SMDC History: Defense Communications Agency established

By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Command HistorianJune 22, 2016

SMDC History: Defense Communications Agency established
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

On May 12, 1960, Secretary of Defense Thomas Gates established the Defense Communications Agency, or DCA, part multi-year initiative to create a centralized organization to "create an integrated telecommunications system that will economically, efficiently and effectively satisfy national defense requirements."

When looking at the history of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, the connection to the DCA is not readily apparent. Nevertheless, the origins of one of the command's most significant missions can be traced to this organization.

The DCA was specifically created to manage what became the Defense Communications System, a consolidation of the independent long-haul communications functions found in the Army, Navy and the Air Force.

The initial focus was to create a consolidated, independent, long-haul communications system. The first steps were to create defense-wide networks that provided an Automatic Voice Network, or AUTOVON, an automatic digital network and an automatic secure voice communications network. These would become the backbone of the communications network.

As telecommunications capabilities and defense requirements evolved, just two years later in 1962, the DCA was instrumental in developing a new satellite proposal, the Initial Defense Communications Program, later known as the Defense Satellite Communications System, or DSCS.

Between June 1966 and June 1968, 26 satellites were placed in orbit in a near-synchronous equatorial configuration. These were managed by 36 fixed and mobile ground terminals. At this point, the Air Force controlled the space segment, the Army operated the ground terminals, and overall system management rested with the DCA.

The connection to the command comes two decades later in 1986. In July of that year, Gen. Robert Herres, commander in chief, U.S. Space Command, recommended to Gen. John Wickham, Army chief of staff, that the Army take a more active role in space.

As a result, the newly formed Army component, then known as the Army Space Agency, assumed operational and maintenance responsibility for the DSCS GMFSC and MSQ-114 functions. Later that year the DSCS operations centers were added to the Army space mission. Ultimately, the entire Army portion of the DSCS mission would transfer from the U.S. Army Information Systems Command to the U.S. Army Space Agency.

Within the decade, the DSCS mission would be firmly aligned with the Army's space mission. In 1995, the Army Space Command, the successor to the Army Space Agency, formally established the first Army battalion with a space related mission -- the 1st Satellite Control (SATCON) Battalion which managed the strategic and tactical use of the DSCS. The battalion proudly proclaim in their motto, "We Control the High Ground."

Meanwhile, in June 1991 the DCA became the Defense Information Systems Agency -- a change which sought to reflect the organizations' expanding roles in total information systems management and to identify its significant mission as a combat support agency.

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