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US Army, Navy handing over SATCOM ops to Space Force

First US Space Force launch
A Falcon 9 rocket launches on Jan. 6, 2020, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The rocket, carrying an installment of Starlink satellites, was the first official launch of the United States Space Force. Photo: US Air Force

The US Army and Navy will be handing over their satellites, funding and mission responsibility to the US Space Force, putting basically all of the DOD’s narrowband, wideband and protected SATCOM under control of US Space Force.

Chief of Space Operations, Space Force Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond made the announcement at the Air Force Association meeting in Washington, on September 21. The transfers are scheduled to be effective Oct. 1, 2021, if the DOD budget is passed and signed.

“We’re one team with our sister services and over the last year-and-a-half we have worked with the Army and the Navy and the Air Force to determine which capabilities come over to the Space Force,” Raymond said. “The intent was to consolidate (and) increase our operational capability; increase our readiness and do so in a more efficient manner.”

The changes are “a first tranche,” he said.

On the Navy side, the Navy’s narrow band satellite constellation will transfer 76 manpower authorizations to the Space Force, as well as 13 satellites — a mix of the new multi-user objective system and the UHF follow-on satellite constellation.

The US Army will transfer roughly $78 million of operations, maintenance and manpower authorizations. This will include five wideband SATCOM operations centers, and four regional SATCOM support centers. This will affect about 500 manpower authorizations.

All told, 15 global units with 319 military and 259 civilian billets from the Army and Navy combined will transfer to the Space Force.

“These are crucial defense capabilities. The units can’t stop just because the function is transferring to the Space Force. The capabilities are needed 24/7 and they will be,” Space Force Lt. Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, the service’s deputy chief of space operations for operations, cyber and nuclear, said.

“We need to create this unity of effort around our space missions, to ensure we’re up to those challenges that we face, because the space domain has rapidly become far more congested, and far more contested than … when I was a lieutenant or a captain operating space capabilities,” Saltzman said.

The performance of satellite communications will be enhanced by this sort of unity of effort.

The soldiers, sailors and Army and Navy civilians are not obligated to move to Space Force. There is a process and those involved must volunteer to move. For civilians, the process is relatively easy — simply moving from an Army or Navy system to becoming Department of the Air Force employees. For soldiers and sailors, this requires release by their respective services and acceptance by the Space Force.