Technology Milestones for 2000s

70 Anniversary Technology Poster #1 00-10

Missiles, Missile Defense, Tactical Missiles, and Related Technology

December 13, 2001: President George W. Bush informed Russia that the United States would withdraw from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, which prevented the United States from developing and implementing a missile defense system.

October 1, 2002: Gen. John Jumper, Air Force chief of staff, authorized deactivation of the Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile system. Each missile was originally designed to carry 10 independently targeted warheads, but the end of the Cold War made the system unnecessary.

August 31, 2004: Ending 13 years of service, the last Atlas II booster, specifically an Atlas IIAS, launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, carrying a reconnaissance satellite into space. The Lockheed-Martin booster had enjoyed a 100 percent success rate during that time. With the capability of carrying payloads up to 8,200 pounds, the Atlas II was the most powerful member of that missile family.

December 18, 2007: A ballistic missile target was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sands, Kauai, Hawaii. The Japanese ship Kongo crew detected and tracked the target missile and their Aegis Weapon System developed a fire control solution; three minutes later a sea-based missile-3 (SM–3) Block IA was launched and three minutes after that, the SM – 3 successfully intercepted the target about 100 miles above the Pacific. This was part of ballistic missile defense system (BMDS) testing.

New Aircraft Technology

October 26, 2001: The Defense Department chose Lockheed Martin over Boeing to build the Joint Strike Fighter. The Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps planned to purchase thousands of the stealthy aircraft, designated the F–35. On July 7, 2006, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley were among those attending the unveiling of the first flight-test model of the F–35 at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas, plant. At the ceremony, Moseley announced that Lightning II had been selected as the name of the F–35 and said that the name “was a win for aviation heritage and culture.” He noted that the Lightning II was named after “two great pieces of air power history”: the World War II Lockheed P–38 Lightning and the supersonic English Electric Lightning interceptor, developed in the early 1950s. On December 15, 2006, the F–35 Lightning II flew for the first time. At the controls was the F–35 program’s chief test pilot Jon Beesley, a 1979 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, Edwards Air Force Base, California. On October 1, 2008, the first F–35 in the Air Force’s conventional take-off and landing configuration arrived at Edwards Air Force Base, California, for testing.

Lockheed Martin’s X–35A Joint Strike Fighter landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after its first flight on October 24, 2000

February 21, 2001: An RQ–1 Predator fired a Hellfire missile to hit a tank at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, becoming the first unmanned aerial vehicle to destroy a ground target. Until then, the remotely controlled airplane had been used only for reconnaissance. A remotely controlled MQ–1B Predator destroyed an enemy target for the first time when it fired a Hellfire missile to kill a group of senior al Qaeda members in southeastern Afghanistan on February 4, 2002. On March 1, 2005, the Air Force announced that the MQ–1 Predator had achieved initial operational capability. Designed for use in high-risk areas, it had a ceiling of 25,000 feet and a range of 400 nautical miles, with a cruise speed of 73 knots and an endurance of 24 hours. The MQ–1 configuration allowed the vehicle to deploy precision-guided munitions, including the Hellfire missile, in addition to its camera and radar suites. On September 25, 2007, the MQ–1 completed its first operational sortie, part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

On June 20, 2005, the Air Force redesignated Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field, Nevada, as Creech Air Force Base. It was the first Air Force base primarily dedicated to remotely piloted aircraft (RPA)—at the time referred to as unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)—operations. On November 28, 2006, the Air National Guard redesignated the 163d Refueling Wing at March Air Reserve Base, California, as the 163d Reconnaissance Wing. The wing would operate the MQ–1 Predator, becoming the ANG’s first RPA unit. In a major organizational development, the Air Force activated the 432d Fighter Wing on May 1, 2007, renaming it the 432d Wing. The service’s first RPA wing, it took charge of rapidly expanding intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions.

An MQ–1 Predator armed with an AGM–114 Hellfire missile flies in a training mission

The MQ–9 Reaper was designed as an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance RPA employed against dynamic targets, as well as functioning as an intelligence collection resource. On January 31, 2008, all MQ–9 Reaper initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) testing was cancelled due to deployment of the aircraft to Afghanistan to support surge operation. The test team sent a small team forward to observe suitability and maintenance actions in the AOR. Two additional aircraft arrived from the manufacturer and testing resumed in February. On July 18, 2008, the MQ–9 Reaper began operating in Iraq for the first time. On October 14, 2008, the 174th Fighter Wing, a New York Air National Guard unit based at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, New York, began divesting its F–16 fighter aircraft in preparation to begin operating the MQ–9 Reaper. The 174th Fighter Wing was the first Air National Guard unit to fly the MQ–9.

