Donald “Jason” Cothern

The Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), the main procurement component of the United States Space Force — the newest branch of the Armed Forces which finalized its organizational structure — recently received a new vice commander. Brigadier General Donald “Jason” Cothern joined the SMC after serving as the assistant program director for development at the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office (aka Joint Strike Fighter Program) since June 2017, where he spent over $250 billion to produce and modernize F-35 aircraft and air system elements.

After graduating from the University of Central Florida with an aerospace engineering degree, Cothern commissioned into the Air Force in 1993 as a program manager for the 50th Logistics Support Squadron at Schreiver Air Force Base. He has held multiple positions dealing with space systems, including as chief of the Space Demonstrations Division in SMC’s Advanced Systems and Development Directorate. Before that, he was chief of the Requirements Integration Department at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Cothern earned an M.B.A. from California State University in 2000, an M.S. from George Washington University in 2002, an M.M.A.S. from the Air Command and Staff College in 2006, and a master’s degree in national resource strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in 2012.

The SMC is responsible for the research, development, and acquisition of military space and missile systems. The center is coined the “birthplace” of the Air Force’s military space program and systems. Still operating through the COVID-19 pandemic, the SMC plans on awarding contracts to small, innovative businesses rather than having foreign investors poach contracts and technology, thus deeming subcontractors as essential workers. Quoted in a Space News article, SMC Commander Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson said:

When the economic environment is not good, the potential for adversarial predatory investment in small business is higher, and we’re going to have to work through that with the resources and the tools we have.

The president’s fiscal year 2021 budget request allocates $15.3 billion to the U.S. Space Force, with a growing budget estimate for future procurement. The Space and Missile Systems Center is composed of 6,000 employees and has an annual budget of $9 billion.

Cothern replaced Brig. Gen. Donna D. Shipton, who will be assigned as the next director, A8 Strategic Plans, Programs, and Requirements for the Air Force Materiel Command.

Andrew Ramos-Flynn

Andrew Ramos-Flynn

Research Analyst, Federal