Army, Navy satellite operations to consolidate under Space Force

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The U.S. Space Force later this year will begin to take over the operation of 11 Navy narrowband communications satellites

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force later this year will begin to take over the operation of 11 Navy narrowband communications satellites. It also will absorb Army units that currently operate military communications payloads, a Space Force official said June 23.

The transition, scheduled to begin in October, will create a more integrated U.S. military satcom enterprise which for decades has “largely been a loose federation,” said Col. Matthew Holston, commander of Space Delta 8 at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.

Holston spoke about the upcoming reorganization at the SMi MilSatCom USA virtual conference. 

Space Delta 8 operates communications and Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites from Schriever and from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. 

With 635 personnel, Space Delta 8 operates 66 satellites: 37 GPS, six Advanced EHF communications, five Milstar, two Enhanced Polar System hosted payloads, 10 Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) and six Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS).

The operation of the Navy’s 11 narrowband communications satellites will move to Space Delta 8. That includes a mix of Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), Ultra High Frequency Follow-On (UFO) and FLTSATCOM UHF satellites. 

Space Delta 8 also will absorb three Navy satellite control antennas and ground control stations at Prospect Harbor, Maine; Laguna Peak, California; and Finegayan, Guam. 

Transitioning from the Army are two units that currently are part of the Army’s satellite operations brigade: The 53rd Signal Battalion and the SATCOM Directorate.

The 53rd Signal Battalion is the only U.S. military unit that controls the payloads of the WGS and DSCS communication constellations.

The SATCOM Directorate supports wideband and narrowband services for U.S. Space Command, and oversees international partner satcom agreements.

 The consolidation of units is “really an opportunity from a space segment perspective as well as a resource management perspective to start moving towards an integrated satcom enterprise,” Holston said.

Army and Navy satellite operators will not be obligated to move over to the Space Force but can voluntarily transfer. 

“We’re working with both our partners in the Army in the Navy to do the service transfers associated with that,” said Holston.

He said this is one step toward accomplishing the Space Force’s vision of an integrated satcom enterprise of military and commercial systems.

That strategy was laid out in the “United States Space Force Vision for Satellite Communications,” which was approved by Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond in January 2020.

Raymond directed the Space Force to figure out how to integrate military and commercial satcom systems so users can roam between networks the way consumer cellphones switch between providers when they travel from one country to another.

Holston said the integration of commercial systems, including space internet services in low Earth orbit, is being handled by the Space Force’s acquisition organization, the Space and Missile Systems Center.  

“I think those discussions are certainly ongoing,” he said. “If you look at the enterprise satcom vision, we certainly want to partner across what is available across different orbital regimes.”