Developing Space Professionals

Article excerpt

Editor's Note: PIREP is aviation shorthand for pilot report. It's a means for one pilot to pass on current, potentially useful information to other pilots. In the same fashion, we intend to use this department to let readers know about air and space power items of interest.

We need space professionals in all services and agencies . . . to exploit space effectively in the interests of national secunty. Development of a space cadre is one of our top agenda items for national security space programs.

-Hon. Peter B. Teets

Undersecretary of the Air Force

ENGAGED IN A deadly firefight in central Iraq in March 2003, lead units of the 3rd Infantry Division mysteriously lost their primary communication link with the military strategic and tactical relay system (MILSTAR) satellite network. In an instant, critical targeting coordinates being transmitted to rear fire-support elements were completely cut off. Fortunately, an alert crew from the 4th Satellite Operations Squadron at Schriever AFB, Colorado, quickly determined that another user had inadvertently moved the satellite spot beam away from the combat zone. After initiating override procedures, personnel immediately repositioned the beam back to the fight, restoring the important link. The 3rd Infantry Division then resumed its coordinated attack and went on to win this key battle.1

This story represents just one of many recent examples of the critical wartime role played by military space assets and the dedicated space professionals who wield them. Make no mistake-the victorious outcome of this engagement, along with numerous other battles in Operation Iraqi Freedom, would have remained uncertain without dominant US military space power. Over the past 20 years, space systems and the people who develop and operate them have repeatedly demonstrated their indispensable contribution on the battlefield. We can rest assured that this decisive role for space will continue to expand in future conflicts.

But this is no time for complacency. The acquisition pipeline is filling up with increasingly complex space systems, such as space-based radar, that will provide unprecedented capabilities. These systems will integrate space with air, land, and sea battle arenas more than ever before. Battlefield integration and situational awareness will become vital to exploiting these new capabilities, and people are the key to that success. Specialized space expertise will play a critical role in the design and integration of these new systems. Similarly, space operators and support personnel will also require more in-depth knowledge of how these systems support military operations. This level of human interaction will dramatically enhance space effects as compared to today's space capabilities, which are much more static in nature.

As a result, the Air Force must redouble its efforts in recruiting and training talented people to design, acquire, operate, plan, integrate, and sustain a completely new generation of space weapon systems. In its final report, the Space Commission clearly spelled out this imperative: "The DoD is not yet on course to develop the space cadre the nation needs." Commission members further asserted that space operators and acquirers must "master highly complex technology . . . and operate some of the most complex systems ever built and deployed." This conclusion led the commission to call for initiatives to "create and sustain a cadre of Space Professionals . . . within which the space leaders for the future can be developed."2

Agreeing with the commission's findings, secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tasked secretary of the Air Force James Roche to prepare a comprehensive space career-management plan.3 As a first step, Air Force Space Command built an Air Force space-professional strategy that lays out a sound approach for developing and sustaining space professionals. Approved by secretary Roche in july 2003, the strategy identifies the specialties and disciplines required to take space systems from concept to employment. …