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Single Space Corps

The Case for a Single Space-Security Agency, Command or Corps

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Should the United States have a separate Space Corps? Proposed legislation says yes; some service leaders say not now.

Authors Lt. Col. Heather Bellusci is a faculty member at the Eisenhower School and National Defense University with experience in program management and information technology at the Defense Information Systems Agency, U.S. Special Operations Command and the intelligence community. Col. J. Dave Price is a faculty/staff member and former chair of the Department of Strategic Leader Development at the U.S. Army War College. He previously was the chief of the Strategic Capabilities Division in U.S. Army Pacific and commander of the 1st Space Battalion, 1st Space Brigade.

For Your Consideration:

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of a single Space Corps?

  • How could a single Space Corps be established?

  • What are other approaches to unifying space activities in the Department of Defense?


Which will come first, the space or cyber “Pearl Harbor?” Ideally neither, but the United States may be best prepared for the cyber fight. The Department of Defense has radically matured and maneuvered to a position of advantage for these ever-increasing threats to its networks and military capabilities, in general. Space may very well be the last frontier and domain that the DOD is organized to defend and apply combat power through, to, and in.

We can make a case that the U.S. military has a need to establish one organization solely responsible for the manning, training, development and acquisition of materiel, doctrine, readiness, intelligence collection and warfighting functions of all things space-security related. There is momentum in the current executive administration and Congress to fully consider such a change in the near future.

There are two major reasons why a single space security organization needs to be established. First, a single organization is essential to realizing the full potential of space power as an integral component of U.S. national security apparatus and to developing highly technical and tactical skill sets required for effective space security. Second, the skill sets required for this domain need to be managed with priority and not as an afterthought.

It should not be a surprise or unexpected that an organization will prioritize its core competency over any other sub-competency. This fact helps to solidify the argument why an organization focused on the space security domain needs to be established in order to bring proper priority to this competency. For many years, the Air Force fought the Army to retain helicopters for close air-to-ground support and movement of land forces. Today it is both practicable and accepted that the Army flies a number of airframes to bridge the gap between the land and air domains and service-specific capabilities.

In another example, most people think of the Marine Corps primarily as a stand-alone service. While the corps is a large part of the Navy Department, it clearly has their own land and air component roles. In the same way the Navy provides medical corpsmen to support Marine operations, a Space Corps might provide space “corpsmen” to support Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force tactical and operational requirements.

Multiple Organizations and Policies

Currently, the authorities and responsibilities of defense space-related activities in the federal government are spread out amongst multiple organizations, policies, directives and other DOD guidance. As a result, U.S. decision makers lack a coherent understanding of space-related funding, an enterprise grasp of capabilities and redundancies, and a single touch point for the management of the space security domain.

In order to establish a single organization responsible for all defense space activities, Congress will need to change and create laws. As early as 1998, Rep. Bob Smith recommended that perhaps the time had come to establish an entirely new service for space power.1  Beginning in spring 2017, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) voiced their concern regarding the lack of priority that space activities receive within the Air Force and the increasing potential of Russia and China to deny U.S. forces the use of space.2

The House of Representatives and the Senate separately have proposed organizational changes for the Department of Defense in their versions of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018.3 Regardless of which version survives legislative deliberation amid public opposition by senior Air Force leadership, some lawmakers are intent on addressing the current organizational weaknesses of the nation’s military space domain.

Precedence and Momentum

Precedence and momentum already exist within Congress to make such changes. In September 1986, the 99th Congress passed H.R. 5109 to establish the National Special Operations Agency, which eventually became the U.S. Special Operations Command. The reasons were analogous to many of the same organizational issues that plague the defense space community today.

In 2000, Congress commissioned a study to assess U.S. national security space management and organization, often referred to as the “Rumsfeld Space Commission.” The report was released in January 2001 and subsequently overshadowed by the events of September 2001. Its unanimous conclusion was that organizational and management changes were needed to ensure that “space interests be recognized as a top national security priority.”4  In the intervening 16 years, the DOD cyber community may have leapt ahead of the space community in terms of organization, acquisition and resource solutions.

After the Rumsfeld Space Commission noted a need for fundamental shifts in the organization to properly support the national security space programs, DOD made only incremental steps toward progress. In October 2015, the Deputy Secretary of Defense signed a memorandum designating the Secretary of the Air Force as the Principal Department of Defense Space Advisor. This is a re-designation from the position of DOD Executive Agent for Space, which was primarily a “coordinator” amongst space stakeholders.5  These changes don’t appear to be aggressive enough for U.S. national leadership, whilst adversaries are moving with a sense of purpose.

The designation shift recognizes that a position tasked with “coordinating” is not an authority or agent toward progress. The updated memorandum gives the new position a seat at the table as primary space advisor to the Deputy’s Management Action Group, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council and the Defense Acquisition Board.

This move still stops short of the needed authorities to make real progress in the space security arena. It doesn’t reduce the multitude of organizations that are conducting space security missions under separate headquarters and acquisition authorities. That change has not happened to date, despite acknowledgement of the need. It will not happen until there is a single organization with the appropriate authorities and responsibilities for the mission.

Arguments Against

Of course, there is a lot of disagreement on the subject of building another space organization. Here, the authors will examine some of the reasoning against this proposal. One statement is that the current organizational construct is “successful,” and the authors don’t pretend to deconstruct the current setup to refute the idea, knowing full well they are counter-arguments, valid or not. However, we suggest that there remains a lot of work to be done in the DOD space organizations, and a singular entity like a corps or functional combatant command may be more effective, efficient and productive than status quo.

