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Space Invaders Converge Upon Nellis Schools

Space Invaders Converge Upon Nellis Schools

By Staff Sgt. Eric Grill, Air Force Print News.

Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada -- March 9, 2001 (AFPN) -- Most people know the Nevada and Nellis bombing ranges as huge open areas that fighters and bombers use to hone their warfighting skills, training against mock enemies and destroying simulated targets.

An example of the imagery satellites can provide: A base in Central America with aircraft pinpointed.

Photo courtesy of Air Force Space Command

One of the last things one may think these vast ranges need is space. However, it is not space as in more land, but as in above the Earth that has slowly invading this air world.

Satellites gather key intelligence in peacetime or war. Two entities here, the U.S. Air Force Weapons School and Red Flag, teach pilots and weapons officers just how space assets can be used to their advantage while accomplishing the mission and saving lives.

The Air Force incorporates space-based intelligence gathering into its aircrew training, both at the beginner and intermediate levels during Red Flag exercises, and at the advanced level at the weapons school's weapons instructor courses.

While the weapons school has been around for almost 51 years, the Air Force started the Space WIC in 1996 in response to the growing importance of space in warfare, said Lt. Col. Greg Chapman, commander of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School space division. The school transforms space and missile operations instructors into weapons officers whose primary role is to integrate space at the operational level of war.

The skills that intelligence and space officers bring to the fight are invaluable, Chapman said.

Chapman is uniquely qualified to say that -- he started his career in the Air Force as a Weapon Systems Officer flying F-4 Phantoms, and then during Operation Desert Storm he flew F-111 Aardvarks, before transferring into the space and missile career field.

The weapons school takes good aircrew, intelligence, and space systems instructors from the base level and makes them "into the best instructors in their weapons systems," Chapman said.

Before space and missile officers attend the weapons instructors' course, they have five different missions they specialize in -- missiles; satellite operations; spacelift; missile warning; and surveillance. Most space officers who attend the WIC only have experience with two of those diverse areas, Chapman said.

Students of the course take weapons school core academics to broaden their range and knowledge of combat air forces flying operations. "This is followed by space core academics designed to bring varied backgrounds and expertise represented by the members of the class up to a level playing field," Chapman said.

The result of this incorporation is more effective combat operations and even saving peoples lives, Chapman said. A prime example is the rescue of the downed F-117 Nighthawk and F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots in Kosovo during Operation Allied Force in 1999.

Because space weapons officers are knowledgeable in both space and combat air forces aircraft operations, they were able to facilitate real-time communications, intelligence and other operations, which saved time in rescuing the pilots, Chapman said.

The expectations for all officers who attend the weapons school are extremely high, Chapman said.

"But the reward for those attending the Space WIC is two fold," he said. "First, graduates gain a robust understanding of virtually all space capabilities, limitations, and employment considerations, something the normal space operator would need an entire career to obtain. Second, and here's the real payoff, the Air Force gains officers who understand both air and space, and can integrate space for more effective combat operations."

While the WIC is designed to turn Air Force company grade officers into world-class instructors, Red Flags are realistic combat training exercises involving the air forces of the United States and its allies. Red Flag is designed to increase aircrew survival by getting inexperienced fighter pilots through their first 10 combat missions.

Red Flag was brought online because of unacceptable loss rates of Air Force aircrews in Vietnam. In the Korean War, Air Force aircrews maintained a 6-to-1-kill ratio. During Vietnam, the kill ratio dropped to almost 1-to-1.

Most of the aircraft and people deployed here for Red Flag make up the exercise's "blue" forces. These forces use various tactics to attack Nellis range targets such as mock airfields, vehicle convoys, tanks, parked aircraft, bunkered defensive positions and missile sites. These targets are defended by a variety of simulated ground and air threats to give aircrews the most realistic combat training possible.

To help with these "threats," blue forces are exploiting space technology.

Space exploitation allows for real-time space-derived information, including ground threats against aircrew and target imagery to be displayed directly to a pilot's cockpit.

The Space Warfare Center, Det. 1, here, provides the space-derived images, weather support, navigation and communications information to interested aircrews that participate in Red Flag exercises.

"Having current, relevant intelligence has always been a key to military success, said Master Sgt. Kurt Reynolds, Det. 1 superintendent. "We in the space operations world must be able to track satellite locations and forecast overflight for any theater of operations. This includes U.S. systems as well as the those of other countries."

During actual mission execution, space systems make it possible to detect and report the changing threat environment to enhance mission accomplishment and combat search and rescue efforts.

The space support systems in place at Nellis assist Red Flag participants "to better evaluate their threat environment so they get the most realistic training short of going to combat," said Capt. Bryan Persohn, Det. 1 commander.

"It's important to incorporate all possible contributors into the fight," Persohn said. "Space-based systems complement air-breather information," so decision-makers can make the most informed decision on how to neutralize a threat.

"Sometimes, our satellites are able to immediately relay battle damage assessment information back to the mission planners," Reynolds said. "They need to know if a target was struck or not, and what impact it may have on the enemy."

Reynolds said the detachment here provides an imbedded space presence that is available to the fighter and bomber communities for the taking.

"We're able to produce space products and ensure mission planners for Red Flag exercises are learning to incorporate the space intelligence concepts into their daily activities," Reynolds said. "Ultimately, the reason (the detachment) is here is to improve and enhance the survivability and lethality of our combat air forces."

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).