The commander of Air Force Space Command addressed a standing-room only crowd at the 28th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, April 17, highlighting accomplishments of the command’s 30-year history, the space budget, and his thoughts for the future.
Taking the stage before more than 1,500 attendees, Gen. William L. Shelton opened by thanking the Foundation for their efforts in supporting science, technology, engineering and mathematics education – areas the general believes are strategically critical to current and future national security.
The general then presented a brief video highlighting the command’s 30th Anniversary in which previous AFSPC commanders were recognized for making AFSPC what it is today.
“We’ve come from the beginnings of national security space, where we had various organizations directing military space activities, to the focused space and cyber command we are today – in just three short decades,” said Shelton. “Moving from a time when space was a ‘nice-to-have’ with a strategic-user emphasis, to being a vital force multiplier across the entire joint force. Space capabilities are now indispensable not only to our nation’s defense, but to our national economy as well.”
Shelton highlighted key events of the past year, opening with the completion of an unprecedented 49th successful launch of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle.
Additionally, the command partnered with industry to rescue the first Advanced Extremely High Frequency Satellite from a useless orbit. AEHF satellites will eventually relay secure U.S. military communications and those of several partner nations, replacing the MILSTAR satellites with significantly improved voice quality and capacity for 10-times the throughput. The command also launched the Operationally Responsive Space-1 satellite and completed on-orbit checks to provide imagery to U.S. Central Command less than a month after launch.
Airmen of the command also completed the largest GPS constellation realignment in history, maneuvering satellites to provide better coverage in urban canyons and mountainous regions such as Afghanistan.
The general then highlighted accomplishments of two other AFSPC assets, the X-37 orbital test vehicle, and the Joint Space Operations Center.
“Our second X-37 test vehicle has been on orbit for 409 days now – much longer than the 270 day baseline design specifications. Although I can’t talk about mission specifics, suffice it to say this mission has been a spectacular success,” he said.
“We continue to provide the resources required for space situational awareness, allowing the Joint Functional Component Commander for Space to process over 155 million sensor observations and track over 22 thousand orbiting objects in our space catalog,” said Shelton. “Our SSA assets also helped track the reentries of NASA’s Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite and the Russian Phobos-Grunt spacecraft. We’re off and running with the restructured Joint Space Operations Center Mission System program, which will further the cause of SSA more than anything I’ve seen in my entire career.”
Turning to the budget, Shelton noted that the future of the command is heavily dependent on budgetary considerations. With the reduction of the Defense Budget by 8 percent, the trickle-down affect didn’t spare the space budget. At the same time, however, the National Defense Strategy emphasizes Space and Cyberspace capabilities – two domains AFSPC is responsible for as the core function lead integrator.
“So, after we look at all the puts and takes, and we do an apples-to-apples capability-based comparison with fiscal 2012, the real decrease in the fiscal 2013 Air Force space budget portfolio was only about $117 million dollars, or a decrease of only 1.5 percent,” said Shelton. “That’s a result that I believe demonstrates Secretary Panetta’s and Chairman Dempsey’s commitment to foundational space capabilities as a critical aspect of the nation’s defense.”
Shelton then presented additional AFSPC missions supported in the new budget:
- Three Wideband Global Satellites are operational; a fourth is undergoing on-orbit checks. Nine of the communications satellites have been ordered; a tenth is expected to be contracted this year. Each WGS satellite has roughly the same capacity as the entire Defense Satellite Communications System satellite constellation WGS is replacing.
- Also protected in the budget are AEHF satellites; a second AEHF is planned for launch May 5 and acquisition of two others is underway. Development of advanced ground terminals is underway and several other terminals are ready to use the AEHF waveform.
- Installation of new nuclear command and control system ground terminals begins in 2013; and the aircrew terminal will be fielded in Fiscal Year 2016. The system provides Air Force wing command posts and mobile support teams with survivable communications to receive Emergency Action Messages and securely transmit those to bomber, tanker and reconnaissance aircrews.
- The first Space-Based Infrared System satellite is now in geosynchronous earth orbit. SBIRS will ultimately replace the Defense Support Program Satellites to provide missile warning. The SBIRS scanning sensor is about to begin final calibration, the final step before operational acceptance in the October or November timeframe.
- Space command has built a fully-functional prototype vehicle of the GPS-III to discover any manufacturing and design problems, allowing focus on manufacturing efficiencies during production. GPS-III includes an additional civilian signal compatible with the European Union’s Galileo system and adds higher power to increase anti-jamming capabilities. The first GPS-III launches in 2015.
Looking to the future, Shelton said physically smaller satellites, simpler designs, and fewer on-board systems will increase constellation resiliency and decrease program costs, alluding to the launch cost-per-pound equation.
In the area of Space-Based Situational Awareness, General Shelton said the capability is critical, “I’m a huge believer in the capability of SBSS – so much so that I don’t believe we should ever be without Space-Based Space Situational Awareness again.”
At the same time, Shelton said the lesson of the ORS-1 success points out that successful SBSS vehicles do not necessarily require huge optics or sophisticated on-board processing to provide operationally relevant data.
“As we consider the replacement for our weather satellite program, we believe we can satisfy our requirements with a much smaller satellite,” said Shelton. “So, the bottom line here is the spirit of ORS lives, just in a different formulation. And I’m very supportive of this spirit going mainstream as opposed to maintaining a dedicated, niche program office. In fact, I would submit we’re much stronger by inculcating ORS concepts and lessons learned across all our programs.”
Shelton then discussed an important shift in the emphasis of AFSPC, providing a vision for a sommand less focused on platforms and more on information.
“The eventual data products enabled by these platforms must be our ultimate focus,” said Shelton. “We must start looking at the satellites as merely sensors – or in the case of comsats, the relay – providing data needed by a host of users.”
“What if we exposed the data from the appropriate constellations and made them available for other purposes? If we expose the data properly, I believe we’ll be amazed at what smart people will be able to do with it – our watchwords should be enabling discovery,” said Shelton.
“We now take for granted that we’ll have speed-of-light access to data wherever we are for war fighting purposes,” said Shelton. “But let’s be honest, it’s just spam if you can’t act on the data provided and turn it into decision-quality information for whomever needs it.
“Now is the time for us to get after this data problem, now is the time for AFSPC to broaden our horizons,” said Shelton. “We must develop the concepts and architectures that will ensure the United States Air Force takes full advantage of this data-rich world we find ourselves in today – and if we think we’re data-rich today, just think about what tomorrow will bring.”