There are at least three reasons why a single space security organization inside the federal government should not be established. First, success of a coherent approach to space security is not dependent upon a single organizational construct and could be accomplished through a whole-of-government collaborative approach. Second, funding would be diverted from existing services and agencies in order to fund an additional organization. Finally, the existing organizational structure is successful, and changing that structure would be expensive and time-consuming.

The whole-of-government approach is widely acknowledged as the stretch goal of all mission sets that cross the intergovernmental divide. However, there is still a large gap between acknowledgement and action. Examples are growing of successful collaboration in the space domain between the DOD and federal agencies, but not at the pace necessary to maintain a technical advantage over our adversaries, especially in the space-security domain. The time necessary for a collaborative movement to sweep through the federal government that transcends funding streams and authorities is most likely not worth the growing risk of being unprepared for what lies ahead in the space domain.

Regardless of the implementation of a separate service or agency from the existing organizations, an additional Space Corps or service will divert funds from existing military services and agencies. The DOD budget will become even more divided, and competition for resources can only expect to increase. Additional funds would be needed for administrative overhead and consolidation changes.

Having all space-related programs, operations and capabilities under a single organization may reduce redundancy and consolidate technical expertise. It remains to be seen whether the move to a single organization would be a resource burden or savings.

The dissolution of approximately 60 organizations from their parent establishments into a single entity would take a significant amount of time and resources. The current space security missions are successful, and such a sweeping change, the amount of resources and the time necessary to make a change cannot be justified by any notable return on investment.

These counter-arguments are reminiscent of those made in resisting the establishment of an independent U.S. Air Force 70 years ago. The recommendation to establish a consolidated organization focused on the space-security domain should not be viewed as a failure of the current organizations, but as an opportunity to improve.

Inside One Service or Separate?

Consideration should be made to the creation of a Space Corps that would reside inside the Department of the Air Force. Precedent exists in the Marine Corps and its relationship to the Department of the Navy or the Army Air Forces within the Army during World War II.

Another approach is the establishment of a separate space service with parallel constructs to the current military branches. Again, it would be a fully executable organizational construct with precedent, existing structures and processes. The scope could start at one service, such as the Air Force, and slowly include space functions from the other services and then the intelligence community. The change could be abrupt and sweeping but most likely should start as incremental over five to 10 years as an agency with senior leaders and staff of 50 to 100 personnel to get the major milestones set.

The services have their own methodologies to manage force size and the careers of their service members. Unfortunately, that means each service establishes a different standard for expertise in space-related skills. The Army does not even have a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) for soldiers with space expertise. As a result, soldiers with an MOS that is similar in technical skills needed in the space community are brought into space-related units and put through a specialized training program. The Army rarely capitalizes on this training over the long run.

Because those soldiers need to retain their original MOS for career progression, the space-related units do not get a good return on investment without dedicated leadership involvement by career managers. An organization solely dedicated to space-related activities could educate and manage its service members in a manner that would benefit individual careers as well as the space service, in cooperation with the other services.

The solution may lie in establishing a clear balance between time and mission. The establishment of a single organization responsible for the space security domain should be done with a clear and concise agreed-upon measure of effectiveness, balanced between current operational needs and future planning. Either the Marine “corps” or Special Operations Command models would work with current services retaining some agreed-upon investment in space, while discussing a holistic and balanced solution over a longer period negotiated by DOD and Congress.

1 M.V. Smith, “America Needs a Space Corps,” The Space Review, March 13, 2017,

2 Ibid.

3 Phillip Swarts, “Space Corps Proposal Has Murkier Path Forward in the Senate,” Space News, July 14, 2017,

4 Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization, Report of the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization, Jan. 11, 2001, pg. ix,

5 Deputy Secretary of Defense, “Designation of the Principal DoD Space Advisor,” Oct. 5, 2015,


Satellites See Ice

Missile Warning Data in Use for Arctic Sea Ice Monitoring

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A military/academic partnership has potential to develop new capabilities and products and reduce costs.

Author: Capt. Nicholas Lewis studies remote sensing of the Arctic with researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. He is a master of arts student in geography at the University of Colorado Boulder.

For Your Consideration:

  • How does your organization encourage “outside-the-box” thinking and problem solving?

  • What relationships can your organization establish and leverage to improve processes and capabilities?

  • How is warfighter lethality enhanced by improved battlefield capabilities and situational awareness?


As the Arctic becomes seasonably ice-free, increased international commercial and military activity in the region is anticipated. This development will require that geographic combatant commands with responsibility in the Arctic (U.S. Pacific Command, Northern Command and European Command) re-assess their Arctic capabilities and response preparedness. A military/academic project is exploring the feasibility of using data from missile-warning satellites to develop an ice characterization algorithm for charting and eventually tracking sea ice in the high Arctic.

The partnership between the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) represents a type of unorthodox relationship that academics and defense personnel are beginning to embrace in order to achieve their individual goals. For the Department of Defense these partnerships provide access to experts in fields that are difficult to source internally, while reducing cost by less reliance on defense contractors. Similarly, as research funding declines across all disciplines (National Science Foundation, NASA, etc.), academics are warming to DOD as potential funding sources for research. Often the research is directly applicable to the researcher’s interests and has additional applicability in a national security or intelligence role. It may also have tangential implications for defense organizations, providing both researcher and customer with purpose.

