The Air Force is activating five squadrons to bolster its nuclear monitoring capabilities, the first time since 1980 that five squadrons will undertake the task.

The squadrons will likely be monitoring possible nuclear tests in North Korea and Iran. Both nations have built underground facilities for nuclear work, and North Korea has previously conducted underground detonations in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

The South Korean government has reported it believes North Korea the reclusive Communist nation is gearing up for a fourth test sometime in the near future.

Five technical operations squadrons were initially launched in 1959 as the 1035th Field Activities Group to tackle specific portions of monitoring compliance with nuclear arms treaties. The squads were deactivated in 1980 when the unit was renamed the Air Force Technical Applications Center, service records show.

AFTAC, based at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, is "the sole organization in the federal government whose mission is to detect and report technical data from foreign nuclear explosions," according to the center's website.

Now the Air Force is relaunching and redesignating the five squadrons, a move started in August 2014 when AFTAC became a wing-equivalent part of the 25th Air Force.

"As an organization, AFTAC is changing rapidly and we must embrace these changes to ensure our continued success," Col. Jennifer P. Sovada, AFTAC commander, said in a statement. "All of our officers taking command have the responsibility to lead and take care of their Airmen while still executing the mission. I have full confidence in their abilities to do just that and to carry on with the rich legacy of excellence at AFTAC."

On Oct. 16, the service announced the leaders and duties of each squadron:

  • Technical Surveillance Squadron, under Lt. Col. Ehren Carl, is charged with detecting, identifying and locating nuclear explosions that occur underground, underwater, in the air or in space.
  • Technical Operations Squadron, under Lt. Col. Robert Light, conducts reconnaissance missions and aerial sampling to provide technical data on possible nuclear tests by foreign nations.
  • Technical Support Squadron, under Lt. Col. Dennis Uyechi, supports command, intelligence and operations missions, and oversees training and standards.
  • Technical Sustainment Squadron, under Maj. Patrick Carpizo, is in charge of logistics and maintaining the U.S. Atomic Energy Detection System.
  • Cyber Capabilities Squadron, under Lt. Col. Brian Hippel, is designed to handle cyber capabilities for the nuclear detection mission, including cybersecurity defense.

Since treaties signed in 1963, 1974 and 1976, the U.S., Russia and some of their allies have prohibited nuclear testing anywhere except underground — and have restricted underground tests to less than 150 kilotons.