By Airman 1st Class William Tracy
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
Nestled in a rural English farm village, far from the mountains of Colorado, is a 23rd Space Operations Squadron detachment which serves as a testament to the 50th Space Wing’s global reach.
The only Schriever Geographically Separated Unit and Air Force Satellite Control Network site operated by non-U.S. personnel, 23 SOPS’s representation at Royal Air Force Station Oakhanger may be small, but their mission is essential to upholding support to the AFSCN and the U.S. military space mission.
“Oakhanger supports virtually all DoD space vehicles,” said Master Sgt. Eric Reagan, NCO in charge — one of only two active duty Air Force personnel at Oakhanger. “We also support selected NASA and foreign allied nation’s space vehicles.”
The site has three antennas to be utilized for command, control and tracking of space vehicles by AFSCN users.
Under the call sign “LION;” the site, on top of providing support to over 175 U.S. DoD, civilian, allied and U.S. national satellites and critical dual coverage for geosynchronous satellites near the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, carries the unique function of supporting the U.K.’s “Skynet” satellite constellation, said Maj. Nathaniel Markley, 23 SOPS Operations Officer.
“Skynet” is a family of communications satellites part of the U.K. Ministry of Defense which supports the three branches of the British Armed Forces.
This bond between U.S. and U.K. personnel ensures mission success for Oakhanger and the AFSCN.
“We have a very strong partnership,” Reagan said. “We interact with our British contractors who operate the site and our local Ministry of Defense civilians on a daily basis. Our role here is to be the liaison between the Air Force and the Ministry of Defense.”
While he is far away from home, Reagan added living in the area and working with locals has its perks.
“I’ve only been here for a year, but I definitely enjoy living here,” he said. “The people are nice, there is so much history here; and the countryside is so green — it’s beautiful.”
While Reagan’s, and other Oakhanger personnel’s, duty time may be temporary, 23 SOPS’s role at the facility wIll continue to endure and expand — in line with the U.S. military’s growing focus on the space frontier.
“The future of LION and its mission is planned well into the 2030s,” Markley said. “While the mission will remain the same, our ability to accomplish the mission will be enhanced.”
“There has been a steady upward trend in satellite support over the past several years,” he said. “It is very likely that this upward trend will continue.”
The 23rd Space Operations Squadron maintains a small presence at Royal Air Force Station Oakhanger, upholding support for the Air Force Satellite Control Network and other entities. Oakhanger is the only Schriever Geographically Separated Unit and AFSCN site operated primarily by non-U.S. personnel.