DoD’s sole nuclear surveillance unit undergoes organizational change

Photo of the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick AFB, Fla., headquarters of the Department of Defense’s sole nuclear treaty monitoring center.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Susan A. Romano)

Photo of the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick AFB, Fla., headquarters of the Department of Defense’s sole nuclear treaty monitoring center. (U.S. Air Force photo by Susan A. Romano)

Col. Jonathan VanNoord (right), commander of the newly-activated 709th Surveillance and Analysis Group, slowly unfurls his group’s new guidon flag with the help of Col. Steven M. Gorski (left), commander of the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick AFB, Fla.  VanNoord took command of the 709th SAG April 1, 2018.  Holding the guidon is Senior Master Sgt. Robert Christman, a squadron superintendent under VanNoord’s command.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Phillip C. Sunkel IV)

Col. Jonathan VanNoord (right), commander of the newly-activated 709th Surveillance and Analysis Group, slowly unfurls his group’s new guidon flag with the help of Col. Steven M. Gorski (left), commander of the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick AFB, Fla. VanNoord took command of the 709th SAG April 1, 2018. Holding the guidon is Senior Master Sgt. Robert Christman, a squadron superintendent under VanNoord’s command. (U.S. Air Force photo by Phillip C. Sunkel IV)

Col. Richard Mendez (right), commander of the newly-activated 709th Support Group, salutes and accepts command from Col. Steven M. Gorski (left), commander of the Air Force Technical Applications, Patrick AFB, Fla.  Holding the guidon is Senior Master Sgt. Braderick Adams, group first sergeant under Mendez’ command.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Phillip C. Sunkel IV)

Col. Richard Mendez (right), commander of the newly-activated 709th Support Group, salutes and accepts command from Col. Steven M. Gorski (left), commander of the Air Force Technical Applications, Patrick AFB, Fla. Holding the guidon is Senior Master Sgt. Braderick Adams, group first sergeant under Mendez’ command. (U.S. Air Force photo by Phillip C. Sunkel IV)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The Air Force Technical Applications Center, the sole agency in the Department of Defense that conducts global nuclear surveillance, underwent a full-scale organizational change April 1 to better align the center’s vital capabilities to improve mission effectiveness.

The reorganization, which was approved by the Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Feb. 21, 2018, completes an effort that began in 2013 to unitize AFTAC. Charged with nuclear event detonation detection, weapons of mass destruction material collection and forensic analysis, as well as operating and maintaining the largest sensor network in the U.S. Air Force, AFTAC senior leadership analyzed every aspect of the center’s structure to optimize its performance in line with the vision of the Air Force Chief of Staff and commander of Air Combat Command.

Much like other wings throughout the Air Force, AFTAC has functional roles that include surveillance operations, maintenance, cyber operations and logistics. Unlike other Air Force wings, AFTAC has inherently scientific mission areas that are unique in nature, including the Air Force’s only radiochemistry laboratory. Leadership recognized the similarities and differences from Air Force standards and incorporated them into the new organizational design.

“Historically, AFTAC did not resemble any other agency in the Air Force, which oftentimes presented challenges to mission accomplishment – both internally and externally,” said Col. Steven M. Gorski, AFTAC commander. “Our goal of this reorganization was to optimize the unit to fit the missions assigned to us. We focused on improving readiness, enhancing opportunities to grow our civilian, enlisted and officer leaders, and streamlining our research and acquisition processes. As the CSAF said, squadrons are the basic building block of the Air Force that provide specific operational and support capabilities. Establishing squadrons here at AFTAC will allow us to push authorities down to the lowest level possible, while forming a leadership team charged with taking care of our military and civilian Airmen and their families.”

The reorganization establishes two new groups, eight new squadrons and a detachment, allowing for greater unity of command and cohesion. The 709th Surveillance and Analysis Group will be responsible for executing AFTAC’s 24/7 monitoring mission in every physical domain: land, sea, air and space. This group will oversee the 21st and 22nd Surveillance Squadrons; the 23rd and 24th Analysis Squadrons; and the Air Force Radiochemistry Laboratory. The 24th will be led by an Air Force civil servant, with the same authorities and responsibilities as their military squadron commander counterparts (minus specific Uniform Code of Military Justice authorities) – a first for AFTAC.

In addition to the groups and squadrons, the center developed two new directorates as well. David Merker will be responsible for the Strategic Development Directorate, which is comparable to a system program office, and will focus on AFTAC’s operational requirements.

“Mr. Merker will lead his team to provide acquisition expertise, full spectrum program management, resource planning and strategic planning development,” Gorski said. “Having an embedded program office within the center, working side-by-side with our operators and maintainers, is a critical component and enables the agile acquisition processes called for by the Secretary of the Air Force.”

Dr. Dan DeForest will lead the Strategic Integration Directorate, which will perform mission analysis, research and development, and partner outreach. “The SI Directorate postures AFTAC to drive innovation in our mission areas by having a dedicated team focused on developing a strategic plan, engaging our industry and academic partner base, and executing our R&D portfolio,” said Gorski. “This will ensure we maintain a technological edge against our competitors.”

AFTAC’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Glenn Sjoden, is anxious to see how his team of highly skilled scientists, engineers and analysts will succeed under the new organizational structure.

“The advent of unitization brings added efficiency to mission execution as well as technical cohesion in the new R&D acquisitions,” said Sjoden. “It also opens up new opportunities for civilian leadership and I’m looking forward to our next chapter in nuclear surveillance for the United States. There is no doubt this organizational structure will facilitate the application of the highest quality scientific work to ensure AFTAC remains a respected authority in both the U.S. and global scientific communities.”

For the past 70 years, the center’s lineage has rich history of innovation and agility to meet whatever challenges the U.S. has faced.

“This reorganization pushes authorities down to the appropriate levels,” said Chief Master Sgt. Michael Joseph, AFTAC command chief. “This will allow our organization to adapt and make decisions quicker, and will empower our highly-skilled workforce to get after our biggest challenges without redundant or conflicting lines of effort. I know our professional workforce will continue to innovate and prepare for the future, which will ultimately give our national decision makers the best data available to help shape national policy.”

Gorski added, “I am extremely proud of how the men and women of the Air Force Technical Applications Center executed the center’s unitization, and I expect our organization will work together seamlessly to deliver a decision advantage to both warfighters and national decision makers.”