|Thule Air Base|
|Near Thule, Avannaata in Greenland|
|Type||US Air Force base|
|Operator||United States Space Force|
|Controlled by||Peterson-Schriever Garrison|
|In use||1943 – present|
|Events||B-52 Crash (1968)|
|Garrison||821st Air Base Group|
|Identifiers||IATA: THU, ICAO: BGTL, WMO: 042020|
|Elevation||76.5 metres (251 ft) AMSL|
|Source: Danish AIS|
Thule Air Base (Greenlandic : Qaanaaq Mitarfik, Danish : Thule Lufthavn), or Thule Air Base/Pituffik Airport( IATA : THU, ICAO : BGTL), is the United States Space Force's northernmost base, and the northernmost installation of the U.S. Armed Forces, located 750 mi (1,210 km) north of the Arctic Circle and 947 mi (1,524 km) from the North Pole on the northwest coast of the island of Greenland. Thule's arctic environment includes icebergs in North Star Bay, two islands (Saunders Island and Wolstenholme Island), a polar ice sheet, and Wolstenholme Fjord – the only place on Earth where four active glaciers join together. The base is home to a substantial portion of the global network of missile warning sensors of Space Delta 4, and space surveillance and space control sensors of Space Delta 2, providing space awareness and advanced missile detection capabilities to North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the United States Space Force, and joint partners.
Thule Air Base is also home to the 821st Air Base Group and is responsible for air base support within the Thule Defense Area for the multinational population of "Team Thule". The base hosts the 12th Space Warning Squadron (12 SWS) which operates a Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) designed to detect and track ICBMs launched against North America. Thule is also host to Detachment 1 of the 23rd Space Operations Squadron, part of the Space Delta 6's global satellite control network. The airfield's 10,000-foot (3,000 m) runway handles more than 3,000 US and international flights per year. Finally, Thule is home to the northernmost deep water port in the world. Thule is the only Space Force Base with an assigned tugboat. The tugboat is used to assist ship movements in the harbor during the summer and is hauled onto shore during the winter season. The tugboat is also used for daily sightseeing tours of Northstar Bay during the summer.
Thule Air Base has served as the regional hub for nearby installations, including Cape Atholl (LORAN station), Camp Century (Ice Cap Camp), Camp TUTO (Ice Cap Approach Ramp and Airstrip), Sites 1 and 2 (Ice Cap Radar Stations), P-Mountain (radar and communications site), J-Site (BMEWS), North and South Mountains (research sites), and a research rocket firing site. It also was essential in the construction and resupply of High Arctic weather stations, including CFS Alert (Alert Airport) and Station Nord.
"Thule" is named for Thule (Greek : Θούλη), an ancient Greek place name dating to the third-century BC for a land believed to lie to the north of Britain, and the Latin phrase Ultima Thule (Latin, "farthest Thule"), the ancient Roman concept of a northernmost locale beyond the borders of the known world. However, unlike the Greek (and English) pronunciation of soft th ( // ), the name of the air base is pronounced using the Danish initial hard t ( // ).
In 1818, Sir John Ross's expedition made first contact with nomadic Inuktun in the area. James Saunders's expedition aboard HMS North Star was marooned in North Star Bay 1849–50 and named landmarks.Robert Peary built a support station by a protected harbor at the foot of iconic Mount Dundas in 1892. It served as a base camp for his expeditions and attracted a permanent population. In 1910 explorer Knud Rasmussen established a missionary and trading post there. He called the site "Thule" after classical ultima Thule ; the Inuit called it Umanaq ("heart-shaped"), and the site is commonly called "Dundas" today. The United States abandoned its territorial claims in the area in 1917 in connection with the purchase of the Virgin Islands. Denmark assumed control of the village in 1937.
A cluster of huts known as Pituffik ("the place the dogs are tied") stood on the wide plain where the base was built in 1951. (A main base street was named Pituffik Boulevard.) The affected locals moved to Thule. However, in 1953 the USAF planned to construct an air defense site near that village, and in order to limit contact with soldiers, the Danish government relocated "Old Thule" with about 130 inhabitants to a newly constructed, modern village 60 miles (97 km) north, known as Qaanaaq, or "New Thule". In a Danish Supreme Court judgment of 28 November 2003 the move was considered an expropriative intervention. During the proceedings it was recognized by the Danish government that the movement was a serious interference and an unlawful act against the local population. The Thule tribe was awarded damages of 500,000 kroner, and the individual members of the tribe who had been exposed to the transfer were granted compensation of 15,000 or 25,000 each. A Danish radio station continued to operate at Dundas, and the abandoned houses remained. The USAF only used that site for about a decade, and it has since returned to civilian use.
