Space Command general making changes to prep for possibility of space war
By TOM ROEDER | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)(Tribune News Service) | Published: November 15, 2015
Gen. John Hyten doesn't want a war in space.
But the boss of Air Force Space Command said he's preparing to defend America's assets in orbit if battle comes to the high ground. Hyten is readying for war with a string of training changes and a plan to simplify how America controls its constellation of military satellites. He also wants troops to bone up on old measures to combat enemy battlefield jamming of satellite signals that are crucial to guide bombs and communication.
"I never want conflict to extend into space," said Hyten, who's a year into his tenure at the command. "But we have to be able to defend ourselves."
Unlike previous approaches, Hyten's plan to defend the navigation, communication and surveillance satellites operated by the command is relatively cheap and doesn't rely on high-tech spacecraft.
Instead, the Harvard graduate said he's focused on getting more experienced airmen running satellites on a daily basis and looking to add more contractors to the mix for flying Air Force birds.
A big part of Hyten's work is centered on getting the rest of the military prepared to deal with challenges in space, especially jamming - an inexpensive technique to take away America's military advantage in communications and navigation that can leave U.S. units unable to communicate.
A few nations, notably Russia, North Korea China and Iran, are gaining the ability to take out American satellites. A more likely scenario, though, would use spurious ground-based radio signals to drown out signals coming from orbit.
Countering the jamming, Hyten said, means training troops in an environment that includes it. At the Air Force's annual Red Flag war games in Nevada, Space Command teaches pilots how to fly and flight when enemies attack America's space advantages.
By the third mission, Hyten said, pilots learn enough to do battle against the jamming.
Space Command has a set of tools to overcome jamming attacks.
For GPS, Hyten said, the military has a special coded signal, called an M-code, that's hard to spoof or jam. But the military has been slow to adopt equipment that uses it.
"We have to make sure we get that M-code equipment out across the world," Hyten said.
For communications signals, ground units must train to "change the channel" if the enemy starts jamming satellites, Hyten said.
Space Command has plenty of work to do in Colorado Springs. Hyten said the way the Air Force has traditionally staffed space units must change to counter the threats. Now, the command's youngest airmen are on satellite control crews, while their more-experienced comrades hold jobs that aren't tied to direct satellite control.
Now, all airmen in space squadrons will rotate through satellite control jobs, with six months on control crews followed by six months of intensive training that may be harder than the work.
"They will be doing real-world training with a simulated threat environment so they can see those threats," Hyten said.
A new unit at Schriever Air Force Base will help the military and intelligence agencies better understand those threats and ways to counter them.
The Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center will bring together the military and intelligence agencies for war games. Hyten said that will help all parties figure out how to react if space is threatened.
The need for the center is driven by how intelligence agencies and the military built up their space operations after the Cold War. Satellites and ground systems were bought individually with little thought given to how they would integrate together.
"Since the Berlin Wall fell we've operated in a benign environment," Hyten said. "You can build stovepipes and it really doesn't matter."
The center will figure out how to deconstruct the stovepipes and build a plan to allow intelligence agencies and the military to share information on space threats and work together to counter them.
Hyten said the war gaming at the center is also designed to deliver high fidelity that leaders can count on.
"We need real empirical data," he said.
Eventually, Hyten sees big changes on the ground for space command. His goal is to build a common ground system that can control any military satellite. Now, each satellite has its own system, which isn't connected to the others.
The first step in that move could come next year. The Air Force's Wideband Global Satcom System satellites could move to a commercial ground system for controlling some functions of the satellite. But the part of the satellite that sends information through space, called the payload, will remain in the hands of airmen.
But all the changes, Hyten says, don't mean his command is looking for a fight. But, with Russia and China on the rise in space, readiness is vital.
"They are developing capabilities that concern us," he said.
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