Milstar Program Reaches 25 Year Milestone

Milstar, formerly known as the Military Strategic and Tactical Relay, has reached 25 years of service. Milstar is responsible for providing the President, Secretary of Defense and the U.S. armed forces with reliable satellite communications, ensuring minimal interception or detection. Designed to overcome enemy jamming and nuclear effects, Milstar is a robust and reliable communication system. Image Credit: U.S. Air Force

February 8, 2019 – Milstar, formerly known as the Military Strategic and Tactical Relay, launched February 7, 1994 and has now reached twenty-five years of service. Designed to overcome enemy jamming and nuclear effects, Milstar is a robust and reliable communication system providing the President, Secretary of Defense and the U.S. armed forces with reliable satellite communications.

In total, six Milstar satellites were built by Lockheed Martin. Of the six, five reached their operational geostationary orbits, and remain in service. John Rogers, military satellite communications programs site manager, said it’s remarkable Milstar is still serving the warfighter. 

“From a 4th Space Operations Squadron perspective, we are amazed at the longevity of this satellite,” Rogers said. “Milstar had a design life of ten years, the satellite has lasted two and a half times its design life – a truly impressive accomplishment.”

Rogers added that 4th SOPS is not only proud of the designers and builders of the satellite, but also of the men and women in 4th SOPS who have operated and sustained the satellite.

“This milestone speaks to the ingenuity and resiliency of AFSPC and the AF as a whole,” said 2nd Lt. Joseph Craig, 4th SOPS wideband global satellite communications engineering officer. “The ability to extend the life of any program by over a decade shows how well-managed resources can be in AFSPC and the wider AF.”

Throughout the twenty-five years it has been in place, the Milstar program has seen a lot of changes.

“After the Cold War ended, the military restructured the Milstar program in 1992, removing some of the capabilities which were no longer needed and adding new capabilities that would be needed in the post-Cold War environment,” Rogers said. “Milstar Flights three, four, five and six are all Block II Milstar satellites which incorporate these changes. The follow-on program to Milstar, the Avanced Extremely High Frequency satellite program, leveraged Milstar capabilities, lessons learned and incorporated newer technology to provide the warfighters even more capabilities.”

Today, the Milstar and AEHF programs work together as a single entity. Through the years, 4th SOPS has streamlined Milstar operations, adding automation and enhanced ground system capabilities. In spite of this, the program has persevered thanks to the durability of the system and the diligence of the personnel who man it.

Second Lt. Andrew Sweeten, 4th SOPS orbital analyst, said Milsatcom capabilities continue to grow and strengthen. Most of the Milstar satellites have a lot of life left in them, but the AEHF is the new program to supplement Milstar.

“All Milstar vehicles have long since launched, but the successor to the program, AEHF, still has a few upcoming launches,” he said. “The fourth satellite of this new family recently launched October 16th, 2018. The fifth vehicle is tentatively scheduled to launch June 27th, 2019, with the sixth launching within the following year.”

Milstar launches were made using Titan IV rockets with Centaur upper stages, and all six occurred from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The 4th Space Operations Squadron is a component of the 50th Operations Group, 50th Space Wing, Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.