Space power in the 21st century

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jacob R. McCarthy
  • Nellis AFB Public Affairs
Space--it's no longer the final frontier.

From navigating ground forces to aiding precision guided munitions, the long arm of Air Force space power reaches globally to enhance and protect the way Airmen fight and win wars.

Helping bring space to the battlefield is former Army specialist turned Air Force officer, Maj. Eric Lingle, 328th Weapons Squadron, Operations Support Flight assistant director of operations.

In addition to providing advanced air-to-air and air-to-ground combat training to pilots and ground crews throughout the Air Force and coalition forces, the U.S. Air Force Weapons School is also responsible for training space operators through the 328th WPS.

Major Lingle and his space operator counterparts at the 328th WPS train weapons officers to provide space and operational planning expertise to specific mission areas for Air Force Space Command and theater commanders--these capabilities help keep ground forces oriented and bombs on target, to say the least.

More specifically, space training includes global positioning system capabilities and limitations, theater command/control/communication systems, theater ballistic missile defense, space superiority, and air and space planning. This is all done to provide combatant commanders vital information and effects, said Major Lingle. "We use satellites for war fighting," he said.

For example, ground forces in Iraq can traverse over terrain nearly devoid of geographical features and pinpoint their exact location to within less than 11 feet thanks to GPS receivers--hand-held devices that rely solely on satellites to achieve this accuracy.

In addition to GPS navigation, GPS also allows war fighters to possess precision timing and synchronization technologies used for data and command links allowing unmanned aerial systems pilots to control aircraft such as MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers from thousands of miles away.

Also, thanks to another satellite program, known as the Defense Support Program, satellites can detect heat from missile plumes against the Earth's background, allowing space operators to detect and report real-time missile launches, space launches and nuclear detonations.

Activities like "Blue Force" tracking, Joint Direct Attack Munitions employment, also known as JDAM, advanced missile warning systems, combat search and rescue support and satellite communications, all stack up to allow the Air Force to remain at the top of space superiority.

Just as the Air Force uses space power to remain in control of the fight, space operators are also tasked with a key defensive role of denying enemies similar capabilities.

Assets like the Counter Communication System deny adversaries space capabilities, while the SILENT SENTRY/Rapid Attack Identification and Detection Reporting System identifies interference on vital U.S. systems. These offensive and defensive space capabilities, coupled with the space situational awareness of activities in and through space, allow today's war fighters to protect an asymmetric advantage in space.

Another role space power plays in winning the fight is to utilize satellites in an attempt to find possible improvised explosive device locations and enemy forces that pose serious threats to troops on the ground.

Space operators share this information with intelligence specialists who then inform commanders of possible threats. Space operators and intelligence specialists work side by side to keep friendly forces out of harm's way, the major said.

Despite technology and a wide array of highly skilled operators to bring it all together, keeping U.S. and coalition commanders informed is a difficult job, said Major Lingle.

"The hardest part of the job is finding ways to explain and educate our customers about our capabilities in easy to understand terms," explained Major Lingle.

The classification of certain space capabilities also limits how accurately operators portray what space power can really do. The challenge is to find ways to speak to the effects space brings to the fight while maintaining the security of the technology, the major continued.

From serving as an Army specialist during Desert Storm in the early '90s, and throughout his Air Force commission, Major Lingle has noticed great improvements in space technology and the space community's ability to bring space to the war fighter.

During the Gulf War there seemed to be a limited use of space capabilities, said Major Lingle. More than a decade later, space power has greatly advanced and is now addressing a full spectrum of needs from multiple areas of the fight, he continued.

As the Air Force flies further into the 21st century, the line of air and space power continues to blur into a single operating force, indiscernible as separate weapons capabilities. Airmen will eventually find themselves relying on an interconnected system of satellites and aircraft to continue to fight and win America's wars.