Common Ground

Located in sunny Los Angeles, the SMC Remote Sensing Systems Directorate’s top priority is to support warfighter operations. Conversely, the federally funded NSIDC in Boulder, Colo., home to research scientists and big-data managers, considers sea ice its “bread-and-butter.” The common ground between these organizations is the belief that the Air Force’s remote sensing data can be exploited in new, innovative and unprecedented ways.

Only a few products exist that provide situational awareness in the remote Arctic, and none of them is at a temporal or spatial scale to which most commanders are accustomed. SMC currently provides data that support characterizing and researching sea ice through passive microwave sensors on Defense Meteorological Satellite Program satellites. The new partnership has NSIDC attempting similar operations with data from the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) in highly elliptical orbit.

This effort provides an opportunity for the Air Force to assess the potential of the SBIRS constellation to support new missions, leveraging the expertise of a team of academics with impressive credentials. If the ice product has utility, that is a bonus for geographic combatant commands and civil users (as the products will remain classified). More significantly, success demonstrates the vast capability of the SBIRS constellation and challenges the DOD and intelligence community to exploit this constellation to its full potential.

For NSIDC the project represents a potential fire-hose of data that could fuel scientific exploration for many years and develop products to increase user base and fuse the data with other sources to enhance existing or emerging products. Further, by demonstrating the scientific potential of this abundant data, there is an increased emphasis on storing all of the collected data, not just that deemed interesting in the near term by the DOD and intelligence agencies.

This archival data could then provide context for future operations as well as scientific context for continued scientific monitoring of the Arctic. The combination of well-regarded research institutes (like NSIDC) with trusted data (from Overhead Persistent Infrared systems) creates a winning combination with regard to product credibility for DOD and intelligence users.

Noise is Good

In most circumstances, the SBIRS data that NSIDC is interested in constitutes noise for the rest of the user base. In fact, NSIDC is only concerned with the data that does not have national security purposes, as these types of scenes would likely disrupt processing due to anomalous events. The potential of this “noise” from OPIR is understood to a limited extent by both Air Force Space Command and Army Space and Missile Defense Command, but demonstration of ice characterization capability with the OPIR constellations dramatically increases the potential for this data.

The design for a SBIRS-based ice product (termed ICARTA–Ice Characterization of the Arctic for Transportation Applications) leverages the persistent nature of the constellation. Ice and water can be identified based on their unique spectral signatures in the short-wave infrared frequencies, although images are complicated by the prevalence of clouds in the scenes. This is where the unique structure of SBIRS/OPIR is most beneficial. Because clouds move faster than ice, using a temporal approach, clouds can be filtered out of images by their relative motion to the background (ice/water). This distinction is available because of SBIRS’ persistence and allows for near real time/short delay reporting. During processing, as the ice/water is determined, any pixels obscured by clouds will default back to their most recent cloud-free value (ice or water) given a six-day cache of images.

Most existing ice products are developed using passive microwave, which determines the brightness temperature of the surface at different microwave band frequencies (10-89+ GHz). These products rely upon the DMSP series of satellites for the passive microwave data, but because of the low power of these emissions they have to aggregate over a large area to derive a meaningful signal. This aggregation results in 25-kilometer pixels for standard ice products covering the entire Arctic.

Regional products supplement this data with visible and near infrared data to increase resolution but have limited utility during times of polar darkness and under cloudy conditions; the Arctic is often cloudy. With the congressional cancellation of DMSP-20, the future of the passive microwave sea ice record, continuously dating back to October 1978, is in jeopardy with no easy or foreseeable backfill.

The research team working on ICARTA includes a former NASA International Space Station program manager, a physical scientist from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and an Oceanographer and Remote Sensing Applications expert at the Naval Research Laboratory, among other scientists and researchers with noteworthy contributions to Arctic sciences and big-data management. In this group, three scientists already possess active security clearances while four others previously held clearances based upon prior employment, enabling access to the restricted data. These scientists are accustomed to proposing innovative research, as they are almost exclusively reliant upon research grants to pay their salaries.

In fact, the idea for ICARTA was derived from an SMC call for proposals that said little more than “if given ‘x’ data, what would you do with it and how much would that cost?” This $400,000 and 15-month investment into the NSIDC team of researchers/scientists funds the salaries of these professionals and nets SMC rights to all of the data, algorithms and products developed by the team.

Think Beyond the Threat

The space warfighter community needs to continue to think beyond the threat fan with the instruments available and leverage the talents of those with institutional expertise to pull new signal from the noise. The SMC/NSIDC sea ice project is an excellent example of defense/academic collaboration to explore the true utility of existing (and expensive) satellite systems, forge unorthodox relationships that are mutually beneficial and achieve results on short timelines and with limited budgets. While a near-real-time sea ice product would be unprecedented in its utility to the Arctic’s continued development, the model sought by SMC to employ experts and get results is one that could enhance warfighter capability dramatically and on expedited timelines.

Air Force SMC is able to leverage the expertise of gifted academics to test the bounds of the SBIRS data. NSIDC can then potentially incorporate a new data source and create products necessary to support increased military, civil and commercial operations as the Arctic becomes more navigable. While Overhead Persistent Infrared was designed to detect high-intensity heat events, showing its ability to similarly capture significant events in some of the coldest water on Earth would challenge the Defense Department and intelligence community to further exploit the sensors at their disposal.



