Building Partnerships: SSC International Affairs Offices Welcomes Korean, German Delegations

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  • By Lisa Sodders, SSC Public Affairs
EL SEGUNDO, CA – In a first for Space Systems Command (SSC), members of its International Affairs Office recently welcomed a team of space acquisition experts from the Republic of Korea’s Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).

Hosting distinguished visitors is key to SSC’s growing efforts to further current and forge new allied partnerships. 

Prior to SSC being established as a U.S. Space Force (USSF) field command, its predecessor organization would host only three to four distinguished visitor visits a year, said Dr. Steve Pluntze, executive director of SSC’s International Affairs Office. So far in 2023, SSC has welcomed 14 teams of more than 70 visitors, including the experts from Korea last month and a German delegation of space operations planning officials in Aug.

“The purpose of partnerships is in creating resilience and deterrence, adding new capabilities, and building relationships; obviously the distinguished visits fall squarely in the bucket of building relationships,” Plunze said. “So you can affect the partnerships, which takes care of the other things. Without the handshakes, you don’t build up the teamwork and trust and the understanding of each other’s situations.”

“They all have different goals and different schedules, different funding requirements and requirements in general,” Pluntze said. “When you take on a partner, they get a vote and they get a voice and we strive to bring both sides together to exchange those views and build the understanding of who can do what, on what kind of schedule and what kind of priority.”

Pluntze noted that these kinds of visits are on-going at many different levels throughout the USSF, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Defense. SSC also coordinates its visits with stakeholders in the Pentagon so everyone is on the same page.

“It’s the entire sum total of these organizational visits that build up the information and the wherewithal to move forward in different areas of space,” Pluntze said. “Our part is a relatively niche area of space – the acquisition piece. It tends to be complex and confusing for some cases – how do we move forward on complicated space projects?”

But despite classification issues and other hurdles, “we have to figure out solutions to these impediments, and the visits we host help us find the right people to communicate the strategies for figuring out these problems,” Pluntze said. “Visits are also going on in the operational and diplomatic places and are all uncovering problems and fixing them and building trust. It works out pretty well.”

“We want to build the partnerships that result in the kinds of operations and capabilities that make a difference on the battlefield if you need to use them – and if you have great capabilities and great partners, that adds to deterrence – our adversaries might not want to go to the battlefield, because our partnerships make us too strong,” Pluntze said.

The September visit marks the first time a delegation from the Republic of Korea (ROK) has come to SSC, Pluntze said. In addition to receiving command briefings about SSC, specifically about the its international affairs operations, discussions with the Korean team focused particularly on how the United States conducts space systems development and space acquisition.

DAPA is committed to improving the ROK defense capabilities by conducting research and development and procuring weapons system and platforms, which the ROK armed forces need to enhance their military capability. Furthermore, DAPA works to streamline and implement policies, which enhances its civil and military technological cooperation, in order to promote the ROK defense industry’s export and research and development activities.

Col. Hyunjin Park, the Korean delegation leader, said the team’s focus was on learning about innovative approaches and policies, which SSC might currently be using in its acquisition programs. He stated his group’s goal was to learn as much as possible about how the U.S. goes about the procurement process within each of its program areas. Park also presented information on the status of Korean space acquisition programs.
Deanna Ryals, director of SSC’s International Affairs Office, said the visit marks the beginning of a new relationship between DAPA and SSC, and noted that SSC takes very seriously the phrase “Allied by Design.”
“International relationships with our allies are key to improving the space enterprise and deterring those who would do us harm,” Ryals said. “When we include allies early in any development discussion, we are seeking a more robust and resilient system able to counter threats, both terrestrial and space based.”
The goal of the meeting with the German delegation was to explore commonalities and differences between how the two countries conduct space operations planning, focusing on areas where data transfers can provide U.S. solutions to better inform German operations.

Matthias Waidmann, DEU exchange officer, has been working at SSC since January, and said he’s enjoyed getting to know his counterparts at SSC. In Germany, he serves as a civilian with the German military procurement office.

While at SSC, he’s had the opportunity to see the differences between how the two countries approach space. For example, in Germany, military acquisition is not split up among the different military branches as it is in the U.S. The German space command is smaller than the USSF, but like USSF, is a fairly new entity, having been formed in 2021.

“It’s completely different working with (foreign counterparts) if you know the people on the other end,” Waidmann said. “You have those personal connections and have seen the people you’re writing emails to and collaborating with. It’s pretty valuable.”