• Members of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command Technical Center watch as Kestrel Eye is able to take its first images from space in April. Kestrel Eye is a small, low-cost, visible-imagery satellite prototype designed to provide near real-time images to the tactical-level ground Soldier in the field, rapidly and inexpensively. (Photo by Jason B. Cutshaw)
     Members of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command Technical Center watch as Kestrel Eye is able to take its first images from space in April. Kestrel Eye is a small, low-cost, visible-imagery satellite prototype designed to provide near real-time images to the tactical-level ground Soldier in the field, rapidly and inexpensively. (Photo by Jason B. Cutshaw)

Space Delivers Army’s Ground Capabilities

December 21, 2020
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Head of Space and Missile Defense Command details how these resources benefit the fight.


Operational assets once available largely to commanders now are being delivered to individuals in the foxhole. Coupled with new technologies, the U.S. Army is tapping into the ultimate high ground for cutting-edge capabilities not only empowering warfighters but also giving commanders more information for decision making.

Despite the benefits orbital assets provide, drawbacks remain. Fiscal uncertainty lurks throughout the future planning process. Adversaries have increased their efforts to overcome the lead position U.S. forces traditionally held in space. In addition, cultural and architectural barriers inhibit Army space forces from realizing their full potential.

“Army space has never been more relevant to the ground commander,” says Lt. Gen. Daniel L. Karbler, USA, commanding general, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) and commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense under the U.S. Strategic Command.

“We have to treat space as a warfighting domain,” Gen. Karbler adds. “And, with any warfighting domain, you have threats; you have to operate in it; you have to be able to plan, command and control and execute in it and sustain operations for it.” In addition to commanding SMDC, the general is the Army’s Air and Missile Defense Enterprise integrator and the Army service component commander for the U.S. Space Command.

The level of capability the SMDC is providing down to the warfighting level is at the forefront of change for the command, he offers, continuing to develop space professionals and ensures commanders know how to use them within their formations.

“The threat is an agile threat, and we want to make sure that maneuver commanders on the ground are able to overcome whatever the adversaries throw at us from space,” Gen. Karbler declares.

The SMDC’s First Space Brigade has capabilities that address adversaries’ space actions. Army space support teams go to Army service component commands and combatant commands and divisions and help G-3s and J-3s plan and use Army space capabilities, the general explains.

“We are acutely aware of what our adversaries are doing in space,” Gen. Karbler declares. “It affects not just the Army [but also] the Defense Department and, frankly, the American way of life.”

Ultimately, the biggest challenge the SMDC faces may be security classifications. While the need is undeniable, it prevents effective use of space capabilities. “A lot of our space systems and operations are classified at a level that doesn’t necessarily get to that G-3 action officer or staff action officer or commander at the tactical level so it can be integrated into his or her maneuver scheme,” Gen. Karbler points out. Trying to integrate Army space capabilities with a maneuver commander’s schema can be difficult with some classifications held at a high level. “That’s a real operational challenge that we face,” he asserts.

The general understands his command must obtain information at a lower classification level to be able to use space capabilities. “This goes toward the broader issue of recognizing space as a warfighting domain and normalizing space as a warfighting domain,” he declares. “We have the ability to really network and link ourselves together much more quickly if some of the classification fetters could be taken off.”

Read more about the SMDC and how warfighters are benefiting from space capabilities in the January issue of SIGNAL Magazine available on January 1, 2021.

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