Recently, the United States Army transferred the satellite communications mission to the United States Space Force, the sixth and newest branch of the United States military. As a result, for the first time, one military branch is now in control of all DoD military satellite communication functions.
On August 15, the U.S. Army officially handed over the mission to the Space Force in a ceremony at Peterson Space Force Base (SFB), Colorado. The SATCOM mission has transferred from the United States Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s (USASMDC’s) Satellite Operations Brigade, which includes the 53rd Signal Battalion and SATCOM Directorate, to the 53rd Space Operations Squadron and SATCOM Office, which fall under SpOC’s Space Delta 8.
“This is a historic moment for the Department of Defense and military satellite communications as we bring all military SATCOM capabilities under one service for the first time ever,” said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Karbler, commanding general of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command.
“My thanks to the U.S. Space Force, and in particular Lieutenant General Stephen Whiting and his team for their tremendous teamwork throughout this transition period,” added Gen. Karbler. “I know our SATCOM professionals will continue to provide world-class service and support while embodying the proud heritage of the Army SATCOM mission.”
Transfers To Space Force
The transfer from the Army doesn’t mean that the Space Force will have just taken on new responsibilities. During the ceremony, approximately 200 civilian and 300 military billets were also transferred from the Department of the Army to the Department of the Air Force. Though all of those individuals may not need to make a physical move – and could remain at their current stations in Maryland, Hawaii, Germany, and Japan – they will be transferred from the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command, based in Huntsville, AL, and will now answer to Schriever SFB in Colorado as part of the expansion.
In addition, the Army has also transferred roughly $78 million of its budget to the Space Force for 2022 to help expand the service’s infrastructure.
The New 53rd SOPS
Some of the new Army transfers to the Space Force also came from the 53rd Signal Battalion. That unit, which was first activated in 1941, has an illustrious history, having participated in several noteworthy military campaigns including in North Africa, Italy and Western Europe during the Second World War; operations during the Vietnam War; and in supporting Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and New Dawn in the Middle East.
It transitioned its mission to satellite operations in the 1960s.
The new 53rd Space Operations Squadron, which was officially activated on June 29 at Schriever SFB, also has detachments at Fort Detrick, MD; Fort Meade, MD; Landstuhl, Germany; Wahiawa, HI; and Fort Buckner, Japan. Those detachments were previously under the Army’s 53rd Signal Battalion.
The unit is now distinct in its mission, being the sole armed forces entity to control payload functionality for all U.S. Wideband MILSATCOM.
Expanding the Space Force
It isn’t just the Army that has seen some of its personnel transfer to the Space Force. In June, the Naval Satellite Operations Center (NAVSOC) at Naval Base Ventura County in Mugu, California, was also placed under the Space Force’s Space Delta 8 and designated as the new 10th Space Operations Squadron.
Many of the recent Army and Navy transfers were supposed to happen at the beginning of the year, but were pushed back following Congress’ delay in passing last year’s budget, Military.com had reported. In total, 15 units with 600 people from the Army and Navy combined are currently set to be transferred to the Space Force throughout 2022.
In 2021, 670 active-duty soldiers, sailors, and Marines were also selected to transfer into the military’s newest branch, growing the Space Force by nearly 10%. The service has relied heavily on interservice transfers to grow its ranks, since it was formally created in December 2019.
Other Satellites on the Move
The Pentagon wasn’t the only agency that had shifted control of its satellites last month. Days prior to the Army’s transfer of personnel to the Space Force, on August 11, the U.S. Geological Survey, a part of the Interior Department, also assumed operational control of the Landsat 9 satellite from NASA. Launched last September, the Landsat 9 is the latest remote-sensing satellite to provide global coverage of the changes to Earth’s landscape.
Landsat 9 was launched as a partnership between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, and it continues the Landsat program’s critical role in monitoring, understanding, and managing the land resources needed to sustain human life.