Lt. Gen. Dickinson: Army has ‘a very important role’ in space operations.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command is standing up a new brigade focused on satellite operations and is planning long-term investments in technology and training so it can better support the newly created U.S. Space Command, Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, the SMDC commander, said Oct. 15.
Dickinson was selected and confirmed by the Senate to be deputy commander of U.S. SPACECOM, where he will report to Air Force Gen. John Raymond. Dickinson is still at his SMDC office at the Army’s Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. He expects to move to U.S. SPACECOM’s temporary headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, in the next couple of months once a new SMDC leader is named, Dickinson told SpaceNews in an interview at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.
The SMDC organization of 2,800 personnel has dual roles in space and missile defense. The portion of SMDC focused on space that reported to U.S. Strategic Command will now serve as the Army’s component of U.S. SPACECOM. The missile defense support to U.S. STRATCOM will continue unchanged, Dickinson said.
“These are exciting times for space,” said Dickinson. “We [the Army] have a very important role.”
SMDC is trying to bring seasoned combat veterans to the organization to help the command understand the importance of supporting troops on the ground, he said. “We have combat veterans that are space officers that provide very valuable operational perspective,” Dickinson said. These veterans truly understand what it means to be in combat and having to rely on space-based capabilities for everything from communications, intelligence gathering, missile warning and navigation. “It’s key to bring capability to soldiers in a timely manner. That is what we have to get to,” he said. “That’s one of the core missions of Army space.”
Ensuring troops have access to reliable satellite-based communications is a top priority, said Dickinson. Army units under SMDC today operate satcom regional support centers and wideband satcom operations centers in the United States in Hawaii, Colorado and Maryland; and overseas in Germany and Japan.
Dickinson said a major action he took recently was to reorganize the 53rd Signal Battalion of the Army’s 1st Space Brigade to help improve satcom support. The 53rd Signal Battalion is the only U.S. military unit that performs payload and transmission control of the Defense Satellite Communications System and Wideband Global Satellite (WGS) communications constellations. While the Air Force actually flies the DSCS and WGS satellites, the Army operates the payloads.
The signal battalion has been renamed the U.S. Army Satellite Operations Brigade. “I took the battalion, and I took satellite communications experts from my staff and put them all under one new brigade,” said Dickinson. “By doing that I have unity of effort and unity of command.”
The Army Satellite Operations Brigade is relatively small, with a few hundred soldiers, compared to thousands in a combat brigade. They are deployed around the world to support operations, said Dickinson.
SMDC also created a Space and Missile Defense Center of Excellence to help guide investments in new technology and training. The center will work with the Army Futures Command in areas like “assured PNT” with a focus on developing alternative technologies to GPS for positioning, navigation and timing signals. The Army is interested in using small satellites and other technologies from the commercial industry for communications, surveillance and PNT. “We need our systems to be redundant and resilient,” said Dickinson.