Managing a Missile Crisis

Managing the Next Great Power
Crisis: Lessons from ’62

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Today’s cyber and space capabilities and vulnerabilities are examined against the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis, 55 years ago.

Author: Capt. Boyd DeLanzo is commander of the Joint Tactical Ground Station theater missile warning detachment in Stuttgart, Germany. He has degrees in international relations from Seton Hall University and Troy University.

For Your Consideration:

  • Are space and cyber initiatives shifting the military balance of power toward more offensive capabilities?

  • Could a war escalate solely from space and cyber domain activities?

  • In what ways has a policy lagged behind the impact of new technology on the battlefield?


Crises between great powers are inevitable, but the outcomes are subject to many variables. Crises often stem from misperceptions of military strength and intentions, as well as miscalculations in assessing an adversary’s escalatory response to an action. Capabilities relating to the space and cyber domains, however, are having a comprehensive and deleterious effect on these critical variables of crisis management. They are eroding traditional conceptions of military strength, increasing economic vulnerabilities and shifting the balance of military power toward offensive capabilities, while also giving disproportionate power to third-party actors and rogue states to influence events.

The threat of runaway escalation occurring is now greater than ever. Furthermore, the next crisis is likely to occur under circumstances not experienced since the Cold War, where the United States was confronted by a power of similar strength. Lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis provide a useful case study to understand the dynamics of a great power crisis, as well as its applicability to current political and military developments.

Managing Cold War Crises

It is widely believed that the Cold War remained relatively cold between the United States and the Soviet Union due to successful management of a series of crises, the most famous of these being the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Key aspects of those 13 days reveal that misperceptions of capabilities and intentions nearly resulted in an all-out nuclear exchange between the two superpowers. In the early stages of the crisis, hardliners on the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (ExComm) tried to convince President John F. Kennedy to order an invasion of Cuba, in the belief that Soviet forces on the island did not yet have nuclear warheads.

Kennedy and the ExComm were missing critical intelligence. At a January 1992 conference in Havana, Soviet General Anatoly Gribkov said “the nuclear warheads for both tactical and strategic nuclear weapons had already reached Cuba before the quarantine line was ever established–162 nuclear warheads in all.”1 The CIA had estimated 10,000 Soviet ground troops in Cuba; the real number was up to four times higher. Therefore, the ExComm was making recommendations based on faulty information.

Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara said that “if the president had gone ahead with the air strike and invasion of Cuba, the invasion forces almost surely would have been met by nuclear fire, requiring a nuclear response from the United States.”2 Nikolai S. Leonov, who was chief of the KGB’s Department of Cuban Affairs for 30 years, said it would have been “inconceivable to me that the Soviet ground commander in Cuba would have neglected to arm and fire his tactical nuclear weapons.”3

Lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis

There are six important lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis, each of which can be applied to future crisis management:

  • Doctrine and policy always lag new military technology.
  • There will always be intelligence gaps of an enemy’s intentions and capabilities.
  • Hardliners reflect parochial interests and often discount the escalatory response.
  • Individuals may take independent action, sending conflicting diplomatic signals.
  • Deterrence has to be actively managed in an open process between both sides.
  • Presidential leadership matters.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff accused President Kennedy of appeasement and believed Moscow would be deterred by air strikes and an invasion of Cuba. Kennedy deserves credit for ignoring their advice. As acknowledged years later, that action certainly would have resulted in nuclear war.

It is important to remember that Kennedy had been badly disappointed by the advice of his generals to proceed with the Bay of Pigs operation in April 1961. If it hadn’t been for that disaster, he may not have been as skeptical of their judgement during this crisis. Presidential decisions can only guard against deliberate folly. Lower-level officials, government agencies and even allies, however, all had the capability to escalate the crisis, too, and did. For example:

  • The commander of the Strategic Air Command, without informing the president or any national security staff member, raised the command’s Defense Condition level to 2.
  • Vandenberg Air Force Base test fired a missile without contacting the Pentagon.
  • A Soviet air defense commander in Cuba shot down a U-2 spy plane without authorization.
  • The CIA continued sabotage missions against the Fidel Castro regime.
  • A Soviet submarine commander prepared to fire a nuclear-tipped torpedo after U.S. Navy ships dropped practice depth charges against the submarine. A lone Soviet officer vetoed its use.
  • Castro pleaded with Moscow to immediately strike with nuclear weapons.

At the time of the crisis, nuclear weapons were incorporated into all aspects of military operations: missiles, bombs, artillery shells, torpedoes and even depth charges. Top U.S. and Soviet military chiefs were in support of their use since they were primarily focused first on winning, without concern for the likely escalatory response of their adversary. Mutually Assured Destruction was in its infancy as a deterrence concept. Doctrine and policy on nuclear use had not been fully determined prior to the crisis, and most importantly, there was no significant dialogue as to their acceptable military application and deployment between the sides.

The Next Crisis

In 1996, the first major crisis arose between the United States and China in the post-Soviet era. Mainland China had been intimidating the Taiwanese with military exercises across the Taiwan Strait in an attempt to influence their elections. In a show of force, President Bill Clinton sent two aircraft carrier groups near the strait.