Larger and more heavily armed than the Predator, the MQ–9 Reaper attacks time-sensitive targets with persistence and precision

May 22, 2002: The X–45A unmanned combat air vehicle flew for the first time at Edwards Air Force Base, California. It was the first unmanned aircraft designed for combat operations, such as suppression of enemy air defenses, in an extremely hostile environment.

April 18, 2002: The MC2A–X, an experimental aircraft designed for electronic communications and command and control over a combat area, made its first flight at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts. The Electronic Systems Center conducted the four-hour flight. Since its maiden flight occurred 227 years to the day since Paul Revere’s famous ride, the new aircraft was dubbed “Paul Revere.”

The CV–22 Osprey, the special operations forces variant of the U.S. Marine Corps MV–22 Osprey, is a tiltrotor aircraft that combines the vertical takeoff, hover and vertical landing qualities of a helicopter with the long-range, fuel efficiency and speed characteristics of a turboprop aircraft. Its mission is to conduct long-range infiltration, exfiltration and resupply missions for special operations forces. The versatile, self-deployable aircraft offers increased speed and range over other rotary-wing aircraft, enabling Air Force Special Operations Command aircrews to execute long-range special operations missions. The CV-22 can perform missions that normally would require both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. The CV-22 takes off vertically and, once airborne, the nacelles (engine and prop-rotor group) on each wing can rotate into a forward position. 

The first two test aircraft were delivered to Edwards Air Force Base, California, in September 2000. In September 2004, Lt. Gen. Michael W. Wooley, the commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, flew the Osprey for two hours and said, “The Osprey can be characterized as the best of everything I have ever flown all rolled into one.” On September 19, 2005, the Air Force accepted the first production CV–22 Osprey. On March 1, 2006, it accepted delivery of its first combat-configured CV–22 Osprey, an aircraft made in a 50-50 partnership by Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. and the Boeing Company. During a ceremony at the Bell Boeing manufacturing facility in Amarillo, Texas, Aeronautical Systems Center commander Lt. Gen. John L. “Jack” Hudson, USAF, accepted the keys from Bell Boeing and described the event as a “historic milestone in aviation history.” Later that month, March 20, the Air Force received its first operational CV–22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft when General Wooley flew the aircraft from the test wing at Edwards Air Force Base, California, to the 58th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. He described the CV–22 as “truly transformational” for his command.

On November 16, 2006, the Osprey was unveiled at Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Florida, when it participated in a simulated special operations mission during an AFSOC Heritage to Horizon commemoration marking the sixtieth anniversary of the Air Force. After piloting the CV–22 in the demonstration, General Wooley presented the “keys” to Lt. Col. Ed Corallo, the commander of the first operational CV–22 squadron, the 8th Special Operations Squadron. The CV–22 achieved initial operational capability on March 4, 2009.

CV–22 Osprey

March 19, 2004: The first C–130J Super Hercules assigned to an Air Force active-duty unit arrived at the 314th Airlift Wing, Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. Although the 314th Airlift Wing was a unit of the Air Education and Training Command, two active-duty C–130J squadrons (14 aircraft each) were programmed for assignment to Air Mobility Command’s 43d Airlift Wing at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, beginning in March 2007. On December 10, 2004, the first Super Hercules to be deployed for combat operations departed Quonset State Airport, Rhode Island, for Southwest Asia. The aircraft was assigned to the 143d Airlift Wing, a unit of the Rhode Island Air National Guard. The C–130J provided a 40 percent increase in performance capability over the previous C–130 models. Its advanced onboard computer negated the need for the flight engineer and navigator positions, thus producing a substantial savings in the cost of aircrew training. A new rescue tanker variant, the HC–130J, was rolled out at Lockheed Martin’s Marietta, Georgia, facility on April 19, 2010.

C–130J at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas

April 23, 2001: The Northrop Grumman RQ–4A Global Hawk completed the first nonstop crossing of the Pacific Ocean by remotely piloted aircraft. It flew from Edwards Air Force Base, California, to Edinburgh, Australia—a distance of 7,500 miles—in about 23 hours. The flight demonstrated the potential of the world’s most advanced high-altitude, long-range, remotely operated aircraft. On October 28, 2004, the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, California, received the first production Global Hawk.

