In 2019 the Space and Missile Defense Command remained focused on providing space, missile defense and high altitude capabilities while also standing up a satellite operations brigade and changing the Future Warfare Center to the Space and Missile Defense Center of Excellence.
The Army’s senior air and missile defense organization has roughly 2,800 Soldiers and Army civilians who perform missions at 23 different locations in 11 times zones around the world.
“This has been the most professionally rewarding job I have ever had,” Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, outgoing SMDC commander, said. “This command does so many different things, in so many different areas, with so many different types of experts. From the science and technology out of the Technical Center to all of the institutional functions out of the Space and Missile Defense Center of Excellence to the operations we do at the 1st Space Brigade and the new Satellite Operations Brigade.
“And then on top of that you add in the 100th Missile Defense Brigade with the 300 Soldiers protecting the 300 million Americans, we are probably the most unique Army service component command the Army has.”
Dickinson led the command for almost three years before turning it over to its next commander in December.
“At no other time in my 32-plus years have I seen this command so relevant to the complex challenges that face us today and tomorrow,” Lt. Gen. Daniel Karbler, incoming SMDC commander, said during the change of command. “Twenty-first century strategic deterrence is more than just nuclear deterrence, it demands we provide world-class support to space, missile defense, high altitude and emerging counter-UAS missions. In the face of adversaries who are ever-adapting, we must move fast, innovate and be willing to accept risk.
“What we do is critical to warfighting readiness and ensures our Soldiers can shoot, move and communicate on the complex battlefields of not only today, but also tomorrow,” Karbler added.
Space isn’t simply a service or capability to be provided, space is a warfighting domain and an operational environment, according to James Johnson, deputy to the SMDC commander. The Army has had a role in space for years, from astronauts to Soldiers who operate satellites to Army space support teams who help commanders fully leverage space capabilities, SMDC continues to be the lead for the Army’s growing role in space.
With the standup in August of U.S. Space Command, SMDC now supports both U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Space Command providing space capabilities on behalf of the Army. SMDC’s support to these combatant commands assures the integration and synchronization of the Army’s space and missile defense operations.
SMDC took an internal look at the command to determine how it could be better organized to address the Army’s role in space and combined the 53rd Signal Battalion and personnel from the G-6 planning staff who manage satellite communication efforts to build and activate the Army’s first satellite operations brigade.
The brigade brings a full-time operational focus to the Army’s military satellite communications mission and brings SATCOM organizations under a single command entity. It aligns functions within the command under an operational commander, improving effectiveness, efficiency, and oversight while reducing redundancy and bureaucracy. Commanded by a colonel, the brigade moved satellite operations responsibilities from USSTRATCOM to USSPACECOM.
As the lead for Army space and missile defense efforts and one of 10 Army service component commands, SMDC oversaw operational space and missile defense missions around the globe. From trained and ready space and missile defense forces to innovative doctrine and concept to research and development, SMDC never slowed down.
SMDC organizes, trains, equips and deploys Army space and global missile defense forces to conduct worldwide space and missile defense operations in support of the joint force. Soldiers and civilians operate systems that provide satellite communications, space situational awareness and missile warning and defense for the Army and the Department of Defense.
SMDC’s Future Warfare Center transitioned to the Space and Missile Defense Center of Excellence to mirror other centers of excellence such as the Fires or Maneuver centers of excellence. This name change better encompasses the activities and functions the SMD Center of Excellence performs for the Army. The SMD CoE is where concepts begin for space, high altitude and global missile defense and where those concepts are integrated into the fight. The SMD CoE is the Army’s force modernization proponent for space and missile defense; responsible for developing doctrine, organizational, training, materiel, leadership/education, personnel and facility solutions.
SMDC’s Technical Center provided research, development, test and evaluation capabilities for the command. The Tech Center executes science and technology as well as research and development programs within the command’s core competencies of space and missile defense.
Research from the Tech Center involves small satellites, directed energy efforts, high-power microwave technologies, low-cost targets and others.
Shifting from research and development to operations, SMDC’s 1st Space Brigade Soldiers work 24/7/365, providing critical satellite communications and theater missile warning in support of critical defense missions. They provide missile defense, missile warning, satellite communications, force tracking, intelligence, and direct support to ground operations, allowing the Army to shoot, move and communicate.
In addition the 100th Missile Defense Brigade operates the nation’s ground-based midcourse defense system. Their critical, no-fail mission protects the homeland against a ballistic missile launch.
On March 25, two ground-based interceptors launched from Vandenberg in an anti-ballistic missile test made history with Flight Test Ground-based Midcourse Defense System-11.
The FTG-11 test, concluded within minutes as the two GBIs successfully hit their marks, obliterating them high above earth. FTG-11 was the first-ever salvo test of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system and at its core were National Guard Soldiers representing Alaska, California and Colorado.
SMDC also provides support to NASA with an Army astronaut detachment assigned to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The detachment has two astronauts, Col. Andrew “Drew” Morgan and Lt. Col. Anne McClain, as well as one astronaut candidate, Lt. Col. Frank Rubio.
In December 2018, McClain launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for a six-month rotation on the International Space Station as a flight engineer for Expedition 58/59 and returned June 24. Morgan successfully launched from the cosmodrome July 20 for a nine-month mission as a flight engineer for Expedition 60/61.
During their time aboard the ISS, McClain and Morgan completed multiple space walks, accumulating more than 50 hours outside the international laboratory.
As the command held its change of command Dec. 6 from Dickinson to Karbler, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville talked about the impact of the command and the role SMDC Soldiers, civilians and family members have in maintaining peace around the world.
“In providing missile defense and space capabilities, not only to our Army but to the joint force and our allies and partners around the world, SMDC is a key part in making sure we can do that and that we can win,” McConville said. “SMDC deploys missile batteries, satellites, computers and sensors to enable warfighters to win, and that is what it is all about. It is our people in the Army here at SMDC who make us strong and make us special. In our Army we don’t man equipment, we equip people because our Army is people. All of you define SMDC and your hard work is what makes this command great.