by 1st Lt. Connie Dillon
Air Force Space Command Public Affairs
12/6/2012 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The
reasons for Air Force Space Command's activation lay in events and
decisions that date back nearly four decades, but the command's missions
can be traced back even farther, to the post-World War II period.
The end of the war brought with it a new age of technology. Since then
the Air Force has been involved in the development of space-related
"General Hap Arnold, who headed the Army Air Forces during the war,
foresaw that the future of the Air Force lay in technology," said George
Bradley III, historian for the command. "One of those technology
threads was the very highest ground, which was space."
Following the war, under Operation Paperclip, the U.S. recruited German
scientists and used equipment the Nazi regime developed, such as the V-1
and V-2 rockets, in experiments to develop a nascent U.S. space program
The scramble for Nazi technology and scientists created a series of
events that presaged the coming Cold War, causing the U.S. to not only
be concerned with possible threats from the skies but also from space.
The Soviet launch of Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, in October
1957 was a major milestone in the history of space. As a result,
American interest in space quickly grew and the U.S. accelerated plans
to launch its own satellite, Explorer I, which happened on Jan. 31,
Subsequently, the U.S. began to reorganize its space program. In 1958, a
civilian space program was established. NASA focused its priorities on
civil and manned spaced ventures. Two years after the formation of NASA,
the U.S. established the National Reconnaissance Office to oversee
highly classified reconnaissance satellites. Each service, including the
Air Force, continued their own space programs. In the 1960s and 1970s
the Air Force developed military satellite systems in areas such as
meteorology, communications, early warning, and navigation.
"Even before the creation of the command, it was apparent that the
application of those systems was essential to the military," said
Bradley. "For example, the military used space-based communications and
meteorological systems for the first time as part of a major military
operation during the Vietnam War."
The increased dependence of the military on spaced based systems was
apparent throughout the Department of Defense and especially in the Air
By the late 1970s, a number of Air Force leaders identified there was a
need to address how the service organized for space. There were three
primary factors that led the Air Force to begin considering the
establishment of a major command for space.
One of those factors was the increased operational use of space systems by the military.
The second factor was that the Air Force had diffused its own internal
management of space systems and various space systems were assigned to a
number of different commands, such as the Air Force Communications
Command, Air Force Systems Command and Strategic Air Command. Assignment
to a command had been based on which organization had the greatest
functional need for a particular space-based capability. This made an
internal focus on space within the Air Force more difficult to achieve.
The dispersal of space systems among Air Force major commands challenged
the coordination of specific requirements and operational concepts and
forced the Air Staff to perform programmatic tasks that more
appropriately belonged at a major-command level. Additionally, as space
systems matured and became more sophisticated, some possessed multiple
capabilities that made it more challenging to assign them to a specific
The third factor involved plans for a military version of a reusable
launch system, the Space Transportation System, or as it is more
commonly known, the Space Shuttle. In 1974, after President Richard
Nixon announced NASA's development of the shuttle, the Air Force began
looking at the shuttle as a way to put satellites into orbit on a more
efficient and less costly basis. At least four Air Force major commands
-- Strategic Air Command; Aerospace Defense Command (ADCOM), Air Force
Systems Command and Military Airlift Command -- contended that they
would be the logical choice to operate the shuttle for military
Decisions were made more difficult by discussions about whether the
Department of Defense needed a Shuttle Operations and Planning Complex
separate from NASA's Johnson Space Center. The DoD had already provided
significant funding for the shuttle program, and as noted above, had
plans to use the program to put satellites into space. A couple of those
plans came to fruition as development of a launch complex for the
military shuttle proceeded at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and a
Shuttle Operations and Planning Center was under development at Falcon
Air Force Station, Colo.
All these issues led the Air Force to conduct a number of studies on its organization for space operations.
"Both the 'New Horizons II' study in 1975 and the more comprehensive
'Future Air Force Space Policy and Objectives' study in 1977 pointed out
that the service's inefficient utilization of space assets was
inadequate for the variety of space based systems that could assist the
military throughout the world," said Bradley.
The need to focus space in one command was necessary, but how it was to be done was in question.
In early 1977, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force chartered a small
group, the Creedon group, to look at how the Air Force was organized and
if any elimination of major commands could be made to achieve manpower
and money efficiencies. The group recommended the possibility of
disestablishing ADCOM. Since the late 1950s, ADCOM had served as the
focal point for the Air Force's ground-based space assets such as
missile warning and space surveillance.
ADCOM leaders objected to the plan and pointed out that they should be
the "foundation for current and future operational management of
expanding space operations." In October 1978, General James Hill, ADCOM
commander, appealed to fellow four-star generals at a Corona meeting for
retention of ADCOM as the operator of Air Force space systems.
Despite these efforts, ADCOM was disestablished in October 1979 and
ADCOM's air defense resources were transferred to Tactical Air Command
with ADCOM missile warning and space surveillance resources going to
Strategic Air Command. An Aerospace Defense Center remained from ADCOM
When Secretary of the Air Force John C. Stetson made the final decision
to dissolve ADCOM, he also suggested that the Chief of Staff of the Air
Force, General Lew Allen, look at how the Air Force could organize
itself to better perform space operations.
With his suggestion came more studies. The "Space Missions
Organizational Planning Study" of 1979, conducted by an executive
committee, had a number of recommendations for reorganization, to
include the establishment of a new major command for space operations.
In 1980, the Air Force's "Summer Study on Space" highlighted
organizational deficiencies that prevented the Air Force from fully
realizing opportunities in space.
In 1981, Air Staff created the Directorate for Space Operations, which
conducted an intensive study on space as a support tool in war fighting.
This directorate was also a driving influence toward a better space
organization for the Air Force.
"In 1981, the Commander of Air Force Systems Command, General Robert
Marsh, and commander of NORAD and Aerospace Defense Center, General
James Hartinger, agreed on the need for a better Air Force space
organization," said Bradley. "They began working together to create an
operational major command for space."
In February 1982, at Corona South, Marsh and Hartinger raised the issue
of developing a new space command and General Allen directed them to
develop a more detailed briefing on how to move towards an operational
command for space.
In April 1982, Hartinger presented the briefing to Allen who directed
Hartinger to begin planning for a new command, a space command. The
formation of an Air Force major command for space, Space Command, was
announced on June 21, 1982, and was activated on Sept. 1 1982, with
Hartinger as its first commander.
Space Command assumed space assets from Aerospace Defense Center,
Strategic Air Command, Air Force Systems Command, Air Force
Communications Command and others, solving the lack of centralization of
the space mission in the Air Force.
In 1985, the command was redesignated from Space Command to Air Force
Space Command to reduce confusion with the newly activated unified
command, United States Space Command.
Over the next 30 years, AFSPC became the central focus for space within
the Air Force and acquired multiple assets with responsibilities to
include space surveillance, missile warning sensors, space launch, space
acquisitions, satellite command and control and a number of others.
Today AFSPC not only retains the space mission but also has
responsibility for the Air Force cyber mission.