Beale AFB Getting New Battle Management Squadron as U-2s Prepare to Retire

As Beale Air Force Base, Calif., prepares to bid farewell to its U-2 Dragon Lady fleet, it is poised to welcome a new battle management squadron, which will bring some 140 Airmen to the base starting in summer 2025.

The new squadron will stand up preceding the planned retirement of all 27 U-2 spy aircraft by fiscal 2026.

In a release, the Air Force announced the new squadron will integrate with the Common Mission Control Center at Beale, which falls under the 427th Reconnaissance Squadron of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing. The CMCC will provide integrated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data using AI and machine learning to streamline decision-making and reduce human communication. The service wants to enhance battle management of both manned and unmanned aircraft.

However, it is unclear what will happen to the personnel associated with the U-2 fleet within the 9th RW.

“As we prepare to begin retiring the U-2 Dragon Lady, the Air Force continues to work the details for a future mission at Beale AFB,” a base spokesperson told Air & Space Forces Magazine on March 22. “For now, the 9th Reconnaissance Wing will continue to execute our mission to train and deliver persistent integrated reconnaissance and combat capabilities for the United States.”

The Air Force stated that the stand-up of this new squadron at Beale AFB is a vital step in modernizing its battle management capabilities. The service hopes to carry out this mission, which will likely involve radar and system control for monitoring global airspace, across multiple theaters simultaneously from a location outside the theaters of operations in the future.

The strategy mirrors what the service did last year when it established the 728th Battle Management Control Squadron at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., as the base transitioned away from E-8C JSTARS surveillance aircraft. Activated in February 2023, the squadron provides command and control for aircraft in U.S. Central Command, facilitating aerial refueling positioning and tactical reconnaissance.

Alongside the squadron, Robins welcomed an E-11A Battlefield Airborne Communication Node (BACN) squadron, a Spectrum Warfare group, and support units focused on the Advanced Battle Management System in its transition process. The first E-8 departed the base in 2022, and today, all 16 E-8 aircraft have been divested.

The U-2 spy plane first flew in the 1950s, conducting reconnaissance missions during a period of Soviet information blackout amid Cold War tensions. The fleet joined the 9th RW in 1976 and was upgraded in the 1980s. Today, they are rotated to operational detachments worldwide. Early this year, Beale AFB showcased a rare elephant walk featuring eight U-2s on its runway. The plane garnered national attention capturing high-resolution images of a Chinese spy balloon that was transiting the continental U.S. last year.

The plane’s departure follows the closing of the RQ-4 Global Hawk‘s reconnaissance mission at Beale. After nearly 20 years of serving at the base, the last RQ-4 drone left Beale in 2022. The RQ-4, including the Block 30 variants, were transferred to Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., and then sent to their manufacturer, Northrop Grumman, for upgrades to be modified into Range Hawks and assigned to the Test Resource Management Center by early 2025.