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Electronic Systems Center

Electronic Systems Center was a product center of Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) headquartered at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts. Its mission was to develop and acquire command and control, communications, computer, and intelligence systems. ESC consisted of professional teams specializing in engineering, computer science, and business management. The teams supervised the design, development, testing, production, and deployment of command and control systems. Two of ESC's most well-known developments were the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), developed in the 1970s, and the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JointSTARS), developed in the 1980s.

The Electronic Systems Center recently entered its fifth decade as the Air Force’s organization for developing and acquiring North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), and foreign governments.

Due to restructuring within the Air Force Materiel Command, ESC was inactivated on 1 October 2012.


ESC was originally activated as the Electronic Systems Division (ESD) on 1 April 1961 at Laurence G. Hanscom Field in Bedford, MA. ESD was placed under the newly established Air Force Systems Command.

The Electronic Systems Division had emerged after a decade of efforts to meet a major post-war threat to the North American continent—attack by long-range, nuclear-armed bombers. At Hanscom Field, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s new Lincoln Laboratory (1951) and later the MITRE Corporation (1958) had worked to bring the Semi Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) air defense system to completion. The pioneering integrated radar and computer technology that was developed for SAGE also contributed significantly to the development of air traffic control systems.

ESD had an original portfolio of thirteen Command, Control and Communications (C3) systems. The appearance of ballistic missiles to carry nuclear warheads spurred a second wave of defense efforts—the construction of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) and a survivable new command center for the North American Air Defense Command in the underground Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado. New weapons systems and space platforms led to enlarged ESD C3 programs.

ESD’s first radar systems. In overcoming the “ground clutter” problem, the 1970s Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) represented a technological achievement for airspace surveillance. It was joined in the later 1980s by the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS). While still under development, Joint STARS was pressed into service for the Gulf War to monitor movement on the battlefield. Other ESD programs focused on creating secure communications systems, air defense systems for allied nations, command centers, intelligence data transmission, air traffic control systems, and computer-based training systems.

In 1992, the 66th Air Base Wing, 350th Electronic Systems Wing, 551st Electronic Systems Wing, 554th Electronic Systems Wing, and 653d Electronic Systems Wing all report to the ESC Commander.

Since the later years of the Cold War, ESC has worked to upgrade its key radar, command center, and communications systems. The decade of the 1990s presented new challenges for the expanded Center in the form of regional conflicts, joint and coalition engagements, terrorism, and asymmetric warfare. In response, ESC developed programs to work towards integration and interoperability in C2 systems. By presenting systems in action via several interactive C2 demonstrations, ESC engaged in ongoing dialogue with its customers. The Center then undertook a major restructure of its acquisition processes starting in 1996. “Spiral development” was introduced to achieve state-of-the-art systems in a timely, flexible, and cost-effective approach. One of the more successful contributing innovations of the time was RiskHammer, now known as the program RiskAoA.

The pace of these initiatives had gained momentum by the start of the 21st century. Center programs developed automated systems for Air Tasking Orders, weather, mission planning, and management information, together with enhanced force protection for Air Force personnel on the ground. For the series of Joint Expeditionary Force Experiments (JEFX) starting in 1998, ESC managed the insertion of new C2 and information technology. At the same time, its work on standardizing C2 infrastructure and creating architectures laid the groundwork for further system integration.

In 2001, the Air Force gave ESC the lead responsibility to integrate its command and control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems—the C2 Enterprise Integration. Integrated C2ISR capabilities will enable the development of network-centric warfare and provide an asymmetric force advantage. Today, ESC is pursuing a major initiative to standardize and upgrade C2ISR capabilities at Air Operations Centers, with the goal of realizing the Aerospace Operations Center of the future.

Due to a major [[Air

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