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Air Force, as separate service, builds the future of military space with SMC

The Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, Calif. is Air Force Space Command's center of acquisition excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. As the only active duty military installation in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area, its portfolio includes the Global Positioning System, military satellite communications, defense meteorological satellites, space launch and range systems, satellite control networks, space based infrared systems and space situational awareness capabilities. (U.S. Air Force illustration)

The Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, Calif. is Air Force Space Command's center of acquisition excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. As the only active duty military installation in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area, its portfolio includes the Global Positioning System, military satellite communications, defense meteorological satellites, space launch and range systems, satellite control networks, space based infrared systems and space situational awareness capabilities. (U.S. Air Force illustration)

The roots of the Space and Missile Systems Center and Los Angeles Air Force Base date back to June 1954 at a former catholic church and parish schoolhouse on East Manchester Blvd. in Inglewood, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The roots of the Space and Missile Systems Center and Los Angeles Air Force Base date back to June 1954 at a former catholic church and parish schoolhouse on East Manchester Blvd. in Inglewood, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Then-Brig. Gen. Bernard Schriever address a session of the Von Neumann Committee at the Western Development Division's Arbor Vitae Complex in Inglewood, Calif. in the fall of 1955. The Committee had been reconstituted as the Atlas Scientific Advisory Committee. Facing Gen. Schriever in the front row (left to right) are George McRae of Sandia Corporation, aviation legend Charles Lindbergh, Gen. Thomas Power, commander of the Air Research and Development Command, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Trevor Gardner, Committee Chairman John von Neumann, Col. Harold Norton, H. Guyford Stever of MIT and Clark Millikan of Caltech (U.S. Air Force photo)

Then-Brig. Gen. Bernard Schriever address a session of the Von Neumann Committee at the Western Development Division's Arbor Vitae Complex in Inglewood, Calif. in the fall of 1955. The Committee had been reconstituted as the Atlas Scientific Advisory Committee. Facing Gen. Schriever in the front row (left to right) are George McRae of Sandia Corporation, aviation legend Charles Lindbergh, Gen. Thomas Power, commander of the Air Research and Development Command, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Trevor Gardner, Committee Chairman John von Neumann, Col. Harold Norton, H. Guyford Stever of MIT and Clark Millikan of Caltech (U.S. Air Force photo)

Then-Maj..Gen. Bernard Schriever presides over the new Western Development Division facility on Arbor Vitae Blvd. in Inglewood, Calif. in 1956. Dr. Simon Ramo of the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation is to Gen. Schriever's left. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Then-Maj..Gen. Bernard Schriever presides over the new Western Development Division facility on Arbor Vitae Blvd. in Inglewood, Calif. in 1956. Dr. Simon Ramo of the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation is to Gen. Schriever's left. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Atlas, the Air Force’s first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, was a national priority and one of Gen. Schriever’s major achievements. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Atlas, the Air Force’s first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, was a national priority and one of Gen. Schriever’s major achievements. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Gen. Schriever (right) inspects an experimental missile warhead reentry vehicle in 1959. Creating an effective nuclear-armed missile force was one of his main goals. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Gen. Schriever (right) inspects an experimental missile warhead reentry vehicle in 1959. Creating an effective nuclear-armed missile force was one of his main goals. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Gen. Schriever and colleagues with Discoverer XIII, one of the first successful U.S. reconnaissance satellites and an early triumph of Air Force space technology. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Gen. Schriever and colleagues with Discoverer XIII, one of the first successful U.S. reconnaissance satellites and an early triumph of Air Force space technology. (U.S. Air Force photo)

President Dwight D. Eisenhower visits the Eastern Test Range at Cape Canaveral, Fla. in 1960 as the Atlas D29 is being prepared for launch of MIDAS 1, part of the Weapon System 117L. The MIDAS program aimed at developing a satellite that would carry an infrared sensor to detect hostile ICBM launches. Although the first MIDAS satellite failed to achieve orbit in February 1960, a MIDAS satellite under a subsequent test program AFP461 was successfully launched on May 9, 1963. It operated long enough to detect nine missile launches, thereby contributing to the series of test flights which served to demonstrate the system's increasing reliability and longevity. (U.S. Air Force photo)

