REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama – One day after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Center of Excellence’s predecessor delivered a new, unique capability to integrate air and missile defense assets in and around the National Capital Region.
The Force Projection Tactical Operations Center, an advanced communications and information collection system with a combined team of military, civilians and contractors, was deployed by the Space and Missile Defense Battle Lab to support combat air patrol operations.
“There was no other existing capability that allowed for that mission set to be accomplished,” said Norven Goddard, who was the USASMDC lead for FPTOC support. “The U.S. Air Forces North who was responsible for the mission knew about the SMDC FPTOC due to previous experiments SMDC did with the AFNORTH for defense of the homeland against cruise missiles. The SMDC FPTOC served as the baseline for the now existing Joint Air Defense Operations Center manned by Army Soldiers in support of air defense of the Washington D.C. area.”
The FPTOC was scheduled for testing its capabilities at Fort Bliss, Texas, with the Air Defense School for two weeks but early on the morning of Sept. 12, it was tasked to pack up and prepare to deploy to Oceania Naval Air Station, near Norfolk, Virginia.
At 3 p.m., the Battle Lab loaded equipment and personnel onto a C-17 and flew nonstop to Oceania. During this time no other aircraft were flying except fighter combat air patrol missions over the Washington D.C. area.
Two F-16s met them approximately 20 minutes from Oceania and escorted them until they landed at about 1:30 a.m. on Sept. 13.
They offloaded their equipment and moved it to Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facilities, Virginia Capes, on the east end of the Oceania airfield. The FPTOC was operational less than 12 hours later and began providing the air picture for both ground and air assets protecting the national capital region.
“My division provided on-site support to the FPTOC set-up at Oceania,” Goddard said. “We provided the personnel that kept the FPTOC operational while U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force personnel manned the FPTOC for operations in and around the Washington D.C. area. The on-site personnel provided 24/7 support.”
The FPTOC was operational at Oceania until late 2012 when active and reserve units were deployed to operate combat air patrol missions. Throughout the deployment, the Battle Lab rotated personnel to the site for operations and maintained the equipment set while operating in tactical shelters.
“I think it gave new meaning to working together among the services,” Goddard said. “One can never over emphasize the words ‘Be Ready.’ Always pursue advanced technologies.”
Dr. Claudette Owens, the USASMDC Advance Research Center manager on Sept. 11, 2001, said the Battle Lab used to demonstrate at conferences, and former colleague Norven Goddard took one to a conference shortly before 9/11 that he had started working on in 2001. Following 9/11, senior Army leaders called USASMDC and Owens and her supervisors retrieved the FPTOC blueprints and shortly after that the FPTOC went into operation.
“That day was a defining moment for me in my career,” Owens said. “It was the day I realized just how important the work we were doing was. What we were doing was far more than research. We were providing life-saving answers for the present and the future.
“That was probably the first time I ever got to see the reality of what we do and the importance of it,” Owens said. “I knew about the missiles, but I’m not on the battlefield, so I didn’t really get to see except for on the news what the Soldiers were exposed to, but this I got a chance to see.”