February 8–March 21, 2006: A congressionally directed demonstration of the Northrop Grumman-produced U.S. Air Force RQ–4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system (UAS) was conducted to test the system’s ability to conduct maritime drug interdiction surveillance. During test flights, the system successfully detected and tracked preplanned maritime and airborne targets and maritime ad hoc targets. The system’s final report stated that the Global Hawk system was making satisfactory progress toward demonstrating utility to support maritime counterdrug operations.

November 17, 2006: The Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center (AFOTEC) Detachment 5 Global Hawk test team concluded the first operational flight test of the RQ–4A Global Hawk Block-10 unmanned aircraft system. The team was composed of AFOTEC Det. 5, 452d Flight Test Squadron, Global Vigilant Combined Test Force, 31st Test Squadron, the 303d Aeronautical Systems Group, and Northrop Grumman Corporation, with operators from the 9th Reconnaissance Wing and 480th Intelligence Group also helping. The team’s final report concluded that the RQ–4A was effective with limitations that had a substantial impact on persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations.

November 16, 2009: The first of the next generation of Northrop Grumman’s Block 40 configuration of the RQ–4 Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft system completed its first flight. The aircraft flew in California from Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale manufacturing facility to Edwards Air Force Base.

September 19, 2001: The Air Force awarded a contract for low-rate initial production of the F–22 to the Lockheed Martin Corporation. The contract called for production of 10 of the new stealthy air-superiority fighters.

May 12, 2005: The first combat-ready F/A–22 Raptor arrived at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, assigned to the 1st Fighter Wing. Featuring stealth technology, ground attack capability, and the ability to reach Mach 1.5 without using afterburners, the Raptor was generally considered the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world.

December 15, 2005: The F–22 Raptor achieved initial operational capability. This followed a process of engine testing at Arnold Air Force Base, Tennessee; flight, ground, and simulation testing at Edwards Air Force Base, California, and Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; missile testing at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico; tactics development at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; pilot and maintenance training at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida; and initial deployment to Langley Air Force Base, Virginia.

December 12, 2007: Gen. John D. W. Corley, USAF, commander of Air Combat Command, officially declared that the F–22s of the integrated active duty 1st Fighter Wing and Virginia Air National Guard 192d Fighter Wing had achieved full operational capability. This signaled that F–22 squadrons were now fully ready for global engagement. Corley stated that “The integrated 1st Fighter Wing and 192d Fighter Wing team at Langley possess sufficient Raptors, equipment, and trained Airmen to provide Air Dominance for the Joint Force for many years to come.”

April 14, 2009: Forecast defense budget cuts forced Air Force secretary Michael B. Donley and defense secretary Robert Gates to reevaluate the role of the F–22 fighter, and they determined the current fleet of 187 Raptors would be sufficient if mixed with F–35s in the coming years.

July 22, 2009: After debating over several days, the U.S. Senate voted 58 to 40 to end the production of the F–22. The program stopped at 187 aircraft, less than a third of what the Air Force sought.

August 31, 2006: The first use of the joint precision airdrop system (JPADS) on a combat mission occurred when a C–130 from the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron airdropped supplies to a U.S. Army unit in Afghanistan. The JPADS is a satellite-guided parachute system that allows cargo to be dropped accurately from altitudes as high as 25,000 feet, beyond the range of enemy ground fire. By mid-2007, the JPADS had enabled Airmen to make high-altitude airdrops as close as 10 to 15 yards of the intended point of impact, thus helping to minimize the threat of roadside bombs to U.S. truck convoys when operating in Afghanistan and Iraq.

November 29, 2006: The A–10C Thunderbolt II made its official roll-out debut at Davis- Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. On display at the ceremony were the upgraded jet’s enhanced capabilities, which made it a more effective and survivable attack fighter. Precision engagement technology, cockpit changes, improved communication capabilities, and numerous other enhancements accomplished under the Precision Engagement program were the most significant modifications to the A–10 in its 30-year history. The upgrade was expected to result in a much-extended operational lifespan for the A–10C, into the end of the 2020s.

April 9, 2008: The first Air Force high deck patient loading platform (HDPLP) was designated operational with the transfer of five patients during a KC–135 channel mission from Afghanistan to Germany. The HDPLP was a special purpose vehicle with an enclosed lighted and climate-controlled cabin designed to access high deck platform airframes, such as KC–135, CRAF 767 and KC–10, for servicing and enplaning/deplaning patients.