President Dwight D. Eisenhower visits the Eastern Test Range at Cape Canaveral, Fla. in 1960 as the Atlas D29 is being prepared for launch of MIDAS 1, part of the Weapon System 117L. The MIDAS program aimed at developing a satellite that would carry an infrared sensor to detect hostile ICBM launches. Although the first MIDAS satellite failed to achieve orbit in February 1960, a MIDAS satellite under a subsequent test program AFP461 was successfully launched on May 9, 1963. It operated long enough to detect nine missile launches, thereby contributing to the series of test flights which served to demonstrate the system's increasing reliability and longevity. (U.S. Air Force photo)

President John F. Kennedy presents Maj. Gen. Ben I. Funk with NASA's Space Achievement Award in a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House in 1963 as Mercury astronaut and Air Force Maj. Gordon Cooper, left, and vice president Lyndon B. Johnson, right, look on. Also recognizable in the photo are Mercury astronaut and Air Force Maj. Donald K. Deke Slayton, directly above Cooper, NASA Administrator James Webb, behind and to the left of Gen. Funk, and Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, behind and to the right of Gen. Funk. (U.S. Air Force photo)

President John F. Kennedy presents Maj. Gen. Ben I. Funk with NASA's Space Achievement Award in a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House in 1963 as Mercury astronaut and Air Force Maj. Gordon Cooper, left, and vice president Lyndon B. Johnson, right, look on. Also recognizable in the photo are Mercury astronaut and Air Force Maj. Donald K. Deke Slayton, directly above Cooper, NASA Administrator James Webb, behind and to the left of Gen. Funk, and Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, behind and to the right of Gen. Funk. (U.S. Air Force photo)

General Bernard A. Schriever, commander of Air Force Systems Command, addresses an assembled crowd in the Area A mall during the dedication of Los Angeles Air Force Station on July 10, 1964. Standing directly behind Gen. Schriever is Maj. Gen. Ben I.Funk, commander of Space Systems Division. Col. Roy Russell, commander of Los Angeles AFS, stands on the far right by the Air Force Honor Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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General Bernard A. Schriever, commander of Air Force Systems Command, addresses an assembled crowd in the Area A mall during the dedication of Los Angeles Air Force Station on July 10, 1964. Standing directly behind Gen. Schriever is Maj. Gen. Ben I.Funk, commander of Space Systems Division. Col. Roy Russell, commander of Los Angeles AFS, stands on the far right by the Air Force Honor Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The “Father of Air Force space and missiles” with some of the systems created under his leadership. His management philosophy made rapid development possible. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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The “Father of Air Force space and missiles” with some of the systems created under his leadership. His management philosophy made rapid development possible. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Schriever achieved four-star rank in 1961, and retired in 1966 after 34 years of military service. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Schriever achieved four-star rank in 1961, and retired in 1966 after 34 years of military service. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Thor-Agena monument stands in front of Bldg. 105, headquarters of Space Systems Division in Area A of Los Angeles Air Force Station in February 1967. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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The Thor-Agena monument stands in front of Bldg. 105, headquarters of Space Systems Division in Area A of Los Angeles Air Force Station in February 1967. (U.S. Air Force photo)

General Lester L. Lyles, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, hands SMC's flag to Lt. Gen. Roger G. DeKok, vice commander of Air Force Space Command, during ceremonies observing SMC's transfer from AFMC to AFSPC in July 1992. Lt. Gen. Brian A. Arnold, commander of SMC, stand at right. Both Lyles and DeKok were former commanders of SMC. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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General Lester L. Lyles, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, hands SMC's flag to Lt. Gen. Roger G. DeKok, vice commander of Air Force Space Command, during ceremonies observing SMC's transfer from AFMC to AFSPC in July 1992. Lt. Gen. Brian A. Arnold, commander of SMC, stand at right. Both Lyles and DeKok were former commanders of SMC. (U.S. Air Force photo)

