The United States Space Force has decided to establish a formation to handle Europe and Africa next month, even as it prepares for 21 national security space launches by United Launch Alliance and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
The US European Command said in a press release on October 31 that the new component will come up on December 8 and will be called the SPACE-EURAF, which will become the fourth Space Force formation embedded into one of the US military’s regional commands.
Apart from the US European Command (EUCOM), the US military has regional formations such as the US Central Command, US Indo-Pacific Command, and the US Forces Korea.
Once the SPACE-EURAF is established, the US Space may also work towards more combatant commands, and the top possibilities include US Cyber Command, US Special Operations Command, and US Forces Japan, Air & Space Forces Magazine reported.
At present, the United States’ present space capabilities in Europe and Africa are handled under the air component — US Air Forces in Europe and US Air Forces Africa (USAFE-AFAFRICA), and this structure has existed even before the US Space Force became an independent service of the American armed forces.
Now, with its formation for Europe and Africa, the US Space Force’s status within the American military structure has elevated and established itself on par with other military branches. According to officers, this allows the US Space Force to provide additional space capabilities to combatant commanders.
“The activation of Space Forces in Europe and Africa is a significant milestone in the journey to fortify joint space capabilities within Europe and Africa,” the EUCOM statement said.
US Space Forces Europe and Africa “will support a wide range of missions, including deterring potential adversaries, responding to crises, and strengthening our alliances and partnerships,” it added.
Space Force Colonel Max Lantz, who already heads up the space portfolio in USAFE-AFAFRICA, will become SPACE-EURAF’s inaugural commander. Both US European Command and US Africa Command are located in Germany, and SPACE-EURAF will not solely focus on Europe.
Many European nations already have a long history of civilian space operations and have focused on building their space-based military capabilities. The US Space Force set up its Indo-Pacific component last year as its first step towards creating geographic commands.
“In the case of Europe, we’re just taking advantage of the fact that USAFE is also the Africa Command support,” Chief of Space Operations General B. Chance Saltzman explained at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference in September.
“Because it’s all done from the same location, it’s easy for us to leverage that same construct and get a two-for-one, to some degree.”
Despite the immediate concern surrounding the Middle East in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict and attacks on US troops by Iranian proxy groups, the US military’s long-term focus is on the Pacific and Europe, Air & Space Forces Magazine said in its report.
The plans for a European formation for the Space Force were made public in November 2022. Since then, US military space leaders traveled to Europe to strengthen military space alliances — “not an easy task for an often highly classified domain that conventional wisdom held was a safe harbor from military action until a few years ago,” it said.
“When you have to work with host nations, there’s an extra few steps,” Saltzman said. “So just going through all those normal coordination processes took a little longer.”
The Space Force looks forward to having a more vocal role in future critical decisions in combatant commands.
21 National Security Launches From 2026
Meanwhile, the Space Force, as part of this year’s final award of contracts under the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program, has assigned 11 launches to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) and ten launches to SpaceX, Space Systems Command (SSC) announced October 31.
A second SILENTBARKER watchdog satellite jointly developed by the service and the National Reconnaissance Office is among the planned launches to be lifted to geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO), according to the SSC announcement.
The present awards are the last to be announced under the five-year NSSL Phase 2 program. The ULA and SpaceX were the only providers chosen to compete for billions in funding.
The Space Force got US$1 billion from Congress in the 2023 financial year for the NSSL program and requested a whopping US$2.1 billion for the 2024 financial year, Breaking Defense reported.
“Over the five-year Phase 2 contract, we will have ordered a total of 48 missions, a significant increase over the 34 missions originally estimated leading up to Phase 2,” said Brigadier General Kristin Panzenhagen, SSC’s program executive officer, for assured access to space.
“The increase in launch tempo is a clear reminder of how vital space-based capabilities are in providing our warfighters and our nation’s decision-makers with the information needed to stay ahead of and to deter adversarial forces.”
The launch orders cover five NRO birds, three new model Global Positioning System satellites, a clutch of low Earth orbit satellites for the Space Development Agency, and the first SSC Missile Track Custody (MTC) prototype satellite.
“While the orders are being made now, actual launches won’t begin until the 2026 financial year due to SSC’s two-year planning cycle,” the report said.
Among ULA’s newly scheduled NSSL Phase 2 launches are SILENTBARKER2/NROL-118 and two more National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellites. The SILENTBARKER are new satellites used to “keep an eye” on other nations’ satellites and are a substitute for the now outdated Space-Based Space Surveillance System (SBSS) satellites, which will expire in 2028.
The ULA will also launch the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, designed to test a nuclear thermal rocket for on-orbit operations.
SpaceX’s planned launches include the US Space Force-57 mission to loft the first of three Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared satellites to GEO.
SSC intends to choose three providers to vie for the next five-year set of critical launches (primarily those going to GEO) under its NSSL Phase 3 program, as well as on-ramp commercial firms providing small and medium launch, as well as rideshare services for lower risk missions, the report said.
The ULA and SpaceX are expected to complete what the Space Force calls NSSL Phase 3 Lane 2 for mission-critical launches, along with billionaire Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin.
- NC Bipindra is a 30-year veteran in journalism specializing in strategic affairs, geopolitics, aerospace, defense, and diplomacy. He has written extensively for the Times of India, New Indian Express, Press Trust of India, and Bloomberg News. He can be reached ncbipindra (at) gmail.com
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