The Communications Centre,
USAF Croughton, May 2016
Joint Intelligence Analysis Centre (JIAC)
‘Croughtonwatch’ is a monitoring campaign devoted to USAF Croughton in Northamptonshire – part of a global electronic communications, control and surveillance network that projects American military power across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
The USAF Croughton Site
USAF Croughton lies on the border of Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire, on the A43 trunk road between Oxford and Northampton.
click to download a large map of USAF Croughton site
The site is on the eastern edge of Croughton, on the B4031. From the village, Portway Lane gives road access to the western side of the site.
Footpaths and bridleways give access to the perimeter fence around much of the site.
Brackley Landing Ground was built in 1938 for pilot training. In 1941 it become RAF Station Croughton. It never had a hard runway, just an open, flat field for take-off and landing.
Redundant from 1947, in 1950 the Americans arrived to set up camp there. They had been granted the use of RAF Upper Heyford as a strategic bomber site.
The use of nuclear weapons requires executive authority. That requires a dedicated, secure communications link from The Pentagon in Washington to the site storing the nuclear weapons. The USAF Croughton site became the all-important communications annex to support the nuclear bomber base – relaying the attack order in the event of a nuclear war.
In 1994, USAF Upper Heyford closed. USAF Croughton, however, did not cease operation. It had in the interim developed its own unique role in the network of US military and diplomatic power.
USAF Croughton western SATCOM site, late 1990s (before redevelopment)
USAF Croughton got its first satellite communications uplink in the mid-1980s. Croughton also became part of the global communications networks being developed by the US from this time.
The first satellite relay was upgraded during the 1990s with a new satellite communications (SATCOM) station on the eastern side of the site, near the main A43 road. In the early 2000s a new SATCOM station was built on the western side, near Portway Road.
Of greater significance was the growing array of fibre optic connections to UK and global military sites. These have steadily replaced both radio and satellite communications for routine communications.
USAF Croughton is the operating headquarters of US Air Force’s 422nd Air Base Group (422ABG) since it was formed in 1996 – created as part of the ‘base realignment and closure’ process of the early 1990s.
The US military divides the world into various geographical regions, or ‘commands’. The work of 422ABG provides communications support for:
- US European Command (EUCOM, covering Western Europe);
- US Central Command (CENTCOM, covering the Middle East and Egypt);
- US Africa Command (AFRICOM, the African continent excluding Egypt);
- Special Operations Command (SOC, special forces carrying out military actions around the globe); and,
- the US Department of State and other US government agencies.
It also supports communications for NATO and the UK Ministry of Defence.
Croughton currently carries between a quarter and a third of all military, intelligence and diplomatic traffic between the continental USA and Europe.
Panorama over the western/eastern SATCOM site
(JIAC will be constructed in space between the two)
move slider at bottom to scroll across the panorama
Maps of USAF Croughton and the JIAC development
click button to load image of map – if your browser allows you to 'zoom' the map image, you can
move the image with the scroll bars that should appear either side of the frame
USAF Barford St. John Transmitter Annex
Around six miles to the west of Croughton lies the Barford St. John transmitter annex. The site relays HF, VHF and UHF radio communications, and is tied to the Croughton site via a point-to-point microwave link.
Like Croughton, Barford St. John was a former World War II airbase. During the Cold War, at its height, Barford St. John was a sprawling nest of transmitter cables and structures (as shown on below).
USAF Barford St. John transmitter annex, late 1980s
Much of that infrastructure was demolished during the early 2000s, as the shift to satellite and fibre optic communications made the less reliable/less versatile radio-based communications systems redundant.
Today the site is largely empty – except for the small number of towers and antenna nests kept in one corner of the site. These support the legacy radio communications systems, such as the High Frequency Global Communications System (HFGCS). The transmitters also relay the Department of Defense’s Emergency Action Message (EAM) broadcasts.
USAF Barford St. John – transmitter annex building, 2016 (Bloxham church in distance)
In 2018/19 new transmitter masts were added to the site, it is presumed the update to the HFGCS which was tendered for some time ago. This represents the first ‘expansion’ of operations at the site since it’s post-Cold War run-down.