detect atomic explosions anywhere in the world.”

The directive would eventually bring to fruition the Long Range Detection program, an integral part of the Air Force Technical Applications Center Detachment 460’s mission.

“We manage and maintain five arrays scattered across the last frontier,” said Tech. Sgt. Michael Farrar, the Det. 460 noncommissioned officer in charge of seismic systems. “Those arrays are located anywhere from Burnt Mountain to the Canadian border.”

The detachment falls under the command of AFTAC’s Technical Support Squadron based at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida.  The 145-member squadron operates at 14 locations across four continents and is responsible for operating and maintaining the U.S. Atomic Energy Detection System to monitor foreign compliance with various international treaties limiting nuclear testing. 

TSUS also assists with detecting special events in the atmosphere, underwater, underground and in space to determine if an event is nuclear in nature. Since Eisenhower’s directive in 1947, the LRD program has grown and evolved, which helps in monitoring compliance with treaties.

“These arrays play an important role in detecting nuclear activity,” said Farrar. “They help us know what’s going on seismically in countries around the world.”

With temperatures ranging from above 90 degrees Fahrenheit to 50 degrees below zero, the Alaskan interior presents a unique environment to infrastructure with challenges in completing itsmission.

“Because of the location of our different sites and the domain we operate in, we have to be prepared for challenges you don’t even know are coming,” said Airman 1st Class Austin Schafer, a Det. 460 field maintenance technician. “Once you’re a couple hours away from base you don’t want to have to turn around because you forgot something.”

Whether driving a snow machine in sub-zero temperatures, or venturing deep into the wilderness of the last frontier, Det. 460 Airmen will adapt to get the mission done

“Our career field is known as a ‘Jack of all trades,’” said Farrar. “Our job may not be to fix vehicles like vehicle maintenance, but if something goes wrong with our vehicle while we’re out there, we don’t have the luxury of having them there. So our Airmen must have the dexterity to overcome the problem to get the job done.”