WASHINGTON — The commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, Lt. Gen. John Thompson, officially retired during a July 27 ceremony at Los Angeles Air Force Base.
The change comes ahead of a major organizational shakeup for SMC, with the U.S. Space Force planning to replace SMC with a new field command called Space Systems Command. The new organization will take over SMC’s roughly $9 billion budget while restructuring its various enterprises.
While Thompson, the longest serving three-star commander of SMC, was involved in creating Space Systems Command, he won’t be around to lead it. President Joe Biden has nominated Maj. Gen. Michael Guetlein, deputy director of the National Reconnaissance Office, to serve as the head of the new field command. At the NRO, the agency in charge of the nation’s fleet of spy satellites, Guetlein assists the director in managing operations and oversees Space Force personnel working with the agency.
Thompson joined the U.S. Air Force in 1984 after graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy, and has since held a number of acquisition and logistics positions. Over his 36-year military career, Thompson served as the Air Force’s program executive officer for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; the program executive officer for strategic systems; deputy program executive officer for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program; and program director for the KC-46. Before taking over SMC in May 2017, he was the commander of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
As the SMC commander, Thompson was responsible for roughly 6,000 employees and an annual budget around $9 billion, leading the Space Force’s research, design, development, acquisition and sustainment efforts. His portfolio included the military’s most valuable satellite systems, including GPS, the Space Based Infrared System and more. He was also in charge of the acquiring the command and control systems for those satellites, as well as the launches to get them on orbit.
SMC Vice Commander Brig. Gen. D. Jason Cothern will serve as the SMC commander.
Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.