WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force is asking Congress for $20 million to begin transitioning to a common ground system for satellites launching in the coming years.

Evolving current satellite ground systems into one platform, known as Enterprise Ground Services, is a top priority of Gen. John Hyten, the head of Air Force Space Command.

By moving away from custom-built ground systems for every satellite, the Air Force expects to save money while actually strengthening its space capabilities. Increased automation, one of the goals for the new system, would let airmen focus more on space protection efforts than routine flight operations.

The Air Force intends to use the $20 million sought in its 2017 budget request to mature technologies and develop a small-scale prototype capability. The money also would be used to begin migrating missile-warning, protected communication, weather and GPS satellites to “EGS standards.”

“EGS is not a system; it is part of the evolution of the current ground systems already in existence for our Programs of Record to a more efficient and effective common ground architecture,” Capt. AnnMarie Annicelli, an Air Force spokeswoman, said in response to questions from SpaceNews.

The Air Force’s $20 million request is spread over four satellite-modernization funding lines, with largest chunk — about $8.5 million — included in the Advanced Extremely High Frequency protected communications satellite program.

“The end-state will be a modern technical infrastructure which is cyber-secure and resilient against the Advanced Persistent Threat and employs streamlined architecting, acquisition, and operational processes,” Air Force budget documents say.

Hyten said in September he wants all future satellites to work with the experimental Multi-Mission Satellite Operations Center (MMSOC) ground system currently being used primarily for space demo missions.

Air Force leaders see the MMSOC architecture as the backbone for its future ground system because it features a plug-and-play capability that makes it easy to improve and update technology, especially security.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver, along with the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Development and Test Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, developed the MMSOC.

Already, the service runs the MMSOC ground system at Kirtland, home of the Operationally Responsive Space Office, and at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, which operates GPS and communications satellites.

Buckley Air Force Base, the Aurora, Colorado base that operates the service’s missile-warning constellation, will begin using MMSOC ground system in the next few years, Annicelli said.

“We have spent hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in standalone ground systems,” Hyten said during last year’s Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. “We’ll have five separate ground systems to operate five separate satellites. It’s the dumbest thing in the world and it doesn’t enable us to get into the future.  We have to get to a common ground system … and we’re gonna get to it one way or the other. We cannot fail in this endeavor.”

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.