HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The Defense Department’s space and missile defense capabilities serve as critical deterrents amid a rapidly changing domain and looming threats.
The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command – with its auxiliary population of National Guardsmen – is at the tip of this strategic spear.
“The National Guard is a key component in the space and missile defense domains for the Joint Force, with about 2,000 Guardsmen supporting these missions,” Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said during a visit to USASMDC here Monday.
“I’m especially proud of the National Guard Soldiers supporting SMDC’s missions,” he added.
While at SMDC, Hokanson met with its commanding general, Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Karbler, and his staff to receive updates on current operations and future capacity. Karbler said while the Army and joint force rely heavily on space and missile defense capabilities, the increasing weaponization of space is rapidly driving demand.
“Space is already an area of strategic competition with Chinese and Russian space activities, in particular, presenting serious and growing threats to U.S. national security interests,” Karbler said during his address at the 25th Space and Missile Defense Symposium earlier this month.
USASMDC lies at the nexus of three combatant commands: it is assigned to U.S. Space Command and U.S. Strategic Command as an Army service component command and provides homeland missile defense forces to U.S. Northern Command.
It provides space and high-altitude capabilities to Army and joint warfighters. Its personnel uses cutting-edge science and technology to constantly monitor threats in space and to the homeland.
SMDC does this through its unique, multi-component makeup comprising active-component Army and National Guard Soldiers with a robust civilian workforce. It is a globally responsive command, with more than 900 operational forces stationed or deployed across 22 locations in 10 time zones.
Most of its Guard personnel are assigned to the Colorado National Guard’s 100th Missile Defense Brigade and 117th Space Battalion, and the Alaska Guard’s 49th Missile Defense Battalion. SMDC trains and equips the space and missile defense Soldiers, while the units are administratively controlled by the three state National Guards.
“The National Guard Soldiers assigned to SMDC expertly execute our no-fail mission to defend the nation,” Karbler said. “We could not accomplish what the American people expect of us without our National Guard team members, particularly the Soldiers of 100th Missile Defense Brigade.
“From the extreme climates of Alaska to the heights of Colorado and coast of California, they ensure our homeland is protected against the most powerful weapons on earth,” he said.
The 100th Missile Defense Brigade operates the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system and functions as a component of the SMDC missile defense enterprise. The 49th and 117th Battalions are assigned to it.
The GMD system can shoot down enemy intercontinental ballistic missiles in midflight. National Guard and active-component Soldiers in Alaska, California, and Colorado, work in concert with mission partners to provide the necessary “human-in-the-loop” to operate this complex system.
Guardsmen also secure the Missile Defense Complex on Fort Greely, situated 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks in the vast Alaska Interior. The 49th Battalion has recently incorporated additional military police Soldiers via security force rotations to defend the MDC, which is expanding to hold more defensive interceptor missiles.
The first rotation of Soldiers from the California National Guard’s 330th Military Police Company mobilized to Fort Greely in 2021. A unit of Mississippi Guardsmen from the 113th MP Company replaced the 330th MPs in Alaska last week, Col. Joseph Paladino, the 100th Brigade commander, told Hokanson.
“Our Soldiers, whether MPs or missile defenders, maintain the highest levels of readiness possible,” Paladino said.
Back in Colorado, the 117th Space Battalion is headquartered as the National Guard’s sole space battalion. Its Soldiers provide space support to troops on the ground through space planning, expertise, and space domain awareness for supported maneuver units both overseas and in the U.S.
The primary function of the 117th Battalion is to train and mobilize Army Space Support Element Teams (ARSSTs). These small squads provide space situational awareness, commercial imagery, position, navigation and timing warfare, and other space-related capabilities to Army brigades and higher echelons, special operations forces, and Marine Expeditionary Forces.
ARSSTs deploy and integrate with a supported unit to feed commanders and staff with space domain situational understanding used to shape operations.
“Space, once viewed only through the strategic lens, now demands integration at the tactical level,” Karbler said. “No longer can the space domain be untethered from its air, surface and land components; rather, it stands as an equal among the other warfighting domains.”
The 117th – a unit made up mainly of traditional Guardsmen – has mobilized and deployed more than 35 space support teams, commercial imagery teams, or other elements to provide space support in the U.S. Central Command theater since 2001.
"Traditional, or Active Guard and Reserve, our National Guard Soldiers are the real deal,” said USASMDC Command Sgt. Maj. Finis Dodson.
Hokanson echoed that sentiment, sharing that he visited Fort Greely in 2020 to view the missile field construction project and saw 49th Missile Defense Battalion Soldiers in their operating environment.
“I especially want to thank the National Guard Soldiers of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade, 49th Missile Defense Battalion and 117th Space Battalion,” he said. “Every day, you defend our homeland and help us keep our promise to the nation to be Always Ready, Always There.”