From left to right: Lt Col. Aaron Bridgewater, 61st Air Base Group Redevelopment Office; Col. Robert Worley, Air Force Space Command Director of Mission Support; Lt. Col Lee MacArthur, Air Base Group deputy commander; the Honorable Nelson Gibbs, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics; the Honorable Jane Harman, Congresswoman from California’s 36th District; Lt. Gen. Brian Arnold, Space and Missile Systems Center commander from 25 May 2001 to 20 May 2005; Congresswoman Maxine Waters, California’s 35th District; Sandra Jacobs, El Segundo Mayor pro tem; the Honorable Larry Guidi, Mayor of Hawthorne; Charlie McPhee and Jeff Dritley from the Kearny Real Estate Corp team give the thumbs-up sign at the Systems Acquisition Management Support groundbreaking event held at Los Angeles AFB on Nov. 21, 2003. The SAMS Complex took 865,000 square feet of facilities and buildings occupied in the former Area A & Annex C (Hawthorne) and replaced them with a consolidated area for Los Angeles AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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From left to right: Lt Col. Aaron Bridgewater, 61st Air Base Group Redevelopment Office; Col. Robert Worley, Air Force Space Command Director of Mission Support; Lt. Col Lee MacArthur, Air Base Group deputy commander; the Honorable Nelson Gibbs, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics; the Honorable Jane Harman, Congresswoman from California’s 36th District; Lt. Gen. Brian Arnold, Space and Missile Systems Center commander from 25 May 2001 to 20 May 2005; Congresswoman Maxine Waters, California’s 35th District; Sandra Jacobs, El Segundo Mayor pro tem; the Honorable Larry Guidi, Mayor of Hawthorne; Charlie McPhee and Jeff Dritley from the Kearny Real Estate Corp team give the thumbs-up sign at the Systems Acquisition Management Support groundbreaking event held at Los Angeles AFB on Nov. 21, 2003. The SAMS Complex took 865,000 square feet of facilities and buildings occupied in the former Area A & Annex C (Hawthorne) and replaced them with a consolidated area for Los Angeles AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Maj. Gen. Michael Hamel, commander of Space and Missile Systems Center, presides over the dedication ceremony for the Schriever Space Complex transferring SMC’s headquarters from Area A to its new location on the northwest corner, former Area B of Los Angeles Air Force Base on Apr. 24, 2006. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Maj. Gen. Michael Hamel, commander of Space and Missile Systems Center, presides over the dedication ceremony for the Schriever Space Complex transferring SMC’s headquarters from Area A to its new location on the northwest corner, former Area B of Los Angeles Air Force Base on Apr. 24, 2006. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A ceremony was held at Los Angeles AFB to dedicate a memorial to Gen. Bernard A. Schriever, Nov. 15.  General Schriever is considered the father of the Air Force’s space and missile program. The statue was donated to SMC by the Air Force Association’s Schriever Chapter. (Photo by Joe Juarez)
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A ceremony was held at Los Angeles AFB to dedicate a memorial to Gen. Bernard A. Schriever, Nov. 15. General Schriever is considered the father of the Air Force’s space and missile program. The statue was donated to SMC by the Air Force Association’s Schriever Chapter. (Photo by Joe Juarez)

A statue of the late General Bernard A. Schriever is unveiled at a ceremony held at Los Angeles AFB, Nov. 15. General Schriever is considered the father of the Air Force’s space and missile program. The statue was donated to SMC by the Air Force Association’s Schriever Chapter. (Photo by Lou Hernandez)
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A statue of the late General Bernard A. Schriever is unveiled at a ceremony held at Los Angeles AFB, Nov. 15. General Schriever is considered the father of the Air Force’s space and missile program. The statue was donated to SMC by the Air Force Association’s Schriever Chapter. (Photo by Lou Hernandez)

A galaxy of stars, current and past, stand in front of the Schriever Memorial and Wall of Honor after a dedication ceremony Nov. 15, 2007. Included in this group portrait, left to right: Brig. Gen. Bradley, Maj. Gen. Cooper, Brig. Gen. King, Lt. Gen. Henry,Ukn, Maj. Gen. Funk, Maj. Gen. Sega, Lt. Gen. Pawlikowski, Maj. Gen. Tourino, Gen. Kehler, Gen. Kutyna, Lt. Gen. Barry, Gen. Randolph, Lt. Gen. Hamel, Maj. Gen. Deppe, Brig. Gen. Kwiatkowski, Brig. Gen. Dudzik, Brig. Gen. Coglitore, Maj. Gen. Clark, Lt. Gen. Arnold, Maj. Gen. Taverney, Brig. Gen. Schlitt, Maj. Gen. Hard, Lt. Gen. Sheridan, Lt. Gen. Tattini .(U.S. Air Force photo)
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A galaxy of stars, current and past, stand in front of the Schriever Memorial and Wall of Honor after a dedication ceremony Nov. 15, 2007. Included in this group portrait, left to right: Brig. Gen. Bradley, Maj. Gen. Cooper, Brig. Gen. King, Lt. Gen. Henry,Ukn, Maj. Gen. Funk, Maj. Gen. Sega, Lt. Gen. Pawlikowski, Maj. Gen. Tourino, Gen. Kehler, Gen. Kutyna, Lt. Gen. Barry, Gen. Randolph, Lt. Gen. Hamel, Maj. Gen. Deppe, Brig. Gen. Kwiatkowski, Brig. Gen. Dudzik, Brig. Gen. Coglitore, Maj. Gen. Clark, Lt. Gen. Arnold, Maj. Gen. Taverney, Brig. Gen. Schlitt, Maj. Gen. Hard, Lt. Gen. Sheridan, Lt. Gen. Tattini .(U.S. Air Force photo)

