WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force last month officially took over from the Army the operation of ground stations that receive data from infrared sensor satellites and send out alerts on detected missile launches.

Four Joint Tactical Ground Station (JTAGS) units based in Italy, South Korea, Japan and Qatar for more than two decades had been operated by the U.S. Army’s 1st Space Brigade. On Oct. 1 they were handed over to the Space Force’s Space Operations Command.

The transfer is part of a larger effort to consolidate military satellites operations under the Space Force. 

“It’s a lot simpler when it’s all in one service, versus being in two,” Lt. Gen. DeAnna Burt, deputy chief of space operations of the U.S. Space Force, said Nov. 2.

More efficient under one service

During a talk hosted by the Space Force Association, Burt said the Army has been “a great partner” in the missile-warning and missile-defense mission, but it makes practical sense to put the ground stations and satellites under the control of one service.

This improves management and coordination, said Burt. “It’s just the realities of the bureaucracies and how you push those things through the system and fund them.”

Developed and built by Northrop Grumman, the JTAGS ground stations have been in service since 1994. They receive and process data directly downlinked from infrared sensing satellites, including the Defense Support Program and the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) constellations. 

The system disseminates to U.S. military forces and allies near-real-time warnings and information on ballistic missile launches throughout the theater using multiple communications networks.

Until now, said Burt, “you had two services trying to synchronize acquisitions, software updates and modernization plans.” Moving the JTAGS to the Space Force means “the majority of the capabilities are within a single service.”

She said the changeover will be a “one for one swap,” with guardians replacing soldiers. “There’s no plus-up in the footprint in any of the four locations.”

The consolidation, Burt added, “also helps us really focus on getting after the threat and how we’re going to continue to upgrade and modernize our systems.” 

The JTAGS mission will fall under Space Delta 4 at Buckley Space Force Base, Colorado, until Space Operations Command stands up the 5th Space Warning Squadron in the near future.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...