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HQ CCC: “Providing the Reins of Command” for 80 Years!

  • Published
  • By Dan Williams, Cyberspace Capabilities Center History Office

When Lt. Col. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold led his flight of ten Martin YB-10 bombers, July 19, 1934, from Washington D.C. to Fairbanks, Alaska and back, he could never have realized that today’s Cyberspace Capabilities Center would exist as a direct result of that mission.

In addition to showing to the world that the United States could quickly come to the defense of its territory, the new YB-10s had specialized communications and navigation equipment and Arnold wanted to test these systems over these vast distances. A series of difficulties due to bad weather and unreliable communications convinced Arnold of the need for an integrated, centrally managed military airways communications system.  

It took four years to convince the Army, but on Nov. 15, 1938, the United States Army Air Corps established the Army Airways Communications System (AACS) to operate all fixed Air Corps radio facilities in the continental United States. Placed as a staff function of Headquarters Army Air Corps Directorate of Communications, within the Training and Operations Division, this was a system and not an established organization. Because of this, the system has no “official” lineage and honors dating from 1938 despite the significant accomplishments of the organization before and into World War II.

The official lineage and honors of today’s Cyberspace Capabilities Center (CCC) begins on April 26, 1943, with the establishment of the AACS Wing. Assigned to the newly created Flight Control Command, its first station was the Asheville, North Carolina City Hall building where it remained until the end of the war. Like most military organizations, post war demobilization brought significant reorganization. With its wartime strength seeing a high of nearly 50,000 personnel dedicated to communications and air traffic control, post war demobilization brought AACS down to just 8,635 by June 1946, and with it more change. 

Today’s Cyberspace and Information Technology (C&IT) professionals are well acquainted with frequent and fast-moving change, this was just as true eighty years ago. AACS would see a series of redesignations, or name changes, from AACS Wing, back to AACS, and to Air Communications Service on March 13, 1946. The backlash of losing the very familiar acronym forced a name change to Airways and Air Communications Service just six months later. In addition to names, assignments would change as well from Air Transport Command in 1946, to Military Air Transport Service on August 16, 1948; both of which trace their lineage to today’s Air Mobility Command. The stations AACS was assigned to after the war were varied as well and included Langley Field, Virginia in 1945, Gravelly Point, Virginia in 1946, and finally to Andrews AFB, Maryland in 1948.

After its decades-long assignment at Andrews, and continuing to follow the Military Air Transport Service, AACS relocated to Scott AFB, Illinois in 1958. By the end of the 1950s, communications, computers, air traffic services, and many other missions fell under various authorities. At the direction of Headquarters USAF, a special study of Air Force communications recommended a single manager for most communications efforts Air Force-wide. This study led to the redesignation of AACS as the Air Force Communications Service in 1961, becoming the Air Force’s sixteenth major command. In this new role, AFCS executed its mission to provide air traffic control and telecommunications services with nearly all communications organizations Air Force wide falling under the command. AFCS would remain at Scott until 1970, when the command was reassigned to Richards-Gebaur AFB, Missouri. This would be a relatively short stay, and by 1977, AFCS returned to Scott, a place it has called home ever since.

Over the next decade, the command grew in its responsibilities beyond being the single manager for communications and air traffic control. On Nov. 15, 1979, AFCS was redesignated as Air Force Communications Command (AFCC) with responsibilities focused on engineering, programming, installing, operating, and maintaining telecommunications, electronics, and air traffic control facilities. The latter of which included an assigned fleet of aircraft to perform worldwide inspections of airfield navigational aids. These efforts would require significant numbers of personnel, and AFCC reached its high-water mark having over 58,000 personnel assigned in 1987. It would be two years later that AFCC would move into its current home on Scott AFB, building 1700, which was named for the first major command commander, Lt. Gen. Harold W. Grant. As the United States emerged victorious from the Cold War, with the Berlin Wall down, and the Soviet Union no more, significant change for AFCC was on the immediate horizon.

On July 1, 1991, the status of AFCC changed from a major command to a field operating agency of the USAF. Service wide communications units were now assigned locally at the wing and group level under their respective major commands and 85% of AFCC’s personnel and over half its budget was reallocated. The flight check mission and aircraft had already transferred to Military Airlift Command by 1987, and by 1992, the Air Traffic Control mission that the organization had been responsible for since its first days was transferred to the Air Force Flight Standards Agency. This marked a significant change given the close relationship held between the organization and the flight control mission it had always known.

The mid to late 1990s saw substantial change in the way organizations responsible for computers and information systems were organized. AFCC would be redesignated the Air Force Command, Control, Communications, and Computers Agency in 1993, and would change names yet again three years later to the Air Force Communications Agency in 1996. It was the following year, that AFCA went from being assigned as a field operating agency of the USAF to a subordinate unit of the newly created Air Force Communications and Information Center. This would not last long as AFCA would be reassigned back as a field operating agency of the USAF in 2000. If you’re keeping track, that’s three names and four assignments in a single decade.

For C&IT professionals the only constant is change, and in 2009 the organization was once again redesignated, this time to the Air Force Network Integration Center (AFNIC). AFNIC was no longer a field operating agency of the USAF but became a direct reporting unit of Air Force Space Command, which was newly designated as the lead command for all Air Force cyberspace operations.

By 2018, the Air Force’s cyber responsibilities realigned to Air Combat Command (ACC) and AFNIC was reassigned to ACC at that time. Within a year, the organization would be taking on a larger number of missions and saw an increasing enterprise-wide roll, and so on Nov. 7, 2019, AFNIC was redesignated the Cyberspace Capabilities Center (CCC) to better reflect these changes.  

It comes as no surprise to the C&IT community within the United States Air Force that, yet again, change is in the air. In our Air Force today are cyber professionals just beginning their USAF careers and it is likely that some will be in this organization for the CCC’s centennial celebration twenty years from now. For today, and as this organization’s long storied past proves, the men and women of the CCC stand ready to “Provide the Reins of Command” for decades to come. Happy 80th Anniversary CCC!

If you have ever been a member of this storied organization over its 80 years, we would love for you to join us for any of our anniversary events in April 2023. 

24 April – Early Arrival Social 

25 April – James S. McDonnell Prologue Room Tour at Boeing in St. Louis

                  80th Anniversary Golf Tournament

                  Air Force Cyberspace Operations and Support Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

26 April – Air Traffic Controller and Flight Inspection Panel

                  80th Anniversary Birthday Gala Dinner 

27 April – Air Force Cyberspace and Air Traffic Controllers Association Breakfast and Seminar

Times, locations, costs, etc. can be found on the signup link below for any of these events.

The POC for the events in April is Capt Shawnn Conway (