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, El Segundo, Calif. -- Although its heritage dates back to August 1, 1907 when the U.S. Army Signal Corps first established an aeronautical division for military aviation, the U.S. Air Force became a separate military service 68 years ago today when President Harry S. Truman signed the executive order while flying aboard his Douglas C-54 Skymaster presidential aircraft, The Independence.

As part of the total force that is capable of preserving the peace and security of the United States, the U.S. Air Force was formed as a separate branch of the military under the National Security Act of 1947, making it the most recent branch of the U.S. military to be formed.

Barely a month after the ink had dried on the document, history was made as Air Force Capt. (now retired Brig. Gen.) Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager became the first man to break the sound barrier on Oct. 14, 1947. Yeager's supersonic flight in the Bell X-1 -- named Glamorous Glennis in honor of his wife -- signified the beginning of many accomplishments throughout the storied history of the Air Force.

The same holds true for the Space and Missile Systems Center and Los Angeles Air Force Base, whose roots date back to a former catholic church and parish schoolhouse on East Manchester Blvd. in Inglewood, Calif.

In 1954, the Air Force established the Western Development Division of the Air Research and Development Command, under the direction of then-Brig. Gen. Bernard A. Schreiver. The general and WDD was assigned the herculean responsibility of developing the nation's first intercontinental ballistic missile, the Atlas -- and an alternative, or backup, ICBM -- the Titan, as a hedge against failure or delay in the Atlas program.

WDD was created on paper on July 1, 1954, but Schriever and his first 18 staff members didn't report to their designated location until August, moving into offices with the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation.

The facilities and logistics were the responsibility of Ramo-Wooldridge. Simon Ramo simply picked out the closest adequate space and rented it. It turned out to be a church building, rectory, and parish school for St. John's Catholic Church, which had been closed down by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Everyone knew that the church was only a temporary solution, so modifications were minor. The church itself was divided into two large rooms, one of which held computers and the other of which was a small auditorium for meetings.

The Von Neumann Committee met there in the fall of 1955 when it reviewed the progress of ICBM programs, having been reconstituted as the Atlas Scientific Advisory Committee. John von Neumann himself would sometimes listen to major technical problems there, then move his chair into the corner and stare at the wall while he silently analyzed and devised a solution.

The computer room had very large computers that created a lot of heat. The rose window was removed and a fan installed to cool them, but the major command would not approve air conditioning for a long time. The first few months were miserably hot.

Inevitably, there were jokes about working in a former church building. Some said, for example, that it was OK for them to work on weekends because they went to church every day. They stacked contractor proposals in the confessionals, and some said that it might somehow bring the contractors to confess to any untruths in their proposals.

Most of the rooms in the school and rectory were used for offices without modification. Schriever's deputy had an office that was about 10 feet square. Most Air Force personnel simply had desks placed wherever there was room.

Security was tight. The guards were under contract to Ramo-Wooldridge. Employees didn't discuss their work with the surrounding community, but there was no cover story. Military wore civilian clothes to work. But it didn't take the townspeople long to figure out they were working on a major weapons program. A bank teller told one of Schriever's staff, "don't blow us up over there!"

Despite the trials of building a major acquisition center from absolutely nothing, in a location with no existing military infrastructure whatsoever, and using it to lead a massive research and development effort with thousands of contractors, and having the complexity double, then triple and quadruple in complexity as new programs were added, the predecessor Western Development Division left a pretty remarkable legacy.

