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Future is bright for Air Force space assets

by Louis A. Arana-Barradas
Air Force Print News

3/12/2007 - SAN ANTONIO, Texas (AFNEWS) -- The Airmen of Air Force Space Command are tracking a lot more than the man-made space junk that orbits the Earth. 

Space operators are troubleshooting the way they do business. They're focusing on getting their capabilities -- the ones most Americans know little about -- to the forefront of the battlefield. 

Leading the effort is a group of leaders with experience in real-world combat operations. These men and women know how to work with their sister services to ensure servicemembers on the ground get the best air and space support needed to win the war on terrorism. Every day, these combat Airmen help joint forces achieve the best possible spherical situational awareness. 

The commander of these space Airmen, Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, is a longtime space operator. The command is modernizing its capabilities and technologies and fixating on the details to make the services second to none. He said the command is focusing on key areas. 

"First we need to be preserving, as well as developing, new capabilities the joint warfighter relies on. Second, we have to provide a nuclear deterrent with our ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) force," the general said. "Third, unlike other commands, we have an acquisition responsibility, so we are focusing on making sure we develop, acquire and field the necessary capabilities we need for the future. Underpinning this is our need for talented people." 

So as the command heads into a more clearly defined future, it is concentrating on recruiting, training and retaining "the talent we need to run our space systems in the future," he said. 

That is a key strategy for fighting the continuing war on terrorism, a battle in which space command Airmen are deeply involved every day. Space operators bring the Global Positioning System and timing to the worldwide joint fight. They also control global communications with their arsenal of satellites and provide weather and missile warnings. The unmanned aerial vehicles operating over Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world also rely on global communication. 

"None of this would happen without the GPS and timing signal," General Chilton said.
The command has some immediate goals, he said. And it will continue to face challenges. 

"Many of the goals we are paying close attention to are what we call space situation awareness," he said. "We need to have a better understanding of what is up in space.
Space command is doing a good job of cataloging and counting the objects orbiting the Earth, he said. But the command needs a better understanding of just what the objects are, the capabilities of the satellites in space and the intent of the satellite's users. 

"The recent Chinese satellite test really put an exclamation point on this requirement for the future," the general said. "After we understand the situational awareness up there and develop that, we need to also focus on how we can command and control our assets so they can be responsive to any threat that may appear." 

Getting there means facing change involving recapitalization and acquisition. But the general said his Airmen are up to the challenges and that this will make for some exciting times ahead. 

"We are recapitalizing every system in the command," General Chilton said. "Right now, every satellite system -- whether weather, communications, missile warning or GPS satellites -- is being recapitalized. We are developing brand new ones, and we are launching some of those satellites this year." 

The command is looking deep into the future to develop satellites that won't go into service for several years, but that will help with space surveillance. And the command is also recapitalizing the Air Force's entire ICBM force, essentially rebuilding the Minuteman III missile system deployed in the field. 

These are very important programs for the nation and the general said it is "essential that we continue to fund these as we move forward." 

Getting the funds needed to recapitalize means making lawmakers and the American public more aware of the command's capabilities. Doing that is a dedicated cadre of Airmen doing a task most people don't know about -- space command missions. It's a job space Airmen should be proud of, the general said. 

"We require them to train and be proficient in what they do -- but they are in the fight 24-7," the general said. "On top of that, our ICBM force provides that strategic umbrella for our nations and that doesn't happen by accident. They are out there every day, doing the job." 

But it's the payoff of having a viable space command that makes its capabilities worth their weight in gold to the command's customers. 

"Nothing we do in Air Force Space Command is for Air Force Space Command," General Chilton said. "Everything we do is for the joint fight." 

That's why the general said he wants everyone to know and have the confidence to turn to the command for "anything space." Space Airmen have capabilities that run the gamut from systems development, acquisition fielding and actual operations to the launch of ICBMs, missile warning, space surveillance and a host of key satellite systems. 

"We have the expertise for America in Air Force Space Command," he said. "If you have a question about space, we should be at the top of your Rolodex."  

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