Nearly a generation later, the United States can no longer operate so freely in the first-island chain. China’s economy and military capabilities have grown exponentially. In a hypothetical Taiwan conflict, a RAND Corporation study found that China’s military capabilities are either at parity or greater than the United States in six out of nine categories related to air, missile, naval, space and cyber forces.4 The report focuses solely on a comparison of capabilities, however. It overlooks the psychological and operational impacts of space and cyber warfare on crisis management, and correspondingly, how that precipitates greater escalatory risks.

The majority of President Kennedy’s ExComm felt it was necessary to immediately invade Cuba despite the grave escalatory risks. If a similar crisis happened today, the inclination toward action would be even greater. Space and cyber capabilities are biased toward first-mover advantage. A series of coordinated non-kinetic attacks on networks, sensing systems and infrastructure can provide a decisive advantage to the side who employs those capabilities first.

The United States has the world’s best offensive cyber force, but it is by far the most vulnerable to an attack. Contrarily, China or Russia may be prepared to behave more aggressively in cyberspace because their economies are much less vulnerable to cyber-attack.

Space capabilities are a similar issue. The United States is the number-one user of space, and therefore the most vulnerable. The weakness of effective deterrence in these domains erodes the mechanisms that normally stabilize escalation risk by encouraging a first-mover incentive.

Tensions could be further exacerbated by third-party or patriotic actors who had an interest in causing disruptions. The problem of identifying cyber attackers means that both sides may not be able to immediately determine the attack’s origins, or even worse, hackers could make it appear as though one side was attacking the other. Such activity could embolden hawks’ arguments for escalation, initiating a cascading effect.

A conflict employing the full use of space and cyber capabilities will create a chaotic battle environment where communications, timing, navigation, intelligence and cyberspace will all be in various stages of denial, degradation or disruption. This will reduce the ability of military leaders and politicians to accurately assess the situation as communications and intelligence are severely impacted. The fog of war will be great. Leaders who are accustomed to receiving the latest imagery and watching live drone feeds may have to make many decisions in the dark. It is a situation ripe for miscalculation.

Avoiding a Crisis

As during the Cuban Missile Crisis, new military technology is disrupting traditional means of deterrence. Similarly, military doctrine and civilian policy are lagging behind rapid technological change, and there are few international or bilateral agreements relating to the application and deployment of these new capabilities. This creates mistrust and precipitates an arms race to gain military advantage in the cyber and space domains.

The history of the Cuban Missile Crisis shows how quickly such an unstable status quo can lead quickly to the brink of conflict and nuclear war. Agreements, effective deterrence and clear lines of communication are the best means by which to avoid a crisis. This requires a comprehensive, coordinated diplomatic and military strategy that is currently lacking.

Once a crisis begins, history demonstrates that a host of variables can drive escalation, even if both sides preferred peace. Without a new strategy, the great powers are drifting toward the next crisis; their fate in the hands of Fortuna.

1 Robert S. McNamara, “Forty Years After 13 Days,” Arms Control Today, Nov. 1, 2002,

2 Ibid.

3 Quoted in “A Conversation in Havana,” edited by Thomas S. Blanton and James G. Blight, Arms Control Today, Nov. 1, 2002,

4 “An Interactive Look at the U.S.-China Military Scorecard,” RAND Project Air Force, n.d.,

Celebrating 60 Years!

Celebrating 60 Years of Space and Missile Defense

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From launching America’s first satellite to missile-busting lasers, USASMDC/ARSTRAT meets the needs of the nation, warfighters and allies.

Author: Sharon Watkins Lang is command historian for U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command.

Sixty years of service to the nation are celebrated by the organization now known as U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command. It was founded Oct. 3, 1957, as the Redstone Anti-Missile Missile System Office (RAMMSO) to oversee the Nike-Zeus project, an effort to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles. Over the decades there have been many changes as the command grew and expanded globally while assuming new responsibilities.

One constant throughout has been the mission: providing missile defense and space capabilities. The application of the mission, however, has evolved over the years falling into four phases: the Nuclear Era, a Period of Transition, an Expansion in Space and Operationalizing the Mission.

The Nuclear Era

In the period since World War II, efforts to defend the nation had addressed the threat posed by nuclear armed long-range bombers–the Nike-Ajax–and the threat of a massed bomber attack–Nike-Hercules. By the mid-1950s as the threat escalated to nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Army built upon the Nike tradition and developed the Nike-Zeus system. Composed of the nuclear-tipped Zeus interceptor and five specialized radars, the Nike-Zeus system received the nation’s highest priority.

Just five years after RAMMSO was created, in December 1962, the Zeus achieved the first intercept of an ICBM. Months later, Project Mudflap pitted a Zeus interceptor against an Agena D satellite. The successful intercept in May 1963 demonstrated the anti-satellite capability recently added to the Nike-Zeus mission at the direction of then-Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara.

Despite its successes, however, officials determined that the planned deployment was no longer sufficient to counter the anticipated threats posed by Soviet ICBMs. Although the radars represented great advances over their predecessors, there were obvious problems given the volume of the threat predicted for the late 1960s. It was believed that a saturation attack would overwhelm the discrimination capabilities of the Discrimination Radar and the Target Track Radars, and the Missile Track Radars could focus only upon one target or missile at a time. Similarly, doubts were raised about the effectiveness of a single interceptor. Instead of a deployment decision then, the program would continue as a research and development effort, known as Nike-X.

