PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — United States Space Command marks its 15th anniversary Saturday as the Department of Defense’s joint command in charge of coordinating the nation’s military space operations. It is one of nine unified commands, staffed by Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy, as well as civilian, personnel. Headquartered here, it conducts operations worldwide. The command is also in a partnership with Canadian Forces in the North American Aerospace Defense Command and its Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center.
Formally activated Sept. 23, 1985, to consolidate and streamline America’s space defense capabilities, USSPACECOM’s missions have evolved along with the technology it depends upon.
When that technology advanced man’s exploration capabilities higher and higher into the atmosphere — and beyond — the United States’ military services began exploring the possibilities that space held for the nation’s defense. What began as independent, individual efforts grew into a loose affiliation of space pioneers.
It traces its roots back as far as 1945, when the first missile and space tests were conducted. In January 1946, the RAND Corporation published a study discussing the opportunities for scientific study, observation and global communications which satellites afforded. As early as 1948, the secretary of defense’s annual report to congress made reference to studies on the feasibility of an "earth satellite vehicle program."
A 1954 Air Force study outlined the military value of satellites and the Department of Defense approved further research into the subject.
Also in 1954, the Continental Air Defense Command — CONAD — was created. This was a joint command, located at Ent Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, that was given the operational control of the Army Anti-Aircraft Command, created in 1951, the Air Force’s Air Defense Command and Naval Forces Continental Air Defense Command, the Navy’s component to CONAD.
While experiments into space exploration and utilization continued, the concept of space as a potential Cold War battlefield received new emphasis with the surprise launching and success of the Soviet Union’s satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. In response, DoD conceived the Advance Research Projects Agency to coordinate military and scientific space endeavors in February 1958. As a result, DoD became the first administrator of the nation’s space program. Later that year, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was created. It was envisioned that NASA would oversee civilian space research and technology, acting as a kind of civilian counterpart to ARPA.
In June of 1959, the chief of naval operations floated the idea of a unified military space command that would coordinate space activities much like the joint task force which was created for nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific. DoD disapproved the idea, with the explanation there was no need for a centralized command for space systems which did not yet exist.
Three months later, September 1959 brought a two-year sojourn away from the idea of a centralized space authority. DoD transferred responsibility for military space projects away from ARPA and back to the Navy, Air Force and Army individually.
But service rivalries came into play and criticism arose of the duplication of efforts, so in 1961, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara issued DoD Directive No. 5160.32. Entitled, "Development of Space Systems," it said each service could conduct preliminary research into space projects, but gave the Air Force the responsibility for final development. Then, in 1970, the directive was amended, allowing other services a role in space research and development and systems funding, but retaining Air Force leadership over their acquisition and operation.
Throughout the 1960s and å70s, the military services advanced space technologies in areas of communication, meteorology, navigation, reconnaissance and geodesy — the measurement of large tracts of the earth, its curvature and location of exact geographical points. These advances prompted discussions regarding improving organizational arrangements and operational control of space systems. As the years passed, it became increasingly evident that space was growing in importance in matters of national security.
July 1, 1975, saw the creation of Aerospace Defense Command. A specified command, ADCOM superseded the previous, Air Force only, Aerospace Defense Command and was tasked with space surveillance and defense responsibilities. It also assumed the past responsibilities of the Continental Air Defense Command, which was disestablished.
The Air Force began its Directorate of Space in 1981 to centralize its space integration activities and in September 1982 created Air Force Space Command, headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, signaling its increased emphasis in space operations. The Navy followed suit and in October 1983, the Naval Space Command was activated, with its headquarters in Dahlgren, Va.
One month later, the joint chiefs of staff made a formal recommendation to the secretary of defense for the creation of a unified space command. It would control all DoD space assets and serve as a forum for developing new space warfighting concepts.
The Army Space Command began in September 1984 as an Army staff field element that acted as liaison to Air Force Space Command and participated in planning for the Army’s participation in the now presidential-approved, unified, U. S. Space Command. In September 1985, as USSPACECOM was activated, it was redesignated the Army Space Planning Group.
Since its activation, USSPACECOM continues to grow into its mission.
The late 1980s saw the foundations of ballistic missile defense and a focus on support of the tactical operations of conventional forces.
The 1991 Gulf War proved what an asset space operations are to theater warfare, whether in missile warning, communications or through the use of the global positioning system satellites. Most recently, these capabilities played a major role in NATO’s Operation ALLIED FORCE in Kosovo in Spring 1999.
Just one year ago, the command assumed responsibility for computer network defense and on October 1 will take up the offensive tasks of computer network attack.