AF space officer looks to the sky to keep an edge
May 22, 2007
LONDON — The U.S. military is upgrading its complex communications and surveillance systems that many troops on the ground take for granted.
Whether it is real-time feeds from Predator drones to command posts, or the “blue force tracker” system, space assets are critical to battlefield troops successfully communicating with headquarters.
To keep them working and to keep a strategic edge is the job of the U.S. Air Force Space Command, Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, vice commander for the Space Command said last week. Klotz made the remarks about the state of U.S. space assets and recapitalization projects to attendees at last week’s Royal United Services Institute’s annual Air Power conference in London.
In his presentation, Klotz outlined the importance of space capabilities to the modern military and civilian economies, highlighting satellites’ roles in performing such tasks as ATM transactions and monitoring other countries’ satellites.
“It’s inconceivable that a modern military would go to war, much less [achieve] victory without the use of space,” Klotz said.
But while Klotz outlined benefits and upcoming improvements to U.S. space assets, he also had sobering words about their vulnerability in light of a recent successful effort by China to shoot down one of its own low-orbit satellites with a ground-based missile. Klotz called the shoot-down a “worrisome and troublesome event” that showed that space has to be considered a “contested domain.”
“It signified that space can no longer be considered a sanctuary,” Klotz said.
The event put a spotlight on America’s need for a protection strategy for its satellites — a plan that includes a need to better understand what man-made objects are in space, including other satellites and debris from the Chinese explosion.
Klotz dubbed it “space situational awareness,” and noted the U.S. was making improvements with radar and electro- optical telescopes that can allow it to see objects the size of a basketball 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface.
That capability is part of the Air Force’s Space-Based Surveillance System, currently in development.
Klotz said after the presentation that the U.S. also is working on a system to rapidly launch small, temporary replacement satellites to augment any that suddenly go off-line, should one be shot down or become inoperable for other reasons.
Among other improvements to the space command’s assets are a new communications satellite that can handle as much bandwidth as the entire military satellite constellation currently in operation, he said.
Advances with the GPS system — created by the military and now used commercially around the globe — also are allowing new guidance capabilities for munitions and other items, such as GPS-steered parachutes to improve the accuracy of air-dropped supplies, Klotz said.
Additionally, the Air Force is now fielding its Space-Based Infrared System, the military’s newest early missile launch detection system, Klotz said.