The 821st Air Base Group is located at Thule Air Base in northern Greenland and at over 76 degrees north is the northernmost base in the U.S. Department of Defense. 821st ABG is a geographically separated unit of the 21st SW and makes vital contributions to the critical missions of space warning, space surveillance, and satellite command and control.
Team Thule and 821st ABG face unique challenges in operating in the harsh arctic environment. For instance, because there are no highways in the Arctic, the base’s 10,000-foot runway and associated airfield is the only access to Thule during the winter.
In addition, the 821st operates the world’s northernmost deep-water port, which in turn provides a unique logistical platform for Arctic training, international scientific research, and environmental programs. The airfield and port capabilities permit Team Thule to offer logistics re-supply operations support for smaller military sites both in Greenland (Station Nord operated by the Danish military) and northern Canada (Station Alert operated by the Canadian military), as well as support for a wide variety of important research projects conducted by American and European scientists.
The mission of 821st ABG is to operate and maintain Thule Air Base in support of space warning, space surveillance and satellite command and control missions on behalf of Air Force Space Command and United States Strategic Command. In addition, the 821st provides security, communications, civil engineer, personnel, services, logistics and medical support to remote active duty units in a combined United States, Canadian, Danish and Greenlandic environment of more than 800 military, civilian and contractor personnel.
Located more than 700 miles above the Arctic Circle, the base is completely self-sufficient. Thule maintains and operates its own electrical generation and steam heating plants, as well as a fully functional water filtration and pumping system. The base maintains a network of 65 miles of roads that are necessary to access the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System radar and the satellite command and control site, as well as clear the runway and allow access to the various recreational sites in the Thule Defense Area.
In 1946, a combined Danish-American radio and weather station was established at the base of Mount Dundas. Increasing international tensions in the post-World War 11 environment prompted Denmark and the United States to sign a defense treaty, allowing the construction of a complete and fully functional air base. From that point forward, the joint American-Danish presence at this remote northern outpost played an important role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Cold War efforts to provide deterrence against the USSR. Thule Air Base was built during the summers of 1951 and 1952 in a truly Herculean effort that completed the bulk of the construction in just 104 days.
Initially Thule’s focus was on aircraft operations, particularly bombers, fighters and aerial tankers. Space operations began in earnest in the early 1960s and have continued to this day. The Ballistic Missile Early Warning System began operation with a mechanical radar in 1961. This radar was upgraded to a solid-state phased array radar in 1986 and is operated today by the 12th Space Warning Squadron. The base’s other space operations mission is satellite telemetry, tracking, and commanding. The Thule Tracking Station, operated by Detachment 3 of the 22nd Space Operations Squadron, which is part of the 50th Space Wing, began operations in the early 1960s and is the largest site in the Air Force Satellite Control Network.
Throughout the years, several commands have been responsible for the base, including Northeast Air Command, Air Defense Command and Strategic Air Command. Air Force Space Command took control of Thule Air Base in 1983. The 821st Air Base Group was activated in June 2002 as the host unit for Thule Air Base.