Knud Rasmussen was the first to recognize the Pituffik plain as ideal for an airport. USAAF Colonel Bernt Balchen, who built Sondrestrom Air Base, knew Rasmussen and his idea. Balchen led a flight of two Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boats to Thule on 24 August 1942 and then sent a report advocating an air base to USAAF chief Henry "Hap" Arnold. However, the 1951 air base site is a few miles inland from the original 1946 airstrip and across the bay from the historical Thule settlement, to which it is connected by an ice road. The joint Danish-American defense area, designated by treaty, also occupies considerable inland territory in addition to the air base itself.
After the German occupation of Denmark on 9 April 1940, Henrik Kauffmann, Danish Ambassador to the United States, made an agreement "In the name of the king" with the United States, authorizing the United States to defend the Danish colonies on Greenland from German aggression – this agreement faced Kauffmann with a charge of high treason by the protectorate Government. The first US-sponsored installations at Thule were established after the US Secretary of State Cordell Hull and the defected Danish Minister to the United States Henrik Kauffmann signed The Agreement relating to the Defense of Greenland in Washington, D.C. on the symbolically chosen date of 9 April 1941. The treaty, denounced by the Danish government, allowed the United States to operate military bases in Greenland "for as long as there is agreement" that the threat to North America existed. Beginning in the summer of 1941, the US Coast Guard and the War Department established weather and radio stations at Narsarsuaq Airport (Bluie West-1), Sondrestrom Air Base (Bluie West-8), Ikateq (Bluie East Two), and Gronnedal (Bluie West-9). In 1943 the Army Air Forces set up weather stations Scoresbysund (Bluie East-3) on the east coast around the southern tip of Greenland, and Thule (Bluie West-6) to be operated by Danish personnel. Many other sites were set up, but BW-6, isolated in the far North, was then of very minor importance.
After liberation, Denmark ratified the Kauffmann treaty but began efforts to take over US installations. Nonetheless, in summer 1946, the radio and weather station was enhanced with a gravel airstrip and an upper-air (balloon) observatory. This was part of an American-Canadian initiative to construct joint weather stations in the High Arctic. This station was under joint US-Danish operation. The location changed from the civilian village at Thule (Dundas) to mainland Pittufik. In 1946–1951, the airstrip played an important role in Arctic resupply, aerial mapping, research, and search-and rescue.
The ratification of the treaty in 1951 did not change much, except that the Danish national flag must be side by side with the US national flag on the base.
In 1949, Denmark joined NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and abandoned its attempt to remove the United States bases. By the outbreak of the Korean War next year, the USAF embarked on a global program of base-building in which Thule (at the time) would be considered the crown jewel owing to its location across the Pole from the USSR, as well as its merit of being the northernmost port to be reliably resupplied by ship. Thule became a key point in American nuclear retaliation strategy. Strategic Air Command (SAC) bombers flying over the Arctic presented less risk of early warning than using bases in the United Kingdom. Defensively, Thule could serve as a base for intercepting bomber attacks along the northeastern approaches to Canada and the US.
A board of Air Force officers headed by Gordon P. Saville made a recommendation to pursue a base at Thule in November 1950. It was subsequently supported by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and approved by President Truman. To replace the agreement entered into during World War II between the US and Denmark, a new agreement with respect to Greenland was ratified on 27 April 1951 (effective on 8 June 1951). At the request of NATO, the agreement became a part of the NATO defense program. The pact specified that the two nations would arrange for the use of facilities in Greenland by NATO forces in defense of the NATO area known as the Greenland Defense Area.
Thule AB was constructed in secret under the code name Operation Blue Jay, but the project was made public in September 1952. Construction for Thule AB began in 1951 and was completed in 1953. The construction of Thule is said to have been comparable in scale to the enormous effort required to build the Panama Canal.The United States Navy transported the bulk of men, supplies, and equipment from the naval shipyards in Norfolk, Virginia. On 6 June 1951 an armada of 120 shipments sailed from Naval Station Norfolk. On board were 12,000 men and 300,000 tons of cargo. They arrived at Thule on 9 July 1951. Construction, aided by continuous daylight in summer, took place around the clock. The workers lived on board the ships until quarters were built. Once they moved into the quarters, the ships returned home.
On 16 June 1951, the base was accidentally discovered by French cultural anthropologist and geographer Jean Malaurie and his Inuit friend Kutikitsoq, on their way back from the geomagnetic North Pole.
