HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Lt. Gen. Daniel Karbler has overseen U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command for three years, helping it move some missions over to the Space Force, while growing the missions it retained amid a demand for more robust space and missile defense capabilities.
A year ago, the command transferred the Army’s relatively new satellite operations brigade to the Space Force and made key changes to the service’s only space brigade, the 1st Space Brigade.
The command is also working to integrate new capability into forces operating Patriot air defense systems — personnel with one of the highest operational tempos in the service.
Defense News spoke with Karbler in August at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
We spoke a year ago about the Army transferring some capabilities to the Space Force. Where does that process stand?
Over the course of the last two years, we’ve been working with the Space Force and transferring all sorts of capabilities. It really goes from personnel to equipment to the training. We’ll start with people first, and it’s been a combination of interservice transfers — the soldiers and officers who have elected to transfer over to the Space Force — and we have been successful with that.
You just don’t go snap a light switch and all the equipment magically transfers over, so Col. Dennis Williams, the G-4 for Space and Missile Defense Command, has spearheaded all of the logistics work, the logistics transfers of equipment between the Army and the Space Force. He has worked with both the Army staff and the Space Force staff on unique Army equipment of the [satellite operations] brigade — some nonstandard equipment — then transfer that from an Army system over to a new supply system and new supply processes in the Space Force. Dennis Williams has done a fantastic job doing that over the course of about the last year and a half.
The last part is the training. The Space Force and its Guardians started going to the Signal School at Fort Gordon, Georgia, to get the [satellite operations] training they needed that we teach in the institutional Army. You can see how in this whole process we really tried to hit all the major elements because at the start of this entire process was the commitment by us to ensure Gen. [James] Dickinson, our U.S. Space Command boss, did not lose any mission capability for the critical 24/7 [satellite operations] mission we do.
Then there’s the funding transfer aspects of it, exacerbated by the [continuing resolution]. Col. Mike Mai, my G-8, did a fantastic job. Imagine the budget folks working across a calendar year with a CR, different funding streams, different budgets, no money — very, very difficult. The G-8 team, with Col. Mai’s leadership, did a fantastic job managing that almost day-by-day process to make sure funding was tracked and make sure they ended up in the right pots of money.
There will be some additional training the Army is still going to do because the Space Force is still growing its training base and its capability to pick up training, so the Army will still conduct the institutional training for Guardians coming in.
What other changes within Space and Missile Defense Command are afoot regarding Space Force transfers?
Right now, we’re looking at the transfer of the JTAGS mission — the Joint Tactical Ground Station. We’re using the lessons learned from the [satellite operations] brigade transfer over to the Space Force. That’s still in the very early stages right now, really just in the planning stages with the Space Force.
Is this set in stone, or are you still weighing the possibility?
No, it will happen. There’s notifications that still have to take place. We’re doing some preliminary work — just like we did with the [Satellite Operations] Brigade — before we transfer JTAGS. But again, we learned some great lessons, and they still apply, whether it’s the people, the equipment sets or the training that transfer over.
What’s the timeline for these transfers?
If I had a lesson learned from the [satellite operations], it’s to not try to put a schedule on it. What ended up happening was we thought we knew when it was going to take place, and then when it didn’t, that just created some angst. I’d rather just say it’s in early stages, pending things happening.
You made changes to the 1st Space Brigade about a year ago to better position it to support multidomain operations. How has that gone?
We have learned through the Russia-Ukraine conflict particularly just how flexible and agile — or how our changes to 1st Space Brigade have made us very agile and flexible to respond to [U.S. European Command] requests and SPACECOM requests for 1st Space Brigade forces. We had many moving pieces within 1st Space Brigade, not just within the active duty units but also within our Reserve and our National Guard, and that’s a combination of space control planning teams that supported it as well as our Army space support teams.
Literally, we were moving soldiers from one theater to the other from the United States into Europe, and Col. Donald Brooks, [commander of 1st Space Brigade], and his team were able to execute that within weeks’ notice and again demonstrated readiness by the 1st Space Brigade soldiers, superb readiness, to respond. But also it showed us the changes we made and [our adaptability].
What have you learned from the Russian invasion of Ukraine? How have those lessons shaped impending decisions or changes within your command?
It has shown us the value of intelligence support to space operations. It has shown us the importance of being able to integrate and coordinate across combatant commands, from Space Command to [U.S. European Command]. And it is showing the value of Space and Missile Defense Command as an Army service component that is used to serving multiple combatant commands.
