Silent Sentry meets a decade of interstellar combat support

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Alexandre Montes
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Nearly 29 years ago, as a form of protest against cable companies charging fees to satellite dish owners, a man by the alias of Captain Midnight intruded into a live HBO telecast of ‘The Falcon and the Snowman’ utilizing equipment from where he worked. Using a form of satellite communications (SATCOM) jamming, Captain Midnight was able to insert his propaganda and briefly stop HBO programming.

Midnight’s actions highlighted a vulnerability to SATCOM communications, which the military rely upon heavily to meet global communications needs. This vulnerability generated the need to establish Defensive Space Control systems to monitor and protect SATCOM assets. One of the missions is at Al Udeid Air Base and goes by the name of Operation Silent Sentry (OSS).

OSS was part of a proof of concept system in 2005. Back then, several Airmen were deployed to Al Udeid AB for 120 days. The mission was to test the capabilities of a new defensive counter-space system in support of joint warfighters in the area of responsibility (AOR) and then leave once testing was complete. The capability was proven to be valuable in the protection of U.S. Central Command’s satellite networks, and 10 years later, OSS is still in business, and business is good.

“What we do is provide CENTCOM with defensive space control capabilities,” said Master Sgt. Brian Popham, the 379th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron. “We monitor, detect, characterize and geographically locate sources of electromagnetic interference on high priority signals.”

OSS is able to find a signal that is causing interference with satellite communications, characterize the signal environment and locate its origin. That information is then forwarded to support command and control of air, naval and ground forces to complete a full spectrum of situational knowledge. Two weapon systems, the Rapid Attack, Identification, Detection, and Reporting System Deployable Ground Segment and Bounty Hunter provide the only Defensive Space Control mission in the AOR.

“Communication is key to our entire joint and coalition forces' ability to effectively and efficiently conduct our missions each and every day,” said Master Sgt. Jason Childers. “Our dependencies on SATCOM technologies have grown tremendously over the years to meet our operational needs. While military users benefit from these newer technologies, they also need additional protection and situational awareness into the electromagnetic spectrum in order to ensure robust communications.”

With upgrades in 2013, the primary focus was to improve response time to mission partners. Since then, OSS operators have created more elaborate geolocation capabilities to troubleshoot counter satellite communication electromagnetic interference situations.

“It’s like solving a math problem, the more known variables you have, the easier and faster it is to solve the equation,” Childers said. “The recent upgrades just filled in some of those variables to allow for faster and more accurate geolocations.”

OSS also employs the total package; Airmen deploy from several different career fields within Air Force Space Command. Total force integration is not an uncommon phrase among these warriors. Airmen are deployed here from both the 16th and the 380th Space Control Squadrons located at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, as well as several other squadrons. With having knowledge from across the spectrum, they were able to help the program evolve and become a more technical and valuable asset to CENTCOM.

“The majority of the reserve and active duty personnel that support this mission also work side by side at home station,” Childers said. “This allows the benefit of already having the inter-workings of professional relationships in-place and the team is ready to hit the ground running when they arrive to Al Udeid AB.”

Childers also said that the current OSS architecture will provide the foundation for future defensive space control systems. The lessons learned and tactics, techniques and procedures documented by current crews will continue to be used and refined to shape the future of the defensive space control mission area.

After 10 years of Defensive Space Control operations here at Al Udeid, there are no immediate plans to replace the systems here. OSS will continue to defend our space-based communications through an open, decentralized, fast, performance-based environment and close with the adversary.