SMDC History: DSCS Transfers to ARSPACE

By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Command HistorianFebruary 14, 2017

SMDC History: DSCS Transfers to ARSPACE
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The first Defense Satellite Communications System, or DSCS, satellite was launched in June 1966, well before the establishment of the Army Space Command, or ARSPACE, in April 1988.

In the 1960s, the Army's Strategic Communications Command oversaw all long-distance Army communications and all facets of the Army portion of the Defense Communications System. By the 1980s, however, officials had begun to realize the significance of space as a field of operations.

And as the ARSPACE formally stood up, Col. Ted Dowling, deputy chief of staff for operations, noted that one of the new organization's "primary roles will be to take charge of the Defense Satellite Communications System orbiting 22,000 miles above the Earth."

The multi-phase process to transfer the Defense Satellite Communications System Operations Center, or DSCSOC, mission to ARSPACE began with a Memorandum of Understanding signed 30 years ago in February 1987 between the U.S. Army Information Systems Command, or USAISC, and the then U.S. Army Space Agency, or USASA.

As defined in the Joint Chiefs of Staff Memorandum of Policy 178 on National Satellite Communications Systems signed Sept. 4, 1986, the commander-in-chief of U.S. Space Command, or CINCSPACE, was responsible for DSCS satellite control and for executing communications payload commands generated by the Defense Communications Agency.

Under the MOU, signed by Lt. Gen. Emmett Paige, Jr., commander of the USAISC, and Col. Joe B. Thurston Jr., commander of the USASA, the Army Space Agency would assume the Army operational control responsibilities "to implement USCINCSPACE DSCSOC direction."

Contingent upon the "delineations of mission responsibilities and the establishment of a relationship between the DCA and CINCSPACE, the USASA was to assume operational control for the DSCSOC on Oct. 1, 1987. The USAISC and USASA were tasked to coordinate DSCSOC relations and jointly explore the transfer of the ground mobile forces satellite communications management responsibilities and resources (subsequently addressed in a separate MOU) to USASA.

To achieve these goals the USAISC would operate and maintain the DSCSOCs under operational control of USASA. They were also to provide a liaison and assist in the development of a transition plan, provide information on the taskings, etc. performed in support of the DSCSOC mission at the headquarters element and elsewhere, and assist in determining equipment, communications and personnel requirements.

USASA meanwhile was to provide a liaison to USAISC, develop and coordinate a transition plan and establish procedures by which the DCA orders would be received simultaneously by both the USASA headquarters and the DSCSOC.

Unless directed otherwise by the USASA, the DSCSOC was to execute the orders received. It should be noted that resource management for the DSCSOC remained with the USAISC. The MOU specifically notes that the USAISC would "program resources for the DSCSOCs" and that resource issues would be coordinated with the Army Space Agency.

One year later in February 1988, the joint chiefs of staff approved the Military Satellite Communications (MILSATCOM) Command and Control Operations Concept.

This concept plan aligned the DSCS Operations Control System under the CINCSPACE to the Army component and addressed the Ground Mobile Forces Satellite Control - Regional Space Support Centers, or RSSCs, the DSCSOCs/MSQ-114 and the Contingency DSCS Operational Control System.

It determined that the RSSCs would be collocated with the Defense Communications Agency in Washington, D.C.; Wheeler Air Force Base, Hawaii; and Vaihingen, Germany. The status of the DSCS remained unchanged as the document "tasked the USCINCSPACE to lead in developing a transition strategy and requisite plans to implement the approved concept for DSCS."

By July 1988, however, in a memo to the USAISC commander, Thurston observed that "the fiscal and manpower constraints the Army is currently facing have had a severe impact on the successful completion of the USARSPACE Phase I build up."

Without additional funds and manpower ARSPACE would be unable to complete the necessary planning to support the DSCS transition. While the ground mobile forces transfer ended Phase I of the ARSPACE expansion on Oct. 1, 1988, the planned transfer of DSCS elements from the USAISC headquarters was slipped by one year to fiscal year 1991.

Ultimately, ARSPACE assumed complete responsibility for the DSCSOCs on Oct. 1, 1990, placing the DSCS organization in the chain-of-command for a warfighting commander in chief. As defined in 1990, the DSCS Organization encompassed six DSCSOCs, three RSSCs, four AN/MSQ-114 Satellite Control Terminals and a Platform and Control Certification Element. To affect this change, the USARSPACE structure grew from an authorized strength of 46 personnel in 1988 to 444 in 1990. The USARSPACE was now prepared to take a more active role in space, mission recommended by CINCSPACE in July 1986.