By Scott Prater
Airman 1st Class Brian Hernandez sat comfortably inside a trailer in a remote area of FE Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. March 22. His right hand controlled a standard mouse, his left, an ordinary keyboard.
To the casual observer, he might as well have been shuffling through a virtual deck of solitaire cards.
In truth, however, he was commanding up to five secure communications satellites, worth billions of dollars, simultaneously, as U.S. Strategic Command monitors watched and listened intently.
“Really, it wasn’t that nerve-wracking,” he said. “You have to be a professional so your test monitors know you can do your job.”
Ultimately, Airman Hernandez and approximately 15 of his 4th Space Operations Squadron teammates, set out to demonstrate the Advanced Extremely High Frequency Antenna Calibration Facility commanding the Milstar constellation during an endurance situation.
“The mobile antenna calibration facilities were constructed in case the normal operations floor here at Schriever was rendered inoperable,” said Tech. Sgt. Robert Bailey, Mobile Operations, Section chief. “In the event something like that would happen, we would deploy to wherever we needed to run operations. So, it’s important to demonstrate this capability in an endurance scenario.”
Mission Commander, Capt. William Klumpp, chief of 4 SOPS Mobile Operations, noted that the demonstration served to show the new command and control system’s reliability and versatility so that the legacy system could be decommissioned.
“This was a huge success,” Captain Klumpp said. “We showed that the ACF could control the entire Milstar constellation during a simulated endurance period. The end results demonstrated to USSTRATCOM and Air Force Space Command that the Advanced Satellite Mission Control Subsystem and the ACF are able to accomplish the endurance mission.
To Airman Hernandez, the concept seemed inconceivable a few years ago.
“I chose the space field when I joined the AF, but I had no idea that one day I would have assets at my fingertips,” he said. “It’s not a job where I’m engaging in hand-to-hand combat, but at the same time I’m affecting people down range.”
Captain Klumpp said he was extremely happy with the outcome of the demonstration.
“It’s amazing that we have a 23-year old Airman operating a $41 billion protected SATCOM system providing combat effects to users downrange himself. The 4 SOPS team was able to smoothly transition from a peacetime environment to a simulated endurance mission and then back to peacetime operations.”
The March 22 event won’t be the last time the 4 SOPS Mobile Operations team demonstrates this capability. Captain Klumpp indicated that the unit practices its planning capability by routinely training, which enables them to execute their training plans prior to going on a real-world mission.
“We attempt to train all the scenarios as if they were a real-world mission,” he said. “So, our folks are prepped and ready to go at a moment’s notice.”