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Space Command striving for improved field communications

by Tech. Sgt. Kurt Arkenberg
90th Space Wing Public Affairs

11/7/2007 - F. E. Warren AFB, Wyo. (AFPN)  -- Airmen of Air Force Space Command's Space Innovation and Development Center were on hand in Warren's AFB Quebec flight area recently, but they weren't looking to the area's Peacekeeper past; they were demonstrating the future.

"We're here to continue demonstrations of the combat airborne network," said Maj. Jeffrey Zornes, U.S. Air Force Tactical Exploitation of National Capabilities, commercial integration division deputy chief. "We're hoping to gather range and signal quality data to further this platform's opportunities in any [area of responsibility]."

Development and initial operational checks were conducted in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Chandler, Ariz., but when it came to "kick the tires and light the fires," Warren got the nod to host the demonstration for many good reasons.

"Warren's missile fields seemed ideal for the second round of demonstrations," said Maj. Zornes. "The landscape, weather patterns and sparse population help in the data gathering of quality information and provide a quiet environment for the demonstration."

The areas' sparse population allows for more control of another demonstration variable -- interference from wireless communications signals. As anyone who's driven throughout Warren's AFB missile complex knows, there are few cell phone relay antennas and plenty of dead spots with no wireless coverage.

The system, which uses one or more high-altitude balloons, effectively becomes the communications link for ground forces and a command and control tool for strategists away from the front line.

"We are excited to host a demonstration that highlights security forces applications in Warren's missile field," said 1st Lt. Andrew Pisut, 90th Communications Squadron. "During a mock Security Forces response, this airborne wireless network will allow for greater command and control information to pass between the response team and the missile alert facility."

In addition to voice and data, the SIDC hopes to demonstrate streaming video and platform survivability capabilities.

"The more applications and abilities we can demonstrate with this system, the more beneficial it will be to those warfighters on the ground around the world," Major Zornes said. "With multiple balloons we can create a wireless mesh network that will automatically reroute the information to the clearest path, limiting degradation of the system due to jamming or destruction of a platform by the enemy."

As Major Zornes and others involved with the program proceeded through the development of the CAN, they continued to look for applications in every aspect of operations. For Warren AFB, they see increased situational awareness during convoy or security forces response operations, the elimination of communication "dead spots" and potentially a deployable emergency wireless network throughout the complex.

The demonstration here should give the SIDC more concrete data on the system's abilities, and a better picture of the range and quality of the signal sent. With that information, they can continue to improve the system and grow its operational uses across the services.

"This demonstration will go a long way to solidify the system," Major Zornes said. "And its success here is a great example of the Air Force's 'total force' concept working toward improving operations for all branches of service.

"It takes all components of the Air Force to run a demonstration like this, he said." Active duty, Guard, Reserve and Department of Defense civilians have all come together to work this project."

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