Through a series of studies, projects and tests, Nike-X improved the Zeus interceptor and developed new high-speed, high-capacity computers and radars as well as the Sprint, a new short-range nuclear interceptor. At the same time, Nike-X was assigned responsibility for the Kwajalein Test Range in the Marshall Islands, based upon the significant role that it played in the Army’s anti-ballistic missile (ABM) research and development effort. During this phase the Nike-X devised a new ABM system composed of a long-range Spartan, a short-range Sprint and two radars, the Multifunction Array Radar and the Missile Site Radar. Feasibility studies conducted in 1966 found that “Nike-X would add to U.S. deterrence and provide significant reduction in fatalities in the event deterrence fails.”

1967 was a turning point in the ABM program. In November 1966, McNamara announced that the Soviet Union had deployed an ABM system around Moscow. At the Glassboro Summit between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin, the USSR refused to discontinue this program. Also in 1967, the threat posed by China was renewed as the Chinese exploded their first thermonuclear devise and launched a nuclear-tipped missile. The U.S. response came in that September, when McNamara announced the decision to deploy a light ABM system called Sentinel.

To implement this decision the Nike-X Project Office became the Sentinel Systems Command (SENSCOM) in November 1967. The Sentinel deployment had goals of defending urban and industrial areas against possible ICBM attacks by China and a possible accidental launch by any power. It also included an option to defend the Air Force’s Minuteman ICBM sites in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming.

The Army and the SENSCOM were given 54 months to reorient the program from research and development to production and deployment. An initial deployment consisted of six Perimeter Acquisition Radars, 17 Missile Site Radars, 480 Spartan and 220 Sprint silo-launched interceptors at sites across the nation from Boston to San Francisco and Oahu. Given the political environment–opposition to the war in Vietnam and to the concept of nuclear weapons–this deployment plan was not well received.

With the inauguration of President Richard M. Nixon in January 1969, the deployment was halted as the president ordered a review of all strategic offensive and defensive priorities. In March, he announced a new program, the Safeguard. It reoriented the ABM program based upon three priorities: “to protect land-based retaliatory forces against a direct attack by the Soviet Union;” to provide a “defense of the American people against the kind of nuclear attack which Communist China is likely to mount within the decade;” and to protect “against the possibility of accidental attacks from any source.”

Now known as the Safeguard Systems Command (SAFSCOM), the command was charged to deploy this new BMD system with a first site operational within the original 54-month deadline. Ultimately ten sites were identified across the country, but construction would only begin at two sites, near Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., and Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.

Again outside forces would come into play. Even as construction proceeded, the United States and Soviet Union conducted the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks that produced the ABM Treaty. This initial agreement limited both nations to two ABM sites, one near the national capital and the other near an ICBM site. As a result, the Malmstrom effort halted in 1972.

The program proceeded in North Dakota. Officially designated the Stanley R. Mickelson Safeguard Complex, this site, with its Perimeter Acquisition Radar, missile site, radar, 30 long-range Spartan and 70 short-range Sprint interceptors and four remote Sprint launch sites, achieved full operational capability in September 1975.

Thus the command deployed the western world’s first ABM system. The system was short-lived. Despite Department of Defense arguments to retain the system, the Fiscal Year 1976/7T appropriations bill provided that funds for the ABM facility were to be used for the “expeditious termination and deactivation of all operation of that facility.” The Perimeter Acquisition Radar transferred to the U.S. Air Force, becoming Cavalier Air Force Station. It continues to serve today as part of the Air Force’s deep-space tracking system.

Even as work progressed on the Safeguard deployment, the command received a new mission to develop a next-generation system known as Hardsite Defense, a prototype demonstration program. Soon thereafter, in May 1974, the Secretary of the Army realigned all BMD efforts under one organization, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. The SAFSCOM became the Ballistic Missile Defense Systems Command (BMDSCOM), and a Ballistic Missile Defense Advanced Technology Center replaced the Army’s Ballistic Missile Defense Agency.

The BMDSCOM would oversee the development of the Site Defense and later a new deployment concept, the Low Altitude Defense/Sentry. Chartered in 1977, the LoAD was the last nuclear interceptor initiated by the command. Designed to protect the proposed mobile MX ICBM program, the LoAD also was deemed a feasible underlay component of a two-tiered layered defense system.

In 1982, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger issued a directive to support all possible deployment modes for the MX, or Peacekeeper, missile. At the same time, he directed the development of a non-nuclear exoatmospheric interceptor. In response the LoAD became the Sentry. One year later as a result of ABM Treaty restrictions and funding constraints, BMDSCOM terminated the Sentry program.

A Period of Transition

Meanwhile, the Site Defense program came to an end in 1974 with the congressional ban on prototyping, a ban which would remain in place until 1981. During this period, the BMD program pursued two development concepts. One focused upon component improvements and a second explored innovative advanced technologies.

Component improvements took a variety of avenues. For example, can we miniaturize the interceptor, make it lighter, develop a more effective propellant and incorporate on-board sensors eliminating the need for a guidance radar? In many cases, the answer was yes. Modern interceptors are much smaller, lighter, and are equipped with their own sensors. The Airborne Surveillance Testbed put a sensor on a mobile platform, and the Designating Optical Tracker put the sensors on the missile.

In other cases, new targets and tests validated and improved identification and discrimination algorithms. The Advanced Research Center made great advances in data processing technology. At the same time, the command began to explore alternative technologies with the application of lasers and neutral particle beams to the missile defense equation and the transition to a kinetic energy interceptor.

