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Following three years of restructuring its units and forces, the Air Force combined space operations into one command when it activated Space Command on Sept. 1, 1982. Originally organized to manage missile early warning and space tracking systems, Space Command brought together operators from Strategic Air Command and technicians from Air Force Systems Command to conduct the operational space mission. The new command's commander, Gen. James Hartinger, described the command's activation as a crucial milestone in the evolution of military space operations. In May 1983, Space Command assumed control of space surveillance and missile warning sites around the world, plus the defense Support Program early warning satellites, and the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, while Strategic Air Command maintained control of the nation's ICBM force. Air Force planners then looked at moving satellite operations into the new command. That same month, construction began on the Consolidated Space Operations Center (CSOC) at Falcon AFB (now Schriever AFB), Colorado. Space Command was renamed Air Force Space Command in 1985 to distinguish it from the joint United States Space Command established that same year. Five years later, the command doubled in size after acquiring the space launch mission from Air Force Systems Command. 

In 1987, the command acquired the worldwide network of sites comprising the Air Force Satellite Control Network. The CSOC assumed the responsibility for commanding, controlling and receiving telemetry information from a variety of military satellites in the early 1990s. Also in the early 1990s, space operations emerged from the "black world" of secrecy and became a significant contributor to the warfighter during the Gulf War--sometimes called the "first space war." Military space systems became a force enabler for the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. These systems provided warfighters with satellite communications connectivity both in theater and between the battlefield and CONUS; positioning and timing data for ground and air operations and weapons delivery; meteorological data; overhead imagery; and missile warning data. The information obtained from space-based systems helped military planners see what Saddam Hussein could not see, and gave coalition forces the "high ground" to drive Iraqi forces from Kuwait. 

The Gulf War was the prelude for the integration of space support into military planning and operations. US and coalition forces came to rely heavily on space-based systems during subsequent military operations in Somalia, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the conduct of homeland defense operations. 

Between March and June 1999, US and NATO forces conducted military air operations against Serbian air defenses and high value military targets in Kosovo under Operation ALLIED FORCE. US military space systems again played a key role in force enhancement. US and NATO forces used the Global Positioning System (GPS) extensively for mission planning and execution as well as precision delivery of weapons. Similarly, ALLIED FORCE personnel used space-based meteorology and imagery for mission planning and operations. The Kosovo operation, saw expanded use of satellite communications for reachback connectivity to US-based military units.