December 30, 2008: Northrop Grumman Corporation was awarded a production contract for the B–2 stealth bomber radar modernization program (RMP).

March 17, 2009: Northrop Grumman delivered the first operational B–2 Spirit to be equipped with the modernized radar to the 509th Bomb Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

June 29, 2009: Air Force approved full-rate production for the new radar for the B–2. Northrop Grumman began fabrication of the remaining units to upgrade the entire B–2 fleet.

July 30, 2009: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, the 419th Flight Test Squadron conducted the first functional check sortie of a B–1B Lancer that ended two years of modifications to the aircraft. The B–1 was upgraded with the fully integrated data link (FIDL), allowing the aircraft to communicate quickly with others in the entire battlespace, even when not in theater. The data links provided real-time data, including where the warfighter needed bombs dropped, making the B–1 a more powerful asset to U.S. warfighters. “The FIDL is basically going to bring the B–1 into the fight,” said Maj. Jason Wierzbanowski, 419th Flight Test Squadron B–1 test pilot.

October 16, 2009: Boeing successfully completed the first phase of flight testing for a B–1 bomber upgraded with the fully integrated data link (FIDL) digital avionics. The flight test plan for Phase 1 included nine sorties flown by the Air Force at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

August 21, 2009: Boeing delivered a retrofitted B–52 bomber back to the Air Force after incorporating the latest modern communications technology in the B–52 combat network communications technology (CONECT). The upgrade had taken over 21 months.

January 28, 2010: Boeing announced that a B–52H upgraded with new communication technology successfully had accomplished its first test flight at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on January 17. The combat network communications technology (CONECT) upgrade was designed to allow B–52H crews to receive and send real-time digital information during their missions, giving them greater situational awareness and enhanced mission capabilities.

May 26, 2010: The X–51A unmanned hypersonic air vehicle made its first flight, setting a distance record for a scramjet flying under its own power. The test was prematurely terminated due to a breached seal.

August 14, 2010: The 179th Airlift Wing (ANG) at Mansfield Lahm Air National Guard Base, Ohio, accepted the first C–27J Spartan. While Air Mobility Command served as the executive agency for acquiring the C–27J, the Air National Guard would be the operators.

March 7, 2011: First operational deployment of the M–28 aircraft, a twin-engined monoplane with excellent short takeoff and landing capabilities and used by the 318th Special Operations Squadron, part of the 27th Special Operations Wing.


May 8, 2001: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld designated the Air Force as executive agent for the Pentagon’s space activities.

October 1, 2001: The Air Force reassigned the Space and Missile Systems Center from Air Materiel Command to Air Force Space Command, giving the latter cradle-to-grave oversight of space systems.

August 21, 2002: The first Lockheed-Martin Atlas V lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, inaugurating a new type of launch missile. Part of the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, the system used a standard booster, adding supplemental boosters as needed for a variety of payloads.

March 7, 2008: Air Force Reserve Command activated the 310th Space Wing, its first space wing (i.e. the first reserve space wing), at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.

August 18, 2009: The Air Force activated Twenty-Fourth Air Force at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, to oversee the service’s cyber mission.

September 25, 2010: After several delays, the Minotaur IV launch vehicle took the Space-Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) satellite into orbit.

March 23, 2011: Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) initial operational test and evaluation began that resulted in a recommendation for follow-on testing with the Space Fence program.

August 17, 2012: Air Force Space Command announced that the space based surveillance (SBSS) Block 10 satellite had achieved initial operational capability. The satellite was launched in September 2010.

March 7, 2011: A space based infrared system satellite was launched, beginning the replacement of the defense support program satellites.

May 7, 2011: The Air Force launched GEO–1, the first space-based infrared system (SBIRS) geosynchronous satellite, from an Atlas V-401 rocket operating out of Space Launch Complex 41, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The system was designed to provide warning and detection of intercontinental ballistic and theater missiles.

October 24, 2011: The Air Force’s first advanced extremely high frequency (AEHF-1) military communications satellite reached its intended operational position in geosynchronous orbit. The AEHF team would now start a detailed test and checkout phase of all spacecraft systems before the Space and Missile Systems Center transferred satellite command authority to Air Force Space Command’s Fourteenth Air Force in early 2012.

