Mastering space

Lt. Col. Gregory Karahalis is the 50th Operations Group deputy commander at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Lt. Col. Gregory Karahalis is the 50th Operations Group deputy commander at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. (U.S. Air Force photo)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Those who were present for the Air Force Space Command briefing on the Space Mission Force concept this past January will likely agree that at the time, they didn't see it coming or all that has transpired since.  This is a cryptic way of observing that we in the operations group have had to adjust to a completely new way of thinking about how our crews operate, how we train them and how to prepare for an increasingly uncertain future in space.  These changes will, in time, affect the rest of the wing, 14th Air Force and the Department of Defense.

On Oct. 1, the space operations squadrons of the 50th Operations Group reorganized themselves to prepare for the transition to the Space Mission Force.   Operations group members have been hard at work creating new training plans that we intend to provide our space operators, engineers and cyber professionals shortly after Feb. 1.  With this new training, we will challenge our crews with instruction and hands-on simulation that will force us to reconsider everything we've done for decades, and then develop new tactics for an uncertain space operations future.  In addition to training, our crew organization has changed to reflect the new SMF paradigm, too.  Our crews are now combined with a designated team of mission planners who provide technical analysis and work directly for the mission commanders.  We see this change creating a more agile, better trained, warfighting-focused ops team that is prepared for a potentially dangerous space environment.  As you might expect, this is a lot of hard work we have to do now, that we need to do fast, and be smart about.

The Space Mission Force effort isn't everything.  The 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron is at the forefront of validating ways to automate much of the common commanding that has been the bread and butter of the 50th Space Wing for so long.  They have so far been able to reduce to a single shift per day.  With each success we will be able to refocus our energy on defending the worldwide effects we provide the warfighter; which is a different set of tasks from simply flying satellites.  Key to this effort will be the eventual delivery of a single ground system for our entire constellation.  Like Space Mission Force, this idea opens the door for entirely new ways of organizing, training and operating our satellites.  We must steer our efforts of the Space Mission Force to prepare for this eventual future.

I've long maintained the core space disciplines of the 50th--environmental monitoring, position, navigation and timing, satellite communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance--represent enduring capabilities AFSPC has for decades and will continue to provide our nation.  There's a new mission that is quickly becoming an enduring capability--space-based space surveillance.  Like a cop walking a beat, the satellites of 1st Space Operations Squadron stare into deep space looking for signs of trouble.  The shift this represents is hard to overstate.  We're now able to monitor thousands of objects more frequently and with greater clarity than the ground-based space surveillance systems we've had for decades.  We are opening up new possibilities with this capability almost every day, and this fact is challenging our assumptions about how we operate.

The 50 OG is comprehensively rethinking everything: from our people and how they are trained and employed, the tactics they use and systems they execute them on and myriad new capabilities in orbit. We are now set for a massive shift in space operations.  The disruption this will cause is arguably the greatest change in how we think about space and cyber operations in the history of space command and you are here to be a part of the revolution.  I'm incredibly impressed with the hard work, commitment and creativity that has gotten us to today, and I'm really looking forward to all you will do in the coming years.