In the high-altitude realm, what is the Army exploring that appears promising?
Whether it’s a high-altitude balloon or the solar-powered UAV Zephyr that’s been flying around, there are a couple of things that will help us out. First, tactically responsive capabilities that will be Army controlled, used by the [multidomain task forces] for persistence and long-duration [operations] as we’re seeing from the Zephyr and from high-altitude balloons.
The second is the different payloads that would go on those high-altitude platforms. That’s what we’re experimenting with, whether it’s an [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] platform, a communications platform, or a platform that might have some effectors on it.
How are you thinking about the opportunities and challenges that present themselves when combining offensive and defensive fires?
I’m excited about the offensive fires capabilities the [Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office] is working on right now with respect to hypersonics. Anytime that we can get a prompt, conventional, counterstrike capability or strike capability that helps out air and missile defense — because the adversary can put a cost and position strategy on us. We can’t shoot down every one of the adversary’s missiles with our interceptors, so we have to use our offensive capabilities to take more arrows out of their quiver. That’s got to be integrated.
The fires community, with the Fires Center of Excellence and them working with the Long-Range Precision Fires [Cross Functional Team] and the Air and Missile Defense CFT, we see great synergy between them. As we’re developing for example, our [Integrated Battle Command System] program, recognizing there are offensive capabilities that can be integrated into IBCS to help us with that offensive-defensive integration to help us with the counterstrike or counter-battery capabilities.
We’re still practicing it. We’ve got a ways to go. There are other priorities within the IBCS program we want to make sure we get after in terms of integration. We also can’t take our eyes off of the need to make sure we do the offensive integration.
How is the initial operational test and evaluation going for IBCS — the future command-and-control capability for Integrated Air and Missile Defense? You just wrapped up an initial phase and are about to begin another.
The battalion has been prepping for it. We’re going to remain optimistic about the initial operational test and evaluation. We’ve seen a good lead-up to it.
We’ve demonstrated that in limited-user tests and in some of the other live-fire tests that we’ve done. We’ve done a very good job of retaining that Patriot battalion as the test battalion. It’s important to note the Army, recognizing the importance of modernization of the air and missile defense force, has fenced that battalion at a time of high [operational tempo] for our air defense units. That shows where the Army is at and the priority the Army is putting on air and missile defense modernization.
Then that battalion will be used to test the [Lower Tier Air and Missile Defense Sensor] radar. So once the IBCS test is done, the LTAMDS will continue with that battalion. It’s a tough balancing act between the current ops and the [operational tempo] on our forces and modernization. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of striking that balance.
Congress wants the Army to report back on whether it needs more Patriot batteries. Given that operational tempo, what has the Army done to help with that? What concerns might you have going forward?
The demands on the Army’s air defense force are recognized by everybody, not a doubt there. So when the chief commissioned the “Health of the Force” study a couple of years ago, the entire Army staff swung into action to help us in that area.
We’ve gotten help in multiple different areas of recommendations, whether it’s a pay incentive or staying true to the dwell restrictions; the force knows that we recognize the high op tempo. The second part of that is the recognition by Army senior leaders we need more air defense, and that’s been publicly stated by the chief and the secretary of the Army.
The challenge is — and the chief and the secretary have challenged all Army leadership — accessions. We have to recruit now; we have to go out and find civilians and turn them into air defense soldiers. We are recognizing the global demand of Patriot, and we’re trying to make sure that Patriot employment is balanced and follows the National Defense Strategy.
How is the Army contributing to the architecture to build air defense for Guam? How do you envision the service helping operate the capability?
Just about every week I meet with Gen. [Charles] Flynn, [U.S. Army Pacific] commander, and Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey, who’s the G-3/5/7 on the Army staff, and we make sure that we stay very synchronized on our way forward. [The Army has been told] exactly what capabilities are going to be part of the defense of Guam, and we are all in sync with that. The Army is moving out to provide those capabilities in the defense of Guam.
It remains to be seen if the lead services will be made responsible for that, or some sort of joint task force commander, but the Army is ready to support with what it was directed to provide. [We] also work with the commander of the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command [chief] Maj. Gen. Brian Gibson, the Missile Defense Agency, and Program Executive Office Missiles and Space. We are staying very tight on the way forward.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.