By Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Space is no longer a sanctuary where the United States or our allies and partners operate with impunity, according to the Air Force Space Command’s Space Mission Force White Paper.
Training and skills that sustained the U.S. military space operations for the last several decades are not the same skills needed to fight through threats and win in today’s contested, degraded and operationally‐limited environment.
To ensure collective defense, U.S. and allied forces are prepared to operate in this new reality, AFSPC and its respective wings must transform the culture of understanding.
Building the expertise and skills necessary for U.S. space forces to operate freely, and if necessary, defend themselves in the global commons of space is what Col. Troy Endicott, 21st Operations Group commander, intended to do when he partnered with Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, to create the MIT/LL Intern Program to posture future Air Force space operators to better handle the ever evolving realm of space.
“No one in the world knows what’s going on in space better than the United States Air Force,” said Endicott. “We have built operations for space situational awareness that are quite remarkable, but we cannot rest on our laurels. These capabilities were built for a domain and environment that was rather static and not an environment where we saw significant threats. That part has changed.”
Because of that change, the United States now finds itself alongside favorable and unfavorable company in space, driving a need to progress innovation in our understanding, our strategic thinking and hone our execution of space operations.
“The space environment is turning into any other contested environment where he or she who understands the environment the fastest and can do something about that the quickest will have the upper hand,” said Endicott.
With this situational consciousness lingering in his mind, a small idea germinated into a large scale collaboration after a visit to Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, a federally funded research and development center.
“I was impressed with their forward thinking, their technological developments and their threat-centric way of seeing the domain,” Endicott said. “The experts there are some of the best examples of folks thinking in the right direction and I wanted them to teach and help inspire our team as well. I’m always looking for opportunities for our Airmen to learn from the best.”
Located half-a-day drive away from MIT/LL at Cape Cod Air Force Station, Massachusetts, resides a geographically-separated unit of the 21st OG, the 6th Space Warning Squadron. The close proximity of MIT made the 6th SWS a prime candidate to represent the 21st OG and outstretch their hand to the leadership team at MIT/LL to make the much needed connection possible, said Endicott.
Once connected, Endicott and his leadership team requested internship applications from space operators at Cape Cod AFS to become the first Airmen to pioneer the month-long internship. Endicott said that with the help of his deputy commanders, they chose 1st Lt. Theodore Kruzcek, 6th SWS Weapons and Tactics chief, who stood out among all of the candidates.
Initially, Kruzcek was embedded alongside Lincoln Lab personnel for four weeks at both the MIT/LL facility on Hanscom AFB and the field site located in Westford, Massachusetts. He said the first two weeks were spent working with test directors and system engineers on the Millstone Radar, Haystack Ultrawideband Satellite Imaging Radar, and Haystack Auxiliary Radars at the field site.
Kruzcek worked Monday through Friday collecting metric observations and supporting launch operations. He said he received extensive training on how the radars work and how to operate them, and was even given the opportunity to operate them.
Kruzcek said he spent the remaining weeks at the main MIT/LL facility at Hanscom AFB working with orbital analysts analyzing data from multiple sensors in the Space Surveillance Network all while developing plans for upcoming launch operations.
As tedious as the work seemed, Kruzcek stayed immersed in the opportunity, in hopes to soak up the experience.
“The internship was a once in a lifetime experience to learn from experts in the field about space and space surveillance operations,” said Kruzcek. “Many of the analysts giving me instruction had worked at MIT longer than I have been alive. The flexible schedule and one-on-one instruction allowed me to ask questions and dive deep into the details in a way that is often unavailable to students in a large group setting.”
From concept to working model, the MIT/LL Intern Program has now officially pushed the first Airmen through the collaborative learning experience. Endicott said he and his team wish to send 10 to 12 Airmen, officer and enlisted, through the program each year.
Kruczek said he is confident that this will become a long standing program. His experiences were unique and he believes future interns will not simply replicate his experience. Instead they will have their own inimitable encounters gaining new and different realizations while working with world class experts in the field.
Kruczek also believes that if those future experiences are shared amongst the 21st OG and the Space Surveillance Network, the Air Force will become a much more effective enterprise.
Endicott said since there are more deliberate concerted threats in space and potential challenges to the United States and allied capabilities, there is a need to understand better what is going on in space and act. This rationale only added gasoline to 21st OG’s already burning fire for expanding innovative thinking in the space operating field and providing one-of-a-kind opportunities to learn for the best.
As the space domain continues to evolve, so must the tactics, techniques and procedures of our Air Force and the space operators manning the equipment.
“Our space surveillance capabilities for the longest time were best at counting the dots in space, and now the task is to better connect those dots,” Endicott said.