On June 10, 1984, the Homing Overlay Experiment (HOE) demonstrated that it was possible “to hit a bullet with a bullet” by successfully intercepting an ICBM nose cone. Described as “the first major revolution in ballistic missile defenses since the . . . 1940s,” the HOE collided with the target at speeds of 15,000 feet per second. Just three years later the Flexible Lightweight Agile Guided Experiment achieved the same success with an endoatmospheric interceptor. These accomplishments combined with the evolving research in alternative technologies placed the command at the fore in the next significant phase of development.

In March 1983, President Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). He challenged the scientific community to “give us the means to render these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.” Mocked by detractors as the “Star Wars” policy, the SDI nevertheless evolved into a multi-service program designed to develop a treaty-compliant, non-nuclear, multi-tiered national defense system.

Based upon its extensive background in missile defense technologies, this command, which would soon be renamed the Strategic Defense Command, served as the lead in many of the new programs. In the boost-phase of the SDI architecture, the command had responsibility for the Ground Based Laser. In the midcourse phase, the Neutral Particle Beam and the Ground Based Interceptor played key roles. The Terminal Phase saw the greatest application of Army assets with the Airborne Optical Adjunct, the Ground-Based Radar, Ground-Based Surveillance and Tracking System and the High Endoatmospheric Defense Interceptor. While not all of these initiatives were successful, they served as the foundation for the current Ground-based Midcourse Defense.

Even as the command explored the SDI programs in the late 1980s, its missions continued to evolve as researchers expanded the missile defense concept to incorporate what was then called Theater Missile Defense. Is it possible to intercept a shorter-range tactical missile to defend forward-deployed forces and our allies? To address that question, the command began to develop the Extended Range Interceptor, which in 1994 was selected as the interceptor for the new Patriot Advanced Capability-3, the Theater High Altitude Area Defense and in conjunction with the government of Israel, the Arrow and the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL).

During this same period, in 1990, the Army centralized directed-energy research by transferring the High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility (HELSTF), located at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, to the Strategic Defense Command. The subsequent research has taken many forms. In 1997, for example, HELSTF’s Mid-Advanced Chemical Laser and the Low-Power Chemical Laser successfully lased an orbiting Air Force satellite. This Data Collection Exercise sought to assess potential vulnerabilities given the increased dependence upon satellite systems. Later, the facility applied laser technology to the elimination of land mines and unexploded ordnance.

Most of the research has addressed the missile defense mission. From its initial tests, the THEL program enjoyed significant results. As Lt. Gen. John Costello observed following a June 2000 test in which the THEL tracked and destroyed a Katyusha rocket in flight, “We’ve just turned science fiction into reality.” By the time it transitioned to the Program Executive Office for Air, Space and Missile Defense in 2003, the mobile version of the THEL had already destroyed a variety of in-flight rockets and artillery shells.

In addition to the chemical laser, directed-energy research has explored the potential offered by a solid state laser. One product has been the High Energy Laser Technology Demonstration designed to counter multiple threats on the battlefield, specifically rockets, artillery and mortars. In 2016, the system went beyond these parameters to successfully engage unmanned aircraft systems and ground targets. The current iteration, the Mobile Expeditionary High Energy Laser, continues to incorporate upgrades in both the base and the laser.

An Expansion in Space

In the years after launching the first U.S. satellite, Explorer I, in 1958, the Army had by many accounts become a “passive consumer” of space products. Then in the 1980s, concurrent with the development of the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Army began to develop its own assets. The Army Space Institute focused upon tactical assets and bringing these to the Army at the small group level. Their tool was the Army Space Demonstration Program which brought a variety of space-based products to tactical units.

Then in 1986, the Army established the Army Space Agency, an operational unit designed to manage space functions, to represent Army’s interests with the U.S. Space Command. Two years later, it became the U.S. Army Space Command (ARSPACE). While continuing the original planning and coordination mission, ARSPACE received additional responsibilities to include a Consolidated Space Operations Center Detachment, the Army astronauts at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, three Regional Space Support Centers and soon thereafter the entire Defense Satellite Communication System (DSCS) mission.

The benefits of the 1980s space initiatives were soon realized, following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The 1991 Persian Gulf War, often referred to as the First Space War, brought the assets of space to the soldier in the field. A network of GPS satellites provided position and navigation information which enabled the multinational forces to cross the open desert. Other space systems provided weather data, detailed imagery and maps, and communications capabilities. The satellites of the Defense Support Program also provided an early warning system in support of theater missile defenses.

Operationalizing the Mission

A significant change for both commands came in 1992. During that summer, the Strategic Defense Command’s program and project offices transitioned to the newly created Program Executive Office for Global Protection Against Limited Strikes. At the same time, the Army established the new U.S. Army Space and Strategic Defense Command (USASSDC), elevating the space missions to the oversight of a three-star command.

The designation reflected the command’s new role as the focal point for both Army space and missile defense. It also marked a new initiative to centralize research and development of space and strategic assets. The ARSPACE then became a subordinate command. Seven months later the Army Space Technology Research Office transferred to the command as the Space Applications Technology Program. Then in 1994, the Army Space Program Office became a major subordinate element.

The lessons learned from Desert Storm also influenced the development of the new command. The recognized benefits of a theater missile defense greatly increased the interest placed on this area of research and development. As the interceptors continued development within the PEO, the command, designated the Army’s Theater Missile Defense Advocate in 1994, addressed other elements.