On Oct. 10, 1955, ARDC transferred the first Air Force space development program known as WS 117L from Wright Air Development Center to WDD. By the end of 1955, the division was given the additional task of developing an intermediate range ballistic missile -- the Thor -- and of achieving initial operational capability with the missile systems it was building. In barely 18 months, the mission of WDD underwent an enormous expansion.

By June 1, 1957, WDD was redesignated the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division, a fitting name in view of its enormous responsibilities. Several months later, on Sept. 20, the first successful Thor IRBM was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Then, on Dec. 17 -- the 54th anniversary of the Wright Brother's first flight -- the first successful Atlas launch and short-range flight were made. Although they were the culmination of much effort, the launches were only the first, halting steps toward deployment of operational IRBM and ICBM weapon systems.

But between the first successful Thor and Atlas launches, the Soviet Union used an R-7 Semyorka ICBM of their own design to place the world's first man-made satellite, Sputnik, in earth orbit on Oct. 4, 1957. Sputnik's impact on the Air Force missile program, as well as on its emerging space projects, was immediate and momentous. Both programs were given renewed impetus. Restrictions were quickly lifted, funding was vastly increased, and previous program priorities were reinstated.

Thor. Atlas. Titan. Minuteman. Peacekeeper. Discoverer/Corona. SCORE. MIDAS. X-20 Dyna-Soar. SV-5D/X-23 PRIME. MOL. VELA. SAMOS. DSP. DMSP. GPS. ASAT. TRANSIT. MILSTAR. AFSATCOM. SBIRS. The long and distinguished list goes on.

Despite their historical achievements, some of these programs and acronyms are just names or footnotes with today's society. But back then, few people could have realized how WDD and its successor organizations would change the nature of military technology, national strategy, and international relations while opening the way for the peaceful exploration and routine use of space for civilian and military purposes.

During the past six decades, the Western Development Division underwent multiple reorganizations, from the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division in June 1957 to Space and Missile Systems Organization in July 1967 to Space Division in Oct. 1979 to Space Systems Division and finally to the current Space and Missile Systems Center in July 1992.

On Sept. 1, 1982, Air Force Space Command was established to serve as the Air Force's operational command for military space systems. In the years that followed, the command gradually assumed operational functions previously performed by SMC field units, including satellite operations, launch ranges, and satellite control networks.

SMC maintained its leadership role in the development of space and missile systems in support of the new Air Force Space Command mission but remained part of Air Force Systems Command and subsequently Air Force Materiel Command.

The end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s changed the focus of military space capabilities from strategic to operational and tactical applications and began an unprecedented growth in demand for military space capabilities. Operation Desert Storm demonstrated the far reaching applications and benefits of space capabilities in joint military operations.

At the same time, defense budget reductions, industry consolidation, government and industry workforce reductions, and projected growth in commercial space investment led the national security space community to institute a series of acquisition reforms. Ultimately, these reforms proved to be flawed, and the community experienced a series of launch failures, serious program delays, and cost overruns in the late 1990s.

All these factors led to a "perfect storm" within the space enterprise and a call to action to fix systemic problems.

In the early 2000s, a number of studies examined management and organization of the defense space community and space acquisition, including the organizational alignment of the Space and Missile Systems Center. In 2001, SMC was realigned under Air Force Space Command, thus bringing the developers and the operators of military space and missile systems together under one major command. Further, program executive officer for space authority was assigned to the commander of SMC, consolidating most space development and acquisition responsibilities under a single "dual-hatted" commander and PEO.

Today, the U. S. Air Force is the largest, most capable, and most technologically advanced air and space force in the world, with about 5,778 manned aircraft in service, approximately 156 unmanned combat air vehicles, 2,130 air-launched cruise missiles, and 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles. The youngest branch of the U.S. military services has more than 328,000 personnel on active duty, 74,000 in the selected and individual ready reserves, and 106,000 in the Air National Guard. In addition, the Air Force employs more than 168,000 civilian personnel.

Likewise, the Space and Missile Systems Center is Air Force Space Command's center of acquisition excellence for acquiring, developing and sustaining military space systems. As the only active duty military installation in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area, its portfolio includes the Global Positioning System, military satellite communications, defense meteorological satellites, space launch and range systems, satellite control networks, space based infrared systems and space situational awareness capabilities.

Happy 68th Birthday, U.S. Air Force!