SEOUL, Oct. 23 (UPI) — For the first time in 25 years, the U.S. Air Force is starting up five squadrons to increase its nuclear monitoring capabilities, and the units are likely to survey North Korea and Iran.
The Air Force Technical Applications Center, or AFTAC, which operates under the U.S. Air Combat Command, is the “sole organization in the federal government whose mission is to detect and report technical data from foreign nuclear explosions,” the Military Times reported on Thursday.
After an official ceremony on Oct. 15 at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, the five squadrons began full-fledged missions, Voice of America reported. The missions are likely to report on activities overseas, including North Korea nuclear tests or long-range missile launches.
The deployment of the squadrons is historic. The five technical operations teams were launched originally in 1959 as the 1035th Field Activities Group at the height of the Cold War. Squadrons once monitored for foreign compliance with nuclear arms treaties, but by 1980 were folded and renamed the Air Force Technical Applications Center.
North Korea has conducted underground nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013, and has announced its plans to conduct a fourth nuclear test. Washington and Seoul have warned Pyongyang against taking next steps toward nuclear weapons development, and on Friday near the South Korean coastal city of Busan, the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered supercarrier USS Ronald Reagan took part in a South Korean naval parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Korean independence, South Korean television network SBS reported.
Also known as a “floating air base,” the 104,200-ton aircraft carrier can transport about 80 fighter jets, including the E-20 airborne early-warning airplane, and can carry 6,000 personnel.