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This article was Originally Published on Nov 15, 2004 in Volume: 3  Issue: 3

Space Warriors and Wizards

With General Lord at the helm, the Air Force Space Command is looking to the future.

By Scott R. Gourley

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“Deterrence is a tough job,” General Lance W. Lord, commander, Air Force Space Command, observed recently. Referring to his prior experience as a commander of two ICBM wings, he added, “I was often asked, ‘How is this going to change now that the Cold War is over?’ And the answer is that it doesn’t change. You have to do this right every day. It’s a tremendous responsibility.”

It’s also one of many important responsibilities handled by Air Force Space Command (AFSPC). Headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, CO, the command is responsible for the operations and readiness of a global network of satellite command and control, communications, missile warning and launch facilities. The 39,700 space professionals within the command include not only America’s ICBM forces, but also a wide range of assets and capabilities that help make up today’s warfighting effects.

“During the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom, we had 1,600 members of Air Force Space Command deployed, many of them to Southwest Asia,” Lord told MAT. “So we’re part of the air expeditionary force. We’re working here at home and we’re out there working too. We have ‘space people’ in the Air Operations Centers—like the one that was at Prince Sultan Air Base. We have people in the space business integrated into all the cells to bring the space knowledge and interest—day to day—to what’s going on.”

One example of AFSPC’s direct support to the warfighter during OIF can be found in its latest missile warning capabilities.

“Missile warning is an important part of letting people know in a theater context what’s going on in an environment,” Lord said. “We started out in this business with missile warning related to attacks against North America, part of the intercontinental ballistic missile warning mission. And we’ve been able to take those systems and tailor them to help us in a theater context: to be able to provide ‘duck and cover’ warnings.

“If you remember back to operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, we saw the Scud attacks and the Patriot engagements. We had an early scheme of theater warning during that war, and we refined it for Operation Enduring Freedom and certainly for Operation Iraqi Freedom. So those folks would get the warning that there had been a launch and they could put on their gas masks and continue to do what they needed to do,” he recalled.

Referring to Lieutenant General Daniel P. Leaf, vice commander of AFSPC, Lord added, “General Leaf was with the Army in Kuwait before they went across the line into Iraq. And he told me several times that when they got warned of a launch by our missile warning systems, they would put on their gas masks. He said they had a sense of comfort that we were able to provide that warning capability to the theater. And we did it by taking space systems, algorithms and warning systems and being able to relay that information to the theater so that they can know that ‘There’s something coming and it’s coming sort of this way.’”

Other examples of AFSPC warfighter support during OIF involved the command’s responsibility for ensuring proper operations of the Global Positioning System (GPS) to provide precise position, navigation and timing information. Although GPS was used in a myriad applications throughout the war, one of the most impressive scenarios took place in late March 2003, when a troop from the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry, which was the lead element of the 3rd Infantry Division, engaged enemy forces just south of the Iraqi city of Najaf, in an intense dust storm at night. Fighting was reportedly so close and intense that rocket-propelled grenades that were ricocheting off U.S. armored tracks were killing Iraqi soldiers.

Noting that the severe weather forced the Iraqis to pack their tanks and other armored vehicles very tightly together, Air Force representatives have related that an Air Force tactical air controller subsequently called for four 2,000-pound GPS-aided joint direct attack munitions (JDAM) from an Air Force B-1 bomber to engage approximately 20 Iraqi tanks, plus another dozen armored vehicles.

“Space-based capabilities could look through that sandstorm and be able to provide warning and assistance so that the cavalry unit would be able to survive in that environment,” Lord said. “We were able to bomb during that period with Global Positioning System joint direct attack munitions that don’t care whether there’s a sandstorm or not. So it might have been an operational pause for somebody, but there certainly wasn’t a pause if you were the enemy.”

Acquisition Transformation

Describing the ongoing transformation of AFSPC taking place within broader service and DoD transformation activities, Lord pointed to recent advances in program acquisition processes.

“For a long time everybody said that the space acquisition system was broken—that things were too expensive, or that we’d never be able to get the capabilities we wanted,” he said. “But through some organizational adjustments, and with the recommendation of the space commission, we’ve been able to get our acquisition programs back on track. We’ve still got some technical problems that we’ve got to solve. We’ve got to make up for some designs that were created seven and 10 years ago.

“But by stabilizing requirements through what I call an ‘urgent and compelling requirements process,’ we’ve been able to steady the programs,” Lord said. “And if you have a stable baseline in a program and if the program manager has got some management maturity, then we can build a system to meet the operators’ needs. So I think we’ve been able to harness that and get things back to the way they should be. That, to me, is transforming the way we acquire, which is really essential in delivering capabilities to the warfighter.

“The next transformational steps for us are to move to operationally responsive space lift and systems so that we can have faster turnarounds, faster satellites to orbit, quicker checkouts on orbit and smaller payloads. Those are all kinds of transformational capabilities that are coming,” he added.

The transformation process also leads directly to what Lord called AFSPC’s “commanding the future” strategy. He described the strategy as a series of efforts designed “to reshape the command in a way so that we can in fact shape and influence events in the future as opposed to just reacting to something. That’s why I’m taking on space superiority as a serious mission in the Air Force. You’ve got to really think about how important it is to protect our assets in space. I’m not talking about trying to rule the globe from space. I’m talking about protecting our assets.”

