By Tech. Sgt. Matthew McGovern
Airman Magazine May/June – Air Force Space Command constantly strives to improve the “edge” American combat troops have on the battlefield. Today, embroiled in the race for technology and with a spirit of ingenuity, the men and women of AFSPC grant these forces many advantages unavailable to the enemy.
Since taking the reins in October 2007, Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander of AFSPC, saw a need to improve that edge.
With recent additions to the space stable, the general and his team of more than 39,000 space professionals, capitalized on emerging technologies, widening the gap between American troops and enemy combatants.
Chief among the evolved technologies is a field of twinkling satellites in the night sky including more than 30 Global Positioning System satellites working simultaneously to assist the joint and coalition team in many ways, including navigation, rescue operations, and bomb and missile guidance.
“We have witnessed a shift in understanding over the last decade,” said General Kehler. “Today, the joint warfighter has a far greater appreciation for the decisive, precise combat effects satellite constellations, such as the Global Positioning System, bring to the battlefield.”
In addition to the GPS satellites, the first Wideband Global SATCOM satellite, the most powerful communications satellites in the Department of Defense, became operational in April 2008. Now with two of six satellites in orbit and operating, Air Force Space Command’s WGS satellites each provide more capacity than the entire legacy constellation. The Defense Satellite Communications System, with WGS is projected to eventually replace DSCS.
“WGS will provide essential communication services for combatant commanders to command and control their tactical forces,” said General Kehler. “It will provide a quantum leap in communications bandwidth to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines.
“In the same vein, the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite system will provide more survivable, jam-resistant, worldwide, secure communications with a 10-fold increase in capacity and more than five times the data rate of Milstar,” the general said.
Satellites provide advantages for the joint warfighter; however, nuclear deterrence remains a high priority of the Air Force and the ultimate backstop of our nation’s security. It dissuades opponents while assuring allies.
“Our nation’s security relies heavily on the enduring attributes of the intercontinental ballistic missile force and the dedication and professionalism of those who secure, maintain and operate it,” he said.
Recent changes to revitalize the Air Force’s nuclear enterprise are underway and have become General Kehler’s primary focal point.
“Our first priority is re-invigorating the nuclear enterprise. As we prepare to transition the ICBM mission to Air Force Global Strike Command, we will maintain our standard of perfection in mission performance and focus on taking care of our people,” said General Kehler. “Our people and their expertise are critical to our success. They are incredibly dedicated professionals that will drive this new command to great success.”
Another great concern on the general’s mind these days is improving protection of U.S. space systems and increasing situational awareness in space.
“We now operate in a contested space domain with increased threats to our space capabilities including radio frequency jamming, laser blinding, and anti-satellite systems,” he said.
At his direction, General Kehler has a team of experts working to prevent these threats. Last year, he led the establishment of the space protection program along with the National Reconnaissance Office, which will provide decision makers with a range of informed options and recommendations demonstrating the best means to protect America’s space systems and stay ahead of the threats.
“We have already taken steps to improve space protection, including strengthening our cyber and physical security. Many of our on-orbit systems were designed and built to operate in a nuclear environment,” said General Kehler.
In addition, the general considers the safety and protection of cyberspace to be at the top of his list.
“Make no mistake about it; the fight is on in cyberspace,” he said. “When we come to work and log in, we are entering a war zone where everyone must be a defender. Our cyber space capabilities are too important and too tempting a military target for the Air Force to ever take it for granted. It’s not about whether we’ll be attacked, it’s about whether we’ll be prepared for the attack.”
The general noted that cyberspace is the most prevalent of the domains in which the U.S. military currently operates and said securing it is critical to all joint activities.
To lead the charge in the cyber arena, a new numbered Air Force, the 24th Air Force, is being organized under Air Force Space Command. The 24th Air Force will be made up of cyberspace warriors supporting a more combat capable and highly effective force providing security to joint and coalition partners around the globe.
“As we stand-up the 24th Air Force, our overarching objectives in cyberspace will include assuring freedom of action for friendly operations, denying adversaries’ freedom of action when needed, and creating effects in, through and from the domain,” he said. “Since these domains are increasingly interdependent, loss of control in any one domain could lead to loss of control in all the domains.”
In addition to fighting the enemy through space and in cyberspace, the Airmen of Air Force Space Command are also doing their part on the ground.
“Our Airmen actively support expeditionary operations with members deployed downrange and supporting from bases here in the United States. AFSPC professionals are in this fight, 24-hours-a-day, every day,” said General Kehler.