Originally established as a Strategic Air Command installation, Thule would periodically serve as a dispersal base for B-36 Peacemaker and B-47 Stratojet aircraft during the 1950s, as well as providing an ideal site to test the operability and maintainability of these weapon systems in extreme cold weather. Similar operations were also conducted with B-52 Stratofortress aircraft in the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1954, the 378 m (1,240 ft) Globecom Tower, a tower for military radio communication, was built at Northmountain. At the time of its completion it was the third tallest man-made structure on earth[ citation needed ] and the tallest structure north of the Arctic Circle in the Western hemisphere.
In the winter of 1956/57 three KC-97 tankers and alternately one of two RB-47H aircraft made polar flights to inspect Soviet defenses. Five KC-97s prepared for flight with engines running in temperatures of −50 °F (−46 °C) in order to ensure three could achieve airborne status. After a two-hour head start, a B-47 would catch up with them at the northeast coastline of Greenland where two would offload fuel to top off the B-47's tanks (the third was an air spare). The B-47 would then fly seven hours of reconnaissance, while the tankers would return to Thule, refuel, and three would again fly to rendezvous with the returning B-47 at northeast Greenland. The B-47 averaged ten hours and 4,500 km (2,800 mi) in the air, unless unpredictable weather closed Thule. In that case the three tankers and the B-47 had to additionally fly to one of three equidistant alternates: England, Alaska, or Labrador. All of this sometimes took place in moonless, 24-hour Arctic darkness, December through February. These flights demonstrated the capabilities of the US Strategic Air Command to Soviet Anti-Air Defense.
In 1959, the airbase was the main staging point for the construction of Camp Century, some 150 mi (240 km) from the base. Carved into the ice, and powered by a nuclear reactor, PM-2A Camp Century was officially a scientific research base, but in reality was the site of the top secret Project Iceworm. The camp operated from 1959 until 1967.
In the late 1950s, the DEW 1 to 4 were built as "weather stations". Thule Air Base would act as a supply station for the DYE bases.[ citation needed ]
In 1957 construction began on four Nike Missile sites around the base, and they and their radar systems were operational by the end of 1958.
In 1961, a Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) radar was constructed at "J-Site," 21 km (13 mi) northeast of main base. BMEWS was developed by the RCA Corporation in order to provide North America warning of a transpolar missile attack from the Russian mainland and submarine-launched missiles from the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans. At this time, Thule was at its peak with a population of about 10,000. Starting in July 1965, there was a general downsizing of activities at Thule. The base host unit, the 4683d Air Defense Wing, was discontinued. By January 1968, the population of Thule was down to 3,370. On 21 January 1968, a B-52G bomber carrying four nuclear weapons crashed just outside Thule – see below.
Thule is the location where the fastest recorded sea level surface wind speed in the world was measured when a peak speed of 333 km/h (207 mph) was recorded on 8 March 1972 prior to the instrument's destruction.
Thule became an Air Force Space Command base in 1982. Today Thule is home to the 821st Air Base Group, which exercises Air Base support responsibilities within the Thule Defense Area. The base hosts the 12th Space Warning Squadron (21st Operations Group, 21st Space Wing), a Ballistic Missile Early Warning Site designed to detect and track ICBMs launched against North America. Missile warning and space surveillance information flows to NORAD command centers located at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. Thule is also host to Detachment 1 of the 23rd Space Operations Squadron, part of the 50th Space Wing's global satellite control network, as well as operating many new weapons systems. In addition, the airfield boasts a 3,047 by 42 m (9,997 by 138 ft) asphalt runway, with 3,000 US and international flights per year.
A delegation from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly visited Thule in early September 2010 and were told by the base commander that, at that time (summer), approximately 600 personnel were serving at Thule, a mix of mostly US and Danish active duty personnel and contractors.
There is only a brief period each year in the summer when sea ice thins sufficiently to send supply ships to the base. The US sends one heavy supply ship each summer in what is called Operation Pacer Goose.
In 2020, Thule was formally reorganized under the control of the United States Space Force.
Source for major commands and major units assigned:
In 1954 a Douglas C-124C Globemaster II operated by the US Air Force crashed on approach to the air base, killing ten people.
