Air Force Material Command
Major Air Force units at KAFB include the 377th Air Base Wing, 58th Special Operations Wing (which performs helicopter crew training and pararescue training) and Phillips Laboratory (which performs research and development for space systems, ballistic missiles, geophysics, and directed energy systems). SNL conducts research and development for space systems, testing, stockpile surveillance, and the transportation of nuclear materials.
Kirtland's story had its beginnings in the 1920s, when a private air field was built on what is now the east side of the base, and in the late 1930s, when Albuquerque's municipal airport began operating near what is now the base's west side. That field and airport eventually became two large military complexes now unified as one base. During World War II the US Army Air Forces established a training depot for aircraft mechanics to the east of Kirtland Field, near the original private airport, Oxnard Field. The depot later became known as Sandia Base.
The need for extensive flight support and test facilities reasonably near Los Alamos led to the September 1945 move of units of the Z Division of Los Alamos Laboratory to Sandia Base. The Manhattan Engineering District created the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project at Sandia Base to coordinate military nuclear activities. The unit was the predecessor of Sandia Corporation, which was organized in 1949. It became, and remains (as Sandia National Laboratories) the largest tenant unit on Kirtland and has consistently been involved with development and testing of special weapons.
Armed Forces Special Weapons Command also constucted two operational sites. One of these sites was known as Site Able, located in the foothills of the Manzano Mountains, just east of Sandia Base. The other base was Site Baker near Kileen, Texas. Construction on Site Able started in 1946, with the first operational facilities activated on 04 April 1950. Although activated in 1950, construction on the major facilities wasn't finished until 1961. On 22 February 1952, Site Able was renamed Manzano Base, and operated by the Air Force, while Site Baker was renamed Kileen Base and turned over to the US Army.
Other nuclear-related units were formed at Sandia Base and Kirtland AFB, as the west side was redesignated in 1947. The Armed Forces Special Weapons Project (later the Defense Atomic Support Agency, then the Defense Nuclear Agency, then the Defense Special Weapons Agency, and currently the Defense Threat Reduction Agency) operated Sandia Base and provided support to the Secretary of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and military departments in matters concerning nuclear weapons, nuclear effects, and testing.
In 1947, the new aircraft requiring modifications to mate them with nuclear weapons included the first B-36, the world's largest land-based bomber, which arrived at Kirtland in September 1948. That airplane was followed by the first B-47 jet bomber in December of that year. As it became evident that the Air Force's primary weapons were to be nuclear, Kirtland continued to expand as Air Force responsibilities for delivery of nuclear weapons increased.
In December 1949, Kirtland became headquarters for the newly-created Special Weapons Command. The nucleus of this organization was composed of the pioneering Air Force agencies which had located here to determine future employment of nuclear weapons. The command became the Air Force Special Weapons Center on April 1, 1952, and was a unit of the Air Research and Development Command. During the 1950s, Center people and aircraft participated in atmospheric nuclear tests in Nevada and the far Pacific.
On 01 July 1971, Kirtland merged with Manzano and Sandia Base, its neighbors to the east, creating a sprawling military complex known as Kirtland AFB. Because of budget restrictions and the need to save money, the Air Force Special Weapons Center was disestablished on 01 April 1976. On 01 July 1977, the base once changed hands as the 1606th Air Base Wing was created when Military Airlift Command took over responsibility for operating Kirtland from Air Force Systems Command. On 01 January 1993, the base again changed hands as the newly-formed Air Force Materiel Command acquired Kirtland from Air Mobility Command.
On 01 October 1982 the Air Force Space Technology Center was activated at Kirtland to become the Air Force focal point for space technology planning and development and for coordinating Air Force programs for space missions. The Center managed three Air Force Systems Command laboratories: Weapons, Geophysics, and Rocket Propulsion.
The impact of Kirtland AFB on the economy of Albuquerque and New Mexico is substantial. In fiscal year 1997, local military procurement amounted to $117 million. Kirtland's payroll in fiscal year 1997 was nearly $755.8 million. The total economic impact of Kirtland AFB on the City of Albuquerque was put at $1.6 billion for FY 97.
The Manzano (the Spanish word for apple) Weapons Storage Area [Manzano WSA] at KAFB consists of 4 plants inside Manzano Mountain (used primarily for research activities) and 122 magazines, of which 81 are earth covered and 41 are tunneled into the mountainside. Type D facilities are tunneled into the mountainside, which provides significant earth overburden protection from penetrating aircraft. As many as 35 magazines have overburden greater than 9 meters (30 feet) and are potentially available for pit storage.
Construction began in June 1947, and the facility became operational in April 1950. In June 1992, the Manzano WSA was deactivated, including deactivation of the Perimeter Intrusion Detection and Alarm System, and Phillips Laboratory assumed responsibility for its maintenance. SNL continues to provide minimum security, although the Perimeter Intrusion Detection and Alarm System was deactivated with the termination of the main mission in 1992. The Manzano WSA is currently being used in part for storage of a variety of items such as furniture and document boxes.