By Scott Prater
The 50th Operations Support Squadron has been teaching Mission Employment Academics to space operations squadron members here for more than a year now, but its emphasis has flown under the radar for the most part.
Some may explain it away as supplemental training, but Lt. Col. Jay Fulmer, 50 OSS commander, says MEA represents a fundamental shift in the way the Air Force wants to educate its space operators.
“Recently, Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, through his vision statement, emphasized that ‘education and training are the foundations of our airpower advantage,’” Fulmer said. “Education goes beyond teaching an operator how to operate their weapon system, but goes into the understanding of what effects their actions have on a satellite system or how our mission supports the Department of Defense’s larger role of defending the United States.”
Ask any satellite operator and they’ll tell you, their job is checklist heavy.
Space operations units have been using checklists for decades, in part, because following a checklist is an efficient way to ensure all steps of a complicated task are completed in order and that no step is forgotten or skipped.
“Checklists are critical in the process of returning a satellite to proper working order, Maj. Mark Bigley,” 50 OSS weapons and tactics flight commander, said. “They’re critical in operating a mission system as well, but they also present operators with a narrow viewpoint. That’s a big reason why we’ve started emphasizing MEA; it’s designed to provide operators with a big-picture perspective.”
Specifically, MEA is designed to help everyone involved on a mission system to identify threats that might hinder their ability to conduct operations.
“There is an intelligence piece, a threat academics piece and a weapons system education piece,” Bigley said. “The end goal for everything we do out of weapons and tactics is to make sure operators are providing the warfighting effects they’ve been tasked with in contested and degraded environments.”
The MEA curriculum is broken up into 12 topics throughout the year. Squadron weapons and tactics flights will cover mission-specific MEA training, while 50 OSS covers the subject on a broader scale.
January’s mission-specific topic is electromagnetic interference.
“We’ll gather everyone and discuss EMI in a broad sense,” Bigley said. “But, 2 SOPS will discuss how it affects the Global Positioning System and 3 SOPS will talk about how it affects the Defense Satellite Communications System and Wideband Global Satcom. So, it’s a tailored forum.”
Each month brings a new topic. The cyber concept will be highlighted during April, space weather gets attention in July and anomalies receive a focus in September.
Bigley explained that this approach to MEA is new for 2013 and unique to the 50th Space Wing.
“We have an advantage in that we’re able to get all of our people into one room,” he said. “So, we developed a plan to dig deep into these topics throughout the year.”
In the space weather topic, for example, 50 OSS trainers will discuss the concept of solar max and how operators can mitigate the sun’s effects on their mission systems.
“We want operators to understand the basic academic underpinnings,” he said. “They have checklists for dealing with things like EMI and space weather, but we take training to a deeper level. We tell them why a system is behaving differently as a means for helping them build a conceptual understanding.”
As part of its broad-topic MEA training in 2013, the 50 OSS will also host a 50th Operations Group cross talk, address joint and national space systems and provide a year in review where it discusses observations and lessons learned from exercises and events throughout the year.
“In terms of educating our crewmembers, MEA is a critical piece because it exposes our crewforce to the larger picture,” Fulmer said. “It allows them to see just how important and critical the systems the 50 SW operates daily is not only to our forward deployed forces but the DOD at large.”