On 21 January 1968, a B-52G Stratofortress from the 380th Strategic Aerospace Wing, Plattsburgh Air Force Base, New York, on a secret airborne nuclear alert crashed and burned on the ice near Thule Air Base. The impact detonated the high explosives in the primary units of all four of the B28 nuclear bombs it carried, but nuclear and thermonuclear reactions did not take place due to the PAL and fail-safe mechanisms in the weapons. The resulting fire caused extensive radioactive contamination.More than 700 Danish civilians and US military personnel worked under hazardous conditions, the former without protective gear, to clean up the nuclear waste. In 1987, nearly 200 of the Danish workers tried unsuccessfully to sue the United States. Kaare Ulbak, chief consultant to the Danish National Institute of Radiation Hygiene, said Denmark had carefully studied the health of the Thule workers and found no evidence of increased mortality or cancer.
The Pentagon maintained that all four weapons had been destroyed. Although many of the details of the accident are still classified, some information was released by the US authorities under the Freedom of Information Act. After reviewing these files, an investigative reporter from BBC News claimed in May 2007 that the USAF was unable to account for one of the weapons.In 2009, the assertions of the BBC were refuted by a Danish report after a review of the available declassified documentation.
|Air Greenland|| Qaanaaq |
Helicopter: Moriusaq, Savissivik
Charter: Copenhagen, Kangerlussuaq
Ocean Transportation is provided by Schuyler Line Navigation Company, a US Flag Ocean Carrier. Schuyler Line operates under government contract to supply sustainment and building supplies to the Base.
Thule has a tundra climate (ET) with long, severely cold winters lasting most of the year and short and cool summers. Precipitation is very low year round, but peaks during summer.
|Climate data for Thule Air Base, Greenland|
|Average high °F (°C)||−2.2|
|Average low °F (°C)||−16.6|
|Average precipitation inches (mm)||0.2|
The defence of Greenland is the responsibility of the Kingdom of Denmark. The government of Greenland does not have control of Greenland's military or foreign affairs. The most important part of Greenland's defensive territory remains the 12 maritime zones. In recent years there has been a significant increase in the presence of new challenges. In the history of Greenland there have been many changes of presence regarding who is in charge of the security of Greenlandic people and its land.
PAVE PAWS is a complex Cold War early warning radar and computer system developed in 1980 to "detect and characterize a sea-launched ballistic missile attack against the United States". With the first solid-state phased array deployed, the system at the perimeter of the contiguous United States used a pair of Raytheon AN/FPS-115 radar sets at each site as part of the United States Space Surveillance Network. One system was sold to Taiwan and is still in service.
Qaanaaq, formerly known as Thule or New Thule, is the main town in the northern part of the Avannaata municipality in northwestern Greenland. It is one of the northernmost towns in the world. The inhabitants of Qaanaaq speak the local Inuktun language and many also speak Kalaallisut and Danish. The town has a population of 646 as of 2020.
The RCA 474L Ballistic Missile Early Warning System was a United States Air Force Cold War early warning radar, computer, and communications system, for ballistic missile detection. The network of twelve radars, which was constructed beginning in 1958 and became operational in 1961, was built to detect a "mass ballistic missile attack launched on northern approaches [for] 15 to 25 minutes' warning time" also provided Project Space Track satellite data.
Station Nord is a military and scientific station in northeastern Greenland 1700 km north of the Arctic Circle at 81°43'N, 17°47'W.
Clear Space Force Station is a United States Space Force radar station for detecting incoming ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles to NORAD's command center and to provide Space Surveillance data to the United States Space Force. Clear's AN/FPS-123 Upgraded Early Warning Radar is part of the Solid State Phased Array Radar System (SSPARS) which also includes those at Beale AFB, Cape Cod Space Force Station, RAF Fylingdales and Thule Site J. The "historic property" was one of the Alaska World War II Army Airfields and later a Cold War BMEWS site providing NORAD data to Colorado's BMEWS Central Computer and Display Facility (CC&DF).
Aerospace Defense Command was a major command of the United States Air Force, responsible for continental air defense. It was activated in 1968 and disbanded in 1980. Its predecessor, Air Defense Command, was established in 1946, briefly inactivated in 1950, reactivated in 1951, and then redesignated Aerospace rather than Air in 1968. Its mission was to provide air defense of the Continental United States (CONUS). It directly controlled all active measures, and was tasked to coordinate all passive means of air defense.
Pituffik is a former settlement in northern Greenland, located at the eastern end of Bylot Sound by a tombolo known as Uummannaq, near the current site of the American Thule Air Base. The former inhabitants were relocated to the present-day town of Qaanaaq. The relocation and the fallout from the 1968 Thule Air Base B-52 crash in the vicinity are a contentious issue in Greenland's relations with Denmark and the United States.
