Air Force Space Command’s activation on Sept. 1, 1982 completed nearly a decade of work consolidating the Air Force’s role in space. Its creation also marked the beginning of a new era for the Air Force in which space-based systems enhanced control over the skies
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Air Force Space Command’s activation on Sept. 1, 1982 completed nearly a decade of work consolidating the Air Force’s role in space. Its creation also marked the beginning of a new era for the Air Force in which space-based systems enhanced control over the skies.
Today, the Air Force uses space-based systems to efficiently communicate, determine weather conditions, provide navigation information, act as early warning detection systems and conduct space surveillance. As the Guardians of the High Frontier, AFSPC people centrally manage and control space systems to fulfill the command’s mission of defending the United States of America through the control and exploitation of space.
Air Force Space Command has its roots in the post-World War II era, when national defense concerns dictated that the United States dominate not only the skies, but also space. The Soviet Union launched Sputnik in October 1957, and American interest in space grew quickly.
The Air Force initially focused on developing capabilities for intercontinental ballistic missiles and space systems. These efforts found success in the Atlas and Titan ICBM programs and Project SCORE, which launched the first active communications satellite into orbit on Dec. 18, 1958.
This led to the formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as directors of civil and manned space ventures and the National Reconnaissance Office as operators of classified reconnaissance satellites. The Air Force extensively supported both organizations while developing its own military space programs.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the Air Force developed space-based systems to provide warning of missile attacks, meteorological information, communications, navigational data and surveillance as part of military operations. These systems were used as part of military operations for the first time during the Vietnam War.
By the end of the 1970s, the increasing potential of space-based systems in warfare and plans for military use of the space shuttle made it clear that the Air Force needed to overhaul space systems management. A variety of commands handled space responsibilities, making coordinated efforts difficult and confusing.
In November 1978, Chief of Staff General Lew Allen established a Space Mission Organization Planning Executive Committee to study the situation. One year later, it issued the Space Missions Organizational Planning Study report with five recommendations for reorganization.
In 1980, the Air Force’s Summer Study on Space highlighted organizational deficiencies preventing the Air Force from fully realizing opportunities in space. As a result, Air Staff created the Directorate for Space Operations within the Headquarters United States Air Force’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Plans and Readiness in 1981. The organization conducted intensive study on space as a support tool in war fighting. The study, combined with a General Accounting Office report criticizing the Department of Defense for poor management of military space programs, provided the impetus for final organizational change.
By mid-1982, General Robert T. Marsh, Air Force Systems Command commander, and General James Hartinger, Aerospace Defense Command commander, began creating an operational major command for space. The command’s formation was announced on June 21, 1982, and activated on Sept. 1, 1982, under the leadership of General Hartinger.
Space Command eventually absorbed programs from Aerospace Defense Command, Air Force Systems Command, Strategic Air Command and Air Force Communications Command. In 1985, the command was renamed Air Force Space Command to reduce confusion with the newly activated United States Space Command. Today, the command’s mission includes missile warning; space surveillance; satellite control; global positioning system, which controls position, navigation and timing; space defense; space support to operational forces; and launch operations.
Air Force Space Command came into its own during Desert Storm in 1991, managing more than 60 military satellites that provided crucial information to operators. This war demonstrated the importance of space in supporting and determining battlefield success.
In June 1993, AFSPC grew significantly when it assumed responsibility for the land-based ICBM mission.
By the 1999 Air War over Serbia, the Air Force achieved unprecedented integration between air and space capabilities. The October 2001 Operation Enduring Freedom campaign in Afghanistan utilized these capabilities to great success, and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 saw space capabilities providing overwhelming combat advantages.
The command’s mission increased once again on Oct. 1, 2001 when it gained responsibility for the Space and Missile Systems Center, which oversees acquisition of space and missile systems. AFSPC is the only major command with its own acquisition arm.
Technological developments in the space and missile business, as well as the recent designation of the Air Force as the Executive Agent for Space within the DoD, will make the integration between space and air power ever more crucial to the future of the Air Force.