Kirtland AFB becoming an integral hub for U.S. Space Force

The Very Low Frequency Propagation Mapper with solar panels deployed, at the Air Force Research Laboratory on Kirtland Air Force Base N.M. Jan. 29, 2020. The VPM was released from the International Space Station on Jan. 31, 2020. (Air Force photograph)

The 52,000 acres at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., have been referred to as a national security complex—where 108 mission partners under five different Air Force major commands, and the Departments of the Air Force and Energy, populate the mega base.

Now this includes elements of the newly created sixth armed service — the United States Space Force.

The Space Force, created through the National Defense Authorization Act on Dec. 20, 2019, provides warfighting capability in the space domain.  Several current Kirtland units, formerly under Air Force Space Command, that have been operating within, and supporting, the space domain for many years, are now part of the new service.

According to Maj. Gen. Stephen Whiting, U.S. Space Force deputy commander, Kirtland is an important center of activity for the USSF.

“Kirtland will continue to be critical for the United States Space Force as a hub for science, technology, research and development,” the general said. “The Space and Missile Systems Center is a part of the Space Force, and their multiple offices here are doing critical development work.”

Kirtland’s Space Rapid Capabilities Office, is also a Space Force unit.

“The Space RCO just stood up in the last couple years – and will continue to grow – so we really see this as a hub of activity for the Space Force moving forward,” Whiting said.

The service has been given 18 months to build a structure, and much of the organization, in terms of bases and major commands, is yet to be determined.

While not a direct part of the Space Force, the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland is a key partner and contributor, Whiting said.

“There is a lot of exciting work with both the Space Vehicles and Directed Energy Directorates, and that collaboration and work will only grow,” he said.

The Space Vehicles Directorate (RV), in particular, has always been focused on the space domain. According to its director (and Phillips Research Site Commander), Col. Eric Felt, the directorate is filled with excitement at the creation of the Space Force.

“Those of us who are involved in designing the new organization feel like pioneers — like it’s 1947 when they were standing up the Air Force,” Felt said. “It’s an incredibly exciting time and such an opportunity to create and forge the identity of this new service.”

RV will continue to be vital to the new service’s research and development efforts. Felt said they must figure out a way to deliver technology the Space Force needs, while maintaining synergies within AFRL between the air and space domains.

“The Space Force is a technology-dependent service and a very technologically-advanced service, so technology is super important to maintaining our capabilities in space,” Felt said. “Our leaders have recognized the importance of having a lab and maintaining a tech pipeline to keep the Space Force fueled with innovation; to keep our technology above that of our peers and adversaries.”

Superiority in the space domain is not only a long-term goal, but an immediate need, according to Whiting.

“Today, the ability to use space is vital to our national defense, vital to our economy, and vital to our way of life,” Whiting said. “So, by creating the Space Force, we are highlighting that importance and putting additional focus, energy and expertise on ensuring our continued use of space.”

In the process of maintaining our edge in space, Whiting said this is an historic opportunity to build a lean, agile and mission-focused force singularly focused on space superiority. While the USSF will maintain special ties to the Air Force, an independent culture, strategy and structure are in order for the new service.

“We will continue to be tied to the United States Air Force in a unique way,” Whiting said. “But we need to establish our own independent culture and our own organize, train and equip focus. So it will be about growing space warfighters focused on the space domain – being experts in that domain and knowing how to integrate those capabilities within the other services and the other warfighting domains.”

Key facts about the U.S. Space Force:
Mission:  U.S. Space Force organizes, trains, and equips space forces in order to protect and defend U.S. and allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force.

What U.S. Space Force brings to the fight:  The Space Force responsibilities include developing military space professionals, acquiring military space systems, maturing the military doctrine for space power, and organizing space forces to present to our Combatant Commands.

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