COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — This month, the U.S. Space Force replaced its long-established acquisitions arm — the Space and Missile Systems Center — with a new field command called Space Systems Command.
Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein defended the move as more than a simple name change in his first media availability since taking command Aug. 13. In fact, he said, the new organization reflects the reality the Space Force now faces and implements a structure to handle the perceived threat better.
“Space Systems Command is not just a name change from SMC. It is actually a change in mindset, a change in culture, and driving a unity of effort across not only the Space Force but across the DoD,” said Guetlein Aug. 25 at the 36th annual Space Symposium.
That change is necessitated by the Department of Defense’s posture of the last few years: Space is no longer a peaceful domain.
“Make no doubt about it, it is definitely becoming contested, and our adversary is not only demonstrating the capability to deny our peaceful use or defensive use of space, but they’re also in some cases demonstrating their intent,” said Guetlein. “And what is clear to us is that we have to get after the threat as a unity of effort, not only across the federal government, but across our commercial sector, our allies, our academia, to name a few.”
One solution that Space Systems Command will pursue is designing and building out a more distributed architecture.
The Space and Missile Systems Center had a long history of launching the nation’s most important military satellites, including ones for GPS, communications and the Space Based Infrared System for missile warnings.
“The one thing that was constant across those systems is they were built for a peaceful domain,” said Guetlein.
Space Force officials have been consistent in stating the need to move to a more distributed architecture, where the nation’s space-based capabilities aren’t concentrated in small constellations made up of just a handful of satellites. In that setup, which is roughly the status quo, the destruction or denial of a single satellite can have massive implications for the delivery of space capabilities to the war fighter. In theory, the destruction of a single SBIRS missile warning satellite could result in a major coverage gap for the nation’s space-based missile detection capability.
SSC is expected to pursue a more spread out architecture, with capabilities sprinkled over multiple constellations and satellites in multiple orbits. The goal is that an attack on a single satellite or a single orbital regime cannot significantly degrade the delivery of space-based capabilities.
According to Guetlein, the restructuring of acquisitions under Space Systems Command will drive a united effort across DoD and the intelligence community.
The shift from SMC to SSC began with SMC 2.0, a series of reforms under SMC Commander Gen. JT Thompson, said Guetlein. Those efforts have reached maturity within the Space Force so that it was time to officially replace SMC with SSC, said Guetlein.
Under SSC, the Space Force is consolidating its main acquisition efforts under four program executive offices. Beyond that, SSC consolidated the Space Force’s various launch efforts under a single office and established a new commercial space office in charge of commercial satellite communications and other capabilities, which could include new commercial satellite imagery services.
The SSC architect has also been lifted to the same level as a program executive office, a move that Guetlein said will enable more integration of systems across the space enterprise — even beyond the Space Force to industry and other services and agencies.
There have also been efforts outside of SSC to further push that “unity of effort.” For example, the Space Force has created the Space Warfighting Analysis Center to develop a new force design and a Space Force Acquisition Council to ensure space organizations across the federal government are working together. In addition, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council has set the Space Force as the integrator for joint space requirements, giving the service more authority in coordinating efforts across the DoD enterprise.
Not everyone is on the same page. While Space Force officials have touted the progress on acquisitions reforms and the changes being made under SSC, legislators have expressed frustration with what they see as more of the status quo. A report from the House Appropriations Committee criticized the Space Force, claiming that it had yet to differentiate itself from space acquisitions under the Air Force.
“The Committee remains concerned that the Air Force has not taken more aggressive action in addressing longstanding space acquisition issues and has made little progress in defining what the Space Force will be doing that is fundamentally different than when it was a component of the Air Force,” said lawmakers in the report.
Rep. Betty McCollum, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense chair, went as far as to call the Space Force’s various restructurings as “minor tweaks around the edges.”
It remains to be seen whether Space Force officials can convince legislators that they are making substantial changes at either an organizational or architectural level.
Nathan Strout is the staff editor at C4ISRNET. He covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems.