Leading the Way

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- For the past 18 months, I have had the honor of leading the most unique squadron I have encountered during my career.  I have been continually amazed at the hand-chosen Airmen accomplishing such a diverse range of tasks to directly support the 460th Space Wing mission - Persistent Global Surveillance.  With such a distinctive squadron mission, I have also witnessed a great deal of unfamiliarity with the 460th Operations Support Squadron duties and responsibilities.  This article is intended to inform the wing community of the absolutely critical role played by the OSS - and to brag a bit on this awesome squadron!

The 460th OSS accomplishes five basic functions: operational training of Space Based Infrared System crewmember and instructor personnel, leading SBIRS weapons, tactics, and exercise participation, crew force management and scheduling, integrating SBIRS into Missile Defense Agency programs, and future planning for emerging overhead persistent infrared capabilities.  The 460th OSS is different from most Air Force squadrons, as a deep technical knowledge of the wing's operational mission is required to effectively accomplish this variety of operations support.  Furthermore, the 460th OSS, unlike typical operations support squadrons, does not control airfield operations, and is different from most Air Force Space Command operations support squadrons in that it only supports a single operational mission.  The squadron performs these wide-ranging tasks with only about 60 active duty Airman, eight reservists, and four foreign mission partners.  Most importantly, and due to the enormous impact on the mission, almost all personnel are hand-selected from the operational squadrons: the 2nd Space Warning Squadron and the 8th Space Warning Squadron, based on their demonstrated excellence in conducting SBIRS operations.

The most commonly known and talked about change coming to the 460th SW is the upgrade of SBIRS to the Block 10 ground system configuration - the consolidation of all space system command and control and mission data processing to a single operations center.  The OSS has been at the forefront of this momentous transformation, providing the first instructors to learn the new system from the contractors, then standing up a new training program to conduct training for all future SBIRS operators.  Despite this significant effort towards Block 10, the OSS must simultaneously continue to support the 460th SW number one priority:  SBIRS Increment 1 training. This must be done until the AFSPC commander operationally accepts Block 10 in late 2016 and legacy operations can conclude.  In addition to training, all other aspects of operations support - weapons and tactics, and crew force management and scheduling - have also been stood up within the OSS.  Compounding the pressure of bringing a new space system online, the OSS was also delivered a new training system with Block 10 - the SBIRS Standardized Space Trainer.  This trainer is completely different from the legacy trainer so instructors must learn how to operate it while identifying needed improvements to enable full-fidelity training.  

In addition to transitioning to Block 10 training, the OSS will expand its training function in 2016 with SBIRS Initial Qualification Training.  With IQT, transferring from Air Education and Training Command to AFSPC, space wings now have cradle-to-grave responsibility for training all operations personnel.  All new officer and enlisted accessions destined for SBIRS operations will still complete Undergraduate Space Training at Vandenberg AFB, but then attend a combined SBIRS Initial/Mission Qualification Training exclusively at Buckley AFB. Space mission area cross-trainees who have previously attended UST will directly PCS to Buckley AFB and enter the new I/MQT.  Most OSS instructors have never taught a fundamental, technical course like IQT, so planning is underway to provide additional instructor skill training to ensure effective training.      
While leading the training and other operations support functions for a major system upgrade, bringing on line a new training suite, and expanding qualification training may seem like monumental efforts, the most significant task facing the OSS has not yet fully arrived.  AFSPC has begun implementing a fundamental change to how space system personnel are prepared and trained to operate their systems in "contested, degraded, and operationally-limited" environments, basically shifting to operating space systems in a warfighting domain.  According to the Honorable Deborah Lee James, Secretary of the Air Force "We need to change our thinking in order to confront the threat of a possible conflict that one day could extend into space."1  The Space Mission Force / Ready Spacecrew Program directs space wings to both organize and posture their forces in a warfighting manner similar to how other Air Force units deploy to provide combat effects for combatant commanders and transform training to increase the proficiency and resiliency of space operators through the formalization of advanced, threat-based training.  The OSS will once again be out front by guiding development of the 460th SW implementation plan for this historic initiative and constructing the advanced training curriculum and operational readiness campaign necessary to prepare SBIRS for combat.

SBIRS operations and the broader, overhead persistent infrared mission area will continue to evolve dramatically over the next two years.  The 460 OSS, while remaining small but influential, will remain predominantly at the center of it all and will continue to Lead the Way!