Air Force planners stress the direct applicability of space superiority to the service’s traditional air superiority mission. Specifically, just as air superiority is achieved through a combination of offensive and defensive counter-air operations, space superiority relies on a combination of offensive and defensive counter-space operations.

Lord stressed that space superiority ensures the protection of both military and commercial space assets. Describing the combination of military and commercial assets as “a tremendous economic and military advantage for the United States and the free world,” he stressed, “We’ve got to protect those assets, because somebody is going to mess with them. It already started during Operation Iraqi Freedom. And there have been repeated incidents of jamming each other. As the value of those assets increases, there are going to be more incidents. And you don’t have to be a peer of the United States to take us on in space. It’s going to be an asymmetric kind of approach. So we’ve got to strengthen our systems, the links and nodes, control mechanisms, space-based capabilities and all those actions.”

Lord’s description of commercial and military space assets also highlighted the recent use of commercial satellite systems to carry military traffic.

“[Lieutenant General] Harry Raduege in DISA [Defense Information Systems Agency] went out and leased a whole lot of commercial bandwidth in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom,” Lord said. “You’ve got one-tenth the footprint of people in the theater and 10 times the bandwidth requirement. I think that’s kind of a relationship that’s going to continue to grow.”

Commercial bandwidth users included the Army’s Blue Force Tracking “situational awareness” system.

“Blue Force Tracking is something important now and in the future,” Lord said. “The Mission Management Center for Blue Force Tracking is right there next to our building [at Peterson Air Force Base] and the Army Space Command has a building right next to ours. That’s one of the things that the Air Force chief of staff, General Jumper, has asked us to look at: the joint warfighting space structure that includes things like Blue Force Tracker. Things like how we automate that capability in times of conflict.”

In the near term, however, Lord sees the DoD’s requirement for commercial satellite support continuing to grow.

“It will likely continue until we can get our transformational comm-unications satellite structure in space,” he said. “And it looks like first launch in the TSAT [Transformational Satellite] program will be early in the next decade, which will give us an Internet-like capability in space. What that will really do is give us satellite connectivity and communications on the move, which is really essential.”

Space Warfighters

While acknowledging that future systems are obviously important to the future of U.S. space superiority, Lord highlighted the potentially greater importance of identifying, categorizing and training space warfighters to plan, coordinate and operate those systems. As the nation’s dependence on space capabilities grows, it becomes increasingly critical that AFSPC create and develop a core group of space warriors who are equally skilled in both space operational art and technical expertise, he said.

“One of the things that Secretary Rumsfeld’s Commission on Space said was that the Air Force and the military have not grown the right kinds of people with the right kinds of credibility in the space business to really master the domain of space. We’ve taken that challenge on. Working with the other armed services, we’ve taken on development of our space warfighters—the basic education and certification of people so that they understand where they are in the process. It involves a combination of education, operational jobs, qualification and certification so that we can grow our people, not only our military and our civilians, but also our contractors and our commercial buyers. They’re all part of this core group and need to understand how it all works. We’re going to work the military side first and then branch out as we go into the future.”

Development of the space warfighter community is already well underway, Lord said, identifying about 10,000 people in the Air Force and a few more thousand in the Army and the Navy.

“It’s kind of like an inventory building model: We’ve got to build up the inventory,” he continued. “We have identified the people that are in the space warfighter community. Plus, we have everybody categorized as to their skills and abilities, and what their job assignments have been, so that we can look at the whole inventory of our skills and say, ‘This is how many people have had this kind of experience in missile warning, in position navigation timing or in ICBM capabilities.’ We’ll be able to say that we’ve got a mixture in one area or that we need to move people over to another. We’ve never been able to totally measure our skills across the baseline against our requirements.”

One part of Lord’s space warfighter work involves “visual effectors”—direct communications between AFSPC and space warfighters, ranging from newsletters to collections of articles. Another space warfighter initiative involves the development of the National Security Space Institute.

“It’s in place right now,” Lord said. “It will be a consortia of schools that will form the center of gravity for space education in the United States, where, if you want to go to space, you’ll be part of it. If you want to learn about what’s going on you’ll be affiliated with this consortia.”

While the continuing development and refinement of the space warfighter is one key to the success of the “commanding the future” strategy, Lord added that an equally essential part over the next few years is what he describes as the “wizards.”

“If you go back and read the work that was done during the early days of the Air Force and the Rand Corp. and the nuclear theology of all those folks who developed the initial nuclear strategy that undergirded the U.S. approach to national security in the Cold War era, you realize that we need the equivalent now, in the era that we’re in, with respect to space and this tremendous advantage that we have in space. So we’re trying to develop and be able to get a group of people together to write the equivalent of those kinds of articles now—to get the ‘new wizards’ for this age. It’s important, over the next couple of years, to lay that foundation,” he said.

Underlying both the “wizards” and the space warfighter community is the recognition of the need to grow the right leaders to take AFSPC into the future.

“Air Force Space Command was 22 years old this fall, and we’ve now got that group of colonels who started there, who will soon be generals, who can help in this transformation process,” Lord said. “I’m the transition guy. But they are in the perfect place at the perfect time to take all of this well into the future."

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