Space superiority a priority for Air Force authority |
by Senior Airman J.G. Buzanowski
Air Force Print News
4/12/2006 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- They almost scrapped the mission. An Air Force weather officer and the satellites at his disposal talked them out of it.
It was a cold night in March 2003. With rain and low visibility, more than 1,000 Soldiers aboard 16 C-17 Globemaster IIIs waited to either go on their parachute mission into Northern Iraq, or call it a night. The weather officer, Capt. John Roberts, said they’d be able to fly.
Time ticked by. Snow began to fall. An hour out from the drop point, the mission was still questionable. Captain Roberts, armed with his eyes in the sky, predicted the window they needed and the mission continued. Within 15 minutes, the clouds parted. The jump went as planned.
Captain Roberts’ success proves space is an important part of military operations. So much so, it now has a place in the Air Force mission statement.
The Air Force is committed to improving its space systems, said Dr. Ronald Sega, undersecretary of the Air Force, in front of House and Senate Armed Services subcommittees recently.
“Satellites are an advantage we have over adversaries,” Dr. Sega said. “We have to ensure we’re getting those capabilities to the warfighters, whether it’s for communication, information or any of the other uses our space weapon systems offer.”
Satellites aren’t just used for wartime missions. After a recent natural disaster in the Philippines, the Air Force was able to provide before-and-after images of the affected areas, giving rescuers the best places to look for survivors. Lives were saved because of that, Dr. Sega said.
Dr. Donald Kerr, director of the National Reconnaissance Office, attended one of the testimonies. The Air Force and its satellite network have been a vital part of their operations since the NRO was established 50 years ago, he told congressmen.
“We have a long history of working with the Air Force,” Dr. Kerr said. “The Air Force provides more than 50 percent of the workforce at the NRO. Together we’re working to provide real-time support to warfighters and policy makers. The Air Force is critical to meeting our needs in space.”
Because satellites are so important to the defense of the nation, Air Force leaders hope to upgrade older systems.
“As we look to the future, we are examining the ability to use smaller, lower cost satellites that could be employed rapidly in response to the needs of the combatant commanders,” said Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, vice commander of Air Force Space Command. “Supporting the joint warfighter is at the heart of everything we do in Air Force Space Command. For that reason, it is more important than ever to maintain our technological advantage.”
To further that end, the Air Force seeks to make space acquisition the model for all of the Defense Department, General Klotz said.
Members of the committees shared concerns about rising costs for not only the research and development of new systems, but also putting those systems to actual use.
“Space systems have been prone to cost overruns,” Dr. Sega admitted. “But as we apply the lessons learned from acquiring past systems, we’re able to plan more effectively with our future purchases.”
Lt. Gen. Michael A. Hamel, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, echoed those remarks.
“Space asset acquisition is a team sport and we’re all working together to ensure we manage cost and risk,” the general said. “By testing systems early on and working directly with the folks who build them and the folks who will use them, we’ll be better able to put new systems into use faster and more cost efficient.”
As a result, the Air Force is examining several avenues that will more effectively change the way space is used.
One of those strategies is to use smaller satellites with the latest technology. They’ll be ready for launch in “hours, not months” and will provide the Air Force and those who rely on satellite information to address 21st century defense challenges by modernizing critical capabilities such as:
-- Global strike
-- Missile warning
-- Ground-based space systems
“The U.S. depends upon the Air Force to supply critical space capabilities,” Dr. Sega said. “We are increasing our focus on ensuring our assets will meet operational requirements in a growing and changing threat environment. We should be able to provide significant new capabilities quicker and be more cost effective.
“If we have high confidence in the success of an acquisition … then we also have more confidence in our production cost and schedule estimates.”