Late last year it was revealed that the US Space Force had taken over all the Department of Defence’s military satellite communications. What does this mean in practice?
The US Space Force (USSF) is America’s youngest armed service. Established in December 2019, it is also the smallest with 8,400 personnel according to the Department of Defence (DOD). Nonetheless, it is growing. In late December the USSF assumed responsibility for all DOD military Satellite Communications (SATCOM). This placed SATCOM training, operations, acquisition and accompanying tasks under one umbrella.
The move integrates communications satellites operated by the US Navy and US Army in the USSF order-of-battle. Space Force has several ‘deltas’ each of which assumes a specific command. SATCOM is the responsibility of Space Delta-8 headquartered at Schriever Space Force Base, Colorado. Several DOD SATCOM capabilities have already transitioned to Space Force. The US Air Force’s Extremely High Frequency constellation became Space Force’s responsibility in 2019, shortly after the service began. This was followed in June 2019 by the US Navy’s 10th Fleet Naval Operations Centre. This controlled all the US Navy’s SATCOM assets like Fleet SATCOM, Ultra High Frequency Follow-On and Mobile User Objective System. These were placed under Space Delta-8’s 10th Space Operations Squadron (SOPS) at Point Mugu naval airbase, California.
Two months later, army assets from the force’s 53rd Signal Battalion migrated into the 53rd SOPS. This formation operates army SATCOM capabilities. These include super high frequency payloads onboard the Wideband Global SATCOM constellation and the Defence Satellite Communications System. The 53rd SOPS has detachments at Schriever; Fort Detrick and Fort Meade, Maryland; Wahiawa, Hawaii; Landstuhl, southwest Germany and Fort Buckner, Okinawa, Japan.
In addition, the USSF assumed the SATCOM responsibilities of the US Army’s Space and Missile Defence Command, it told Armada in a written statement: “This cadre of primarily civilian experts is responsible for providing all DOD SATCOM system payload planning, management, and technical support across all military SATCOM and commercial SATCOM.”
The consolidation is the product of the 2020 US National Defence Authorisation Act: “Having all military SATCOM missions operating under the US Space Force allows for more efficient and succinct operations, reduces duplication of effort across the DOD, and provides for the centralisation of funding efforts to better support military SATCOM operations for US combatant commanders, services, agencies, and our international partners,” the statement continued: “Currently, all existing DOD military SATCOM capabilities reside within the US Space Force portfolio.”
This full transition has been achieved without any increases in personnel “above what was stipulated in service-level agreements,” the statement added. The past seven months has seen military and civilian personnel from the US Army and US Navy transition into Space Force, reflecting the reorganisation.
It will be interesting to see the effect of this consolidation as Space Force moves forward. Streamlining military SATCOM procurement, delivery, enhancement and operation should pay dividends. This will be vital as the DOD moves forward on networking efforts like the Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) system.
by Dr. Thomas Withington