On 21 January 1968, an aircraft accident ; Danish: Thuleulykken) involving a United States Air Force (USAF) B-52 bomber occurred near Thule Air Base in the Danish territory of Greenland. The aircraft was carrying four B28FI thermonuclear bombs on a Cold War "Chrome Dome" alert mission over Baffin Bay when a cabin fire forced the crew to abandon the aircraft before they could carry out an emergency landing at Thule Air Base. Six crew members ejected safely, but one who did not have an ejection seat was killed while trying to bail out. The bomber crashed onto sea ice in North Star Bay, Greenland, causing the conventional explosives aboard to detonate and the nuclear payload to rupture and disperse, resulting in radioactive contamination of the area.
Sondrestrom Air Base, originally Bluie West-8, was a United States Air Force base in central Greenland. The site is located 60 mi (97 km) north of the Arctic Circle and 90 mi (140 km) from the northeast end of Kangerlussuaq Fjord. The base is approximately 11 mi (18 km) west-northwest of Ravneklippen and 80 mi (130 km) east of Sisimiut.
The Missile Defense Alarm System, or MIDAS, was a United States Air Force Air Defense Command system of 12 early-warning satellites that provided limited notice of Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile launches between 1960 and 1966. Originally intended to serve as a complete early-warning system working in conjunction with the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System, cost and reliability concerns limited the project to a research and development role. Three of the system's 12 launches ended in failure, and the remaining nine satellites provided crude infrared early-warning coverage of the Soviet Union until the project was replaced by the Defense Support Program. MiDAS represented one element of the United States's first generation of reconnaissance satellites that also included the Corona and SAMOS series. Though MIDAS failed in its primary role as a system of infrared early-warning satellites, it pioneered the technologies needed in successor systems.
The Northeast Air Command (NEAC) was a short-lived organization in the United States Air Force tasked with the operation and defense of air bases in Greenland, Labrador and Newfoundland. It was formed in 1950 from the facilities of the United States established during World War II in Northeast Canada, Newfoundland and Greenland. It was discontinued in 1957.
The 12th Space Warning Squadron is a United States Space Force ground-based radar used for missile warning, missile defense, and space situation awareness, stationed at Thule Air Base, Greenland.
The 4683d Air Defense Wing is a discontinued United States Air Force (USAF) organization. Its last assignment was with Aerospace Defense Command (ADC)'s Goose Air Defense Sector at Thule Air Base, Greenland, where it was discontinued in 1965.
The North Atlantic Radio System (NARS) was a chain of 5 tropospheric scatter communication sites. It was an expansion of the former Distant Early Warning Line. NARS has been built for the United States Air Force (USAF) by Western Electric (AT&T) and its sites were maintained under contract by ITT Federal Electric Corporation. All NARS stations were supervised and controlled by the USAF, by agreement with the Canadian and Danish Governments.
Thule Air Station is a closed United States Air Force General Surveillance Radar station. It is located 9.2 miles (14.8 km) south of Thule Air Base, Greenland. It was closed in 1965.
The 213th Space Warning Squadron of the Alaska Air National Guard provides early warning of Intercontinental ballistic missiles and Submarine-launched ballistic missiles to the Missile Correlation Center of North American Aerospace Defense Command. The squadron is a geographically separated unit assigned to the 168th Wing at Eielson Air Force Base.
DYE Stations were Distant Early Warning Line sites of the DEW Line eastern extension in Arctic North America in Greenland and Iceland. DYE Stations were equipped with the 600 MHz AN/FPS-30 long-range radar within geodesic domes of about 60 feet diameter. Crews were regularly supplied and rotated by C-130 aircraft of the 109th Airlift Wing (NYANG) staging through Sondrestrom Air Base.
Thule Site J (J-Site) is a United States Space Force (USSF) radar station in Greenland near Thule Air Base for missile warning and spacecraft tracking. The northernmost station of the Solid State Phased Array Radar System, the military installation was built as the 1st site of the RCA 474L Ballistic Missile Early Warning System and had 5 of 12 BMEWS radars. The station has the following structures:
Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) was a Unified Combatant Command of the United States Department of Defense, tasked with air defense for the Continental United States. It comprised Army, Air Force, and Navy components. It included Army Project Nike missiles anti-aircraft defenses and USAF interceptors. The primary purpose of continental air defense during the CONAD period was to provide sufficient attack warning of a Soviet bomber air raid to ensure Strategic Air Command could launch a counterattack without being destroyed. CONAD controlled nuclear air defense weapons such as the 10 kiloton W-40 nuclear warhead on the CIM-10B BOMARC. The command was disestablished in 1975, and Aerospace Defense Command became the major U.S. component of North American Air Defense Command (NORAD).
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