The deficiencies identified in theater missile defense satellite early warning, for example, produced the Joint Tactical Ground Stations, or JTAGS. In only six years, the JTAGS, a mobile in-theater early warning station, evolved from the mission needs statement to a fielded system. The JTAGS have provided continuous early warning support to forward deployed units in Europe and Korea since 1997.

During this timeframe, the ARSPACE was tasked to develop a deployable space support team. Originally known as Contingency Operations–Space, the teams grew to become the Army Space Support Teams, or ARSSTs. ARSSTs “have deployed worldwide to support units from battalion to theater level and all echelons in between.” The value of their contributions is readily apparent as the ARSSTs have been deployed in continuous rotation in support of the Global War on Terrorism since September 2001.

Even as the ARSSTs were developing, the command established a new unit in 1995, the 1st Satellite Control (SATCON) Battalion, the first battalion with an operational space mission. The mission itself, however, was not new. From five locations around the globe, Army personnel have managed the tactical use of the DSCS constellation since the 1960s. The ARSPACE assumed responsibility for this mission in 1988.

Subsequently redesignated the 53rd Signal Battalion (SATCON) in 2005, the battalion’s mission continues to grow with the deployment of the new and more powerful Wideband Global Satellites. At the same time, the command was designated the SATCOM System Expert for the Navy-managed Mobile User Objective System, an ultrahigh frequency constellation for small, tactical-level units.

On the technology development front, in 1995 missile defense research explored new avenues as USASSDC was directed to study aerostats as sensor platforms. The goal was to explore innovative means to improve ground-based radars and develop a means to see over the curve of the Earth. The program began in 1995 with the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS). The JLENS would transition to the Program Executive Office in 2001, and in 2003 the Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment was first deployed to Afghanistan to address emerging threats. Meanwhile, research and development in high-altitude alternatives remained active within the command with such concepts as the High Altitude Airship, Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle and HiSentinel. Ultimately in 2007 the command was designated as the Army’s specified proponent for high altitude.

In 1997, the command entered a new phase. Elevated to a major Army command, the renamed U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command (USASMDC) was identified as the Army specified proponent for Space and National Missile Defense and the operational integrator for Theater Missile Defense. Following this designation and in conjunction with a memorandum with the U. S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), USASMDC stood up the Space and Missile Defense Battle Lab, the only battle lab outside TRADOC. The lab’s mission was to perform space and missile defense experiments “to develop warfighting concepts, focus military science and technology research and conduct warfighting experiments.”

Exploring various opportunities, the Battle Lab sought to create a Synthetic Battlefield Environment which would link technology to the warfighter. The Force Protection Tactical Operations Center, for example, transitioned to the Army Air and Missile Defense Command in the late 1990s. This mission would expand in 2000 when the Army designated ARSPACE as the Army component command to support U.S. Space Command’s Computer Network Attack/Computer Network Defense missions.

The 1997 TRADOC agreement also authorized USASMDC to determine the space and missile defense requirements for Doctrine, Training, Leader Development, Organization, Materiel and Soldier Support. While the 3Y skills identifier, instituted in 1985, identified personnel with ballistic missile defense training, it was not until 1998 that the Army established a new Functional Area 40 for space operations officers. Since 1999, their numbers have grown from the original 23 to several hundred as the Army’s Space Cadre has expanded to meet the Army’s needs in five space mission areas: space situational awareness, space force enhancement, space support, space control and space force application. To prepare soldiers and civilians for their missions, the Future Warfare Center conducts a series of courses to address every facet of space and missile defense operations.

The National Missile Defense Act of 1999 directed that the United States would deploy as soon as technologically possible a national missile defense system. Later that year, the Army was designated the lead service for land-based missile defense.

Both of these initiatives brought further change for the command. The focus expanded beyond developing and improving the technologies to developing an organization capable of manning the new system. When the United States withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, President George W. Bush observed, “I am committed to deploying a defense system as soon as possible to protect the American people and our deployed forces against the growing missile threat we face.” The goal for an initial deployed capability was set for 2004.

It was also during this time that the command initiated efforts to “regularize” and “operationalize” space and missile defense. Rather than have an Army Space Command oversee these missions and functions, the command reorganized to create traditional Army units. In addition to the 1st SATCON Battalion, between 1999 and 2004 the command stood up the 1st Space Battalion, 193rd Space Battalion, 1st Space Brigade, 100th Missile Defense Brigade (Ground-based Midcourse Defense), all based in Colorado Springs, Colo., and 49th Missile Defense Battalion (GMD) located in Fort Greely, Alaska. A combination of Regular Army, Reserve and National Guard personnel, these units provide a recognizable structure to very distinct and unique missions.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command of today dates back to 2003 and Change 2 to the Unified Command Plan. Under that guidance, the command became the Army Service Component Command for a newly reorganized U.S. Strategic Command which was assigned the missions of global strike; information operations; space; command, control, communications and computers; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and integrated missile defense.

To reflect the dual chains of command–Department of the Army and U.S. Strategic Command–the command adopted the Army Forces Strategic Command name soon thereafter. The new name and relationships were formalized by General Order 37 issued in 2006.

Although USASMDC/ARSTRAT has evolved through many iterations, shaped by technological innovations, politics, budgets and international relations, the mission has remained constant. Throughout its 60-year history, the command has sought to provide the most effective missile defense and space technologies and personnel possible, to meet the needs of the nation, warfighters and allies.