AFCENT Airmen fight from ultimate high ground

AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar -- As adversaries and challenges evolve in dynamic battlefields across the globe, U.S. service members from U.S. Air Forces Central Command are using cutting-edge technology to support and defend joint and coalition warfighters.

Before combatants meet on the battlefield, a war occurs in a domain where Airmen from space-centric career fields bring a global network of assets and experts together at the Combined Air Operations Center here to aid operations in the fight against Da’esh.

From a global communication network to GPS to intelligence imagery, Col. Michael Jackson, AFCENT Director of Space Forces, said the battlespace would look vastly different without the work of space professionals around the globe.

“Modern warfare, whether air, land or maritime, is dependent on communications and information, meaning it’s dependent on space operations,” he said. “A day without space used in combat is like a day without oxygen.”

Across the Defense Department, the Air Force is responsible for 90 percent of space assets and the team here uses these resources to provide support throughout U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility.

“Space is a key dimension of the battlespace just like air, land or sea – it's one we work to leverage against our enemies,” said Combined Force Air Component Commander Lt. Gen. Jeff Harrigian. “It allows our forces to navigate with confidence, communicate with clarity, strike with accuracy and assess with assurance.”

The CAOC serves as the tip of the spear of an enterprise of more than 35,000 space Airmen working together from more than 130 locations worldwide. Here, space personnel are integrated into every section of operations planning and execution to leverage the information for mission success.

Jackson said this reflects the impact his Airmen play in each aspect of the fight.

“We are involved in every aspect of the CAOC which allows us to integrate information at the speed of combat,” he said. “If the enemy cannot respond as fast as we can, that means we have the advantage. We exercise a high standard and our Airmen have technological know-how to rise to those standards.”

Across the CENTCOM AOR, space professionals protect the satellite communication network to ensure intelligence personnel and combat leaders can review and exploit information in real time. Once captured, the data is sent to processing centers around the world, then reviewed, packaged and sent to leaders for planning and decision making.

At any given moment, an unblinking constellation of remotely piloted aircraft flying across the Middle East transfer intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data across a web of military satellites, transmitting approximately 50 gigabytes of information, or the equivalent of 10 DVDs, every second.

This capability allows today’s U.S. military unprecedented flexibility and immediacy never before seen in military history.

“In World War II, it could take days or weeks to determine a target and launch hundreds of bombers to drop thousands of pounds of ordnance. Then, leaders would have to wait until the planes returned and developed film to assess the strike,” said Jackson. “Today, using our space resources, we can determine a target quickly, send one pilot in a single aircraft, strike the target and know within seconds if we need to reengage.”

Jackson said this ability has directly allowed the U.S.-led coalition to lead the most accurate air campaign in history. Leveraging GPS technology, more than 90 percent of all weapons dropped strike within mere feet of the intended destination.

“Even just two years ago, the things we can do now were unthinkable,” he said. “We’ve invested a lot in research and training to increase the effectiveness of our space program and now we see it saving lives and force multiplying.”

While technological advantages empower joint and coalition forces to bring the fight to the enemy, Jackson said the space Airmen behind the scenes will continue to enable the mission across the globe.

“Our adversaries are increasingly competent in the digital campaign. We must continue to improve, increase and invest in our domination,” he said. “Technology helps, but our Airmen are critical to leveraging our capabilities and they will keep fighting.”