SMDC History: Secretary of the Army directs HELSTF transfer

By Sharon Watkins Lang (SMDC/ARSTRAT Command Historian)October 24, 2017

HELSTF graphic
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command has a long tradition in the field of directed energy research and development.

This mission was recognized Oct. 26, 1989, when Secretary of the Army Michael P.W. Stone distributed a memorandum that directed the transfer of the High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility from the Army Materiel Command to the then U.S. Army Strategic Defense Command. This transfer was to be accomplished no later than Oct. 1, 1990.

Stone's action, based upon the recommendation of the director of Defense Research and Engineering, correlated with the secretary of defense's guidance to consolidate strategic test facilities and weapons development under one command.

As the HELSTF workload was increasingly conducted on behalf of the Strategic Defense Command rather than the tactical applications, the HELSTF was determined to "logically [fall] within the framework of the strategic program and activities managed by the SDC."

The SDC, and its predecessors, already managed the Kwajalein Missile Range, another strategic test asset, since July 1964.

In a situation not unlike the Kwajalein transfer, the heads of the HELSTF Steering Group and the DoD Major Ranges and Test Facilities recommended that HELSTF be managed by the principal user. The SDC was already engaged in the development of various directed energy systems in support of both the Strategic Defense Initiative and the Joint Anti-Satellite Program. In fact, an assessment of the HELSTF workload had determined that a significant percentage of the planned tests were in support of these programs.

On another note, the SDC was also managing the Ground-based Free-Electron Laser Project Office. During this period, the GBL facilities were already under construction near HELSTF on White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. Given the proximity of the two laser facilities, it was generally agreed that the Army would benefit with both "management efficiency and economy" from combining the two entities as a single tenant.

In the end, the transfer encompassed not only the Mid Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser or MIRACL and the Sea Lite Beam Director and the facilities in which they were housed, but also the personnel, personnel authorizations, resources, and contracts.

In a subsequent letter to the HELSTF community, LTG Robert Hammond pledged continued support for both strategic and tactical laser applications while "[stabilizing] operations by providing continued funding and representation during budget deliberations and by instituting programs to ensure the facility is fully utilized.

HELSTF remained a part of the SMDC/ARSTRAT community until Oct. 1, 2011, when it transferred to the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command.

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