The Space Force announced April 8. 2021, that the Space and Missile Systems Center will be re-designated Space Systems Command. Credit: SMC

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force on April 8 unveiled new details of its plan to establish a Space Systems Command in Los Angeles to oversee the development of next-generation technologies, and the procurement of satellites and launch services.

The Space Systems Command, or SSC, will take over responsibilities currently performed by the Space and Missile Systems Center and by the Space Force launch wings in Florida and California that currently are not part of SMC. Altogether SSC will oversee a workforce of about 10,000 people.

The Space Force will re-designate the Space and Missile Systems Center as SSC headquarters. SMC, based at Los Angeles Air Force Base, in El Segundo, California, has a $9 billion annual budget and a workforce of about 6,300 military, civilian personnel and contractors. 

About 4,000 people who work for the space launch units at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida; and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California will be reassigned to SSC. Both space launch wings currently report to the Space Force’s Space Operations Command.

Officials said the new command is more than just a rebranding of the Space and Missile Systems Center. SSC will have broader responsibilities to coordinate space programs across the U.S. military.

The proposal to stand up SSC is the result of a “deliberate year-long process to plan the Space Systems Command and specifically the organizational design,” the commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center Lt. Gen. John Thompson, told SpaceNews.

SSC will be one of three Space Force field commands the service announced in June. The Space Operations Command was established in October and headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  A Space Training and Readiness Command is projected to open later this year. 

All three field commands are led by three-star generals who answer to Gen. John Raymond, the chief of space operations. The commands operate under the authority of the secretary of the Air Force, the civilian leader of the Space Force. 

Thompson said the Space Force is confident SSC can be stood up this summer but the exact timeline depends on when a three-star commander is nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the Senate.

The acquisition arm of the Space Force is a high priority of Raymond, who has called for the service to speed up the procurement of cutting-edge technology to stay ahead of adversaries like China and Russia. He also has argued that the Space Force has to be more agile in order to tap into the innovation coming out of the private sector. 

“Space Systems Command’s organizational structure was purpose-built to anticipate and be responsive to the challenges presented by a contested space domain,” Raymond told reporters April 8.

Raymond said having a field command for acquisition will bring “unity of effort” in the development and acquisition of space capabilities for warfighters and “get people rolling in the right direction.”

It’s not just a name change

Thompson said the new command is not simply a re-labeling of existing activities done by SMC. As the organization in charge of space acquisitions, SSC will build on changes that SMC started two years ago in an effort known as SMC 2.0., he said. For example, SMC realigned program offices that operated in vertical organizations into a horizontal enterprise so there is more coordination and sharing of resources. 

“We really built a lot of momentum here on SMC 2.0 and we felt it was absolutely essential to be able to leverage that work going into the stand up of the Space Systems Command,” Thompson said. 

SMC has a three-star commander and a one-star deputy commander. The SSC also will have a three-star chief but a two-star deputy instead, who will have broader responsibilities for space launch activities.

Thompson said the reorganization will not require adding more people as units are just being realigned. “This will be resource neutral,” he said. 

Two space procurement organizations that are not part of SMC — the Space Rapid Capabilities Office at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; and the Pentagon’s Space Development Agency — will not be part of the SSC but will work closely with the new command, Thompson said. 

Under the plan, the commander of Space Systems Command has “limited administrative control” of Space RCO and SDA, he said. 

“What this means is that we will have a memorandum of understanding between the Space Systems Command commander and the leaders of those organizations for what support the Space Systems Command can provide to those organizations,” Thompson explained. 

“The commander of SSC is not going to get into the day-to-day nuts and bolts of what’s going on in the Space Development Agency or Space RCO portfolios,” said Thompson. The new command is “not going to “slow them down or inhibit their contractual awards in any way shape or form. We value the unique acquisition authorities and unique acquisition constructs of all of those organizations.”

Thompson said he has already started discussion with the Space RCO on what administrative support it might need from SSC. The Space Development Agency by law has to move from the Defense Department to the Space Force by October 2022. How SSC would support SDA has not yet been defined, said Thompson. 

The Space Development Agency, only in existence since 2019, has disrupted the military space business with plans to deploy a network of low-orbiting satellites by 2022 using commercial products from nontraditional suppliers. Thompson said what the agency has accomplished in “commercially enabled disruption is really remarkable. We like having them as teammates in this space acquisition ecosystem.”

The SSC will have a “space systems architect” office overseeing next-generation designs and concepts, and also focus on outreach to the private sector. 

A new organization called SpaceWERX — formed recently under the Air Force technology accelerator AFWERX to work with space entrepreneurs and venture investors — will be under the SSC space systems architect . 

“They will continue to expand their mission, making our pitch day events, making our technology accelerators and our outreach to startups even more aggressive than we have in the past,” Thompson said. 

The SSC also will look at opportunities to buy “space as a service,” a catchphrase for the procurement of data or broadband connectivity from commercial providers. 

“I think you can envision a future where commercial services for space is expanded beyond the satellite communications enterprise and into things like weather or space domain awareness or even tactical ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance],” Thompson said.

As part of the proposed establishment of Space Systems Command, several units will be renamed or realigned:

  • The 61st Air Base Group at Los Angeles Air Force Base — which provides installation support — will become the Los Angeles Garrison.
  • The 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, will be re-designated as Space Launch Delta 30.
  • The 45th Space Wing at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida, will be re-designated as Space Launch Delta 45. 
  • Air Force Research Laboratory units that perform space science and technology functions will be under the administrative control of SSC but will remain aligned to AFRL. These units include Space Vehicles Directorate, Space Electro-Optics Division, Rocket Propulsion Division, and the Space Systems Technology Division.
  • The Strategic Warning and Surveillance Systems Division that manages ground-based radars and missile warning systems will transfer from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center to SSC. 
  • The Space Force Commercial Satellite Communications Office is currently under SMC and will remain in the SSC.

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...