December 21, 2011: By this date, the Air Force’s first advanced extremely high frequency (AEHF-1) military communications satellite was successfully progressing through the initial phases of on-orbit testing. This endeavor included single-satellite testing followed by testing with the operational Milstar constellation. The AEHF was a joint service satellite communications system designed to provide survivable, global, secure, protected, and jam-resistant communications for high-priority military ground, sea and air assets. The AEHF system was the successor to the Milstar system, augmenting, improving, and expanding the MILSATCOM architecture.


December 26, 2001: Undersecretary of Defense Pete Aldridge announced Pentagon approval of low-rate initial production of the one-ton Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, which can penetrate enemy air defenses at ranges beyond 200 miles and destroy enemy targets with precision.

August 25, 2006: Maj. Gen. Jeffrey R. “Jeff” Riemer, then commander of the Air Armament Center and Air Force program executive officer for weapons, Air Force Materiel Command, announced that Boeing’s GBU–39/B Small Diameter Bomb I (SDB I) was delivered to the U.S. Air Force ahead of schedule and under cost. On October 2, 2006, Gen. Ronald Keys, USAF, the commander of Air Combat Command, declared initial operational capability (IOC) for the GBU–39/B Small Diameter Bomb I, manufactured by Boeing. This announcement came six months ahead of schedule. The capabilities of the 285-pound, all-weather SDB I made it well suited for the war on terror. They included increased employment range, increased aircraft payload, precision-guided accuracy, and a smaller lethality radius, minimizing the potential for collateral damage. At the time, the F–15 Strike Eagle was the only aircraft equipped to carry the SDB, but potential platforms included the F–16 Fighting Falcon, B–1 Lancer, B–2 Spirit, F–22A Raptor, and F–35 Lightning II.

May 6, 2008: A laser joint direct attack munition (LJDAM) operational utility evaluation (OUE) found the weapon effective in supporting precision combat operations. Testing determined the LJDAM was mission capable, and the test was closed. August 18, 2008: The first laser joint direct attack munition (LJDAM) was successfully used against a moving enemy vehicle in Iraq.

September 23, 2009: Engineers at Raytheon Company demonstrated the ability of the AIM–9X Block II missile to attack surface targets when an AIM–9X fired from an F–16C sank a rapidly moving target boat in the Gulf of Mexico.

November 21, 2010: The Air Force selected Raytheon’s GBU–53/B for the small diameter bomb II program after a 42-month competition.

Nuclear Developments

August 24, 2001: At Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, the Air Force imploded the last of the Minuteman III missile silos in accordance with the terms of the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

May 13, 2002: President George W. Bush announced an agreement between the United States and Russia that would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in their arsenals by two-thirds.

June 7, 2004: A Russian TU–154 observation aircraft landed at Travis Air Force Base, California, marking the first Russian Open Skies mission over the United States. The Open Skies Treaty entered into force on January 1, 2002, and established a regime of unarmed aerial observation flights over the territories of the 30 participating nations. The treaty was designed to promote mutual understanding and confidence by giving the signatory nations a direct role in gathering information about military forces and activities that concerned them. Quotas for the observation flights were allocated to the participating nations on a yearly basis. In 2004, the United States received requests for only two flights, one from the Russian Federation and one from the Republic of Belarus, which operated as a single entity for quota allocation purposes.

August 7, 2009: The Air Force activated Global Strike Command at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, to manage the service’s nuclear mission. The command received the lineage and honors of Strategic Air Command.

April 7, 2010: President Barack Obama and Russian president Dmitri Medvedev signed the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as New START, in Prague, Czech Republic. Each side agreed to limit its deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550 and to impose a ceiling of 800 on its total ICBMs, SLBMs, and nuclear-capable bombers.

Command, Control, and Communications

July 13, 2010: Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts, reported that the Electronic Systems Center’s multi-platform radar technology insertion program (MP-RTIP) had recently reached a significant milestone when the sensor and first software baseline were delivered to Edwards Air Force Base, California, for integration on a Global Hawk aircraft. MP-RTIP was designed to increase warfighters’ situational awareness through improved radar imagery. Flight testing up to this point had been performed on a scaled composites test bed aircraft, known as “Proteus,” in Mojave, California. A total of 259 test flights had been completed with 1,062 hours of radar “on” time.

November 5, 2010: The Gorgon Stare wide area airborne surveillance (WAAS) system deployed to Afghanistan.