December 29, 2016 – The 2nd Space Warning Squadron at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado, is on constant watch for heat signatures across the globe. Rapidly responding, these Airmen are able to detect missile activity anywhere on the planet and send the information up their chain of command.
“What we do for missile warning is unrivaled,” said Capt. Austen Bryan, 2nd SWS flight commander of operation support. “There are capabilities out there that can accomplish parts of what we do, but from a whole system concept, nobody even comes close to us.”
In June of this year, to enhance their capabilities even further, the mission operations were transferred to the Block 10. Block 10 is a new ground system that brings Space-Based Infrared System, Geostationary Orbit, Highly Elliptical Orbit and Defense Support Program satellites together.
Not only has the process become faster, but with all the raw data now coming into one ground system, the quality of the data is significantly enhanced.
“This is the greatest compilation of an advanced ground system and infrared sensors that any nation has ever achieved,” stated Lt. Col. April Wimmer, 2nd SWS commander.
The 460th Space Wing’s involvement with the new system began in early 2014 with a crawl-walk-run approach. A small cadre of individuals was sent to Type 1 training, where the contractor who built the system trained them on how to operate it.
After completing their training, the individuals returned to Buckley to form initial trainings, evaluations and operations.
Over a six to eight month period, a series of events were used to demonstrate their ability to use the system.
“We transferred one DSP satellite from the operations floor to the Block 10 floor and validated our capability to command and control DSP,” stated Wimmer. “Next we did one GEO, then one HEO.”
From there, multiple DSPs, HEOs, GEOs and combinations of the satellites were built to further verify their ability to exercise command and control before returning it to the operational floor.
Finally, the 2nd SWS built all DSPs at once, all HEOs and all GEOs; they built to full constellation control.
In March, the command and control of the entire SBIRS constellation was transferred to the Block 10 floor permanently and in June, the mission operations were transferred.
After transferring over to the Block 10 floor, 2nd SWS entered a five month trial period. During this period, the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center was conducting tests, evaluations and collecting data.
With the new ground system in effect, the workload for the Airmen has changed significantly.
In the beginning, they were running two operation floors simultaneously which put a tremendous workload on the unit. Additionally, the length of their shifts had increased.
“We went from a five crew construct on eight-hour shifts to a four crew construct working 12-hour shifts,” said Bryan. “We now work four consecutive days of day shifts, which is 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., have four days off, and then work four days of mid-shifts from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.”
Now, with longer shifts, they were expected to learn an entirely new system.
“The engineers had to learn engineering for completely new satellites, the orbital analyst had to learn how to conduct orbital operations for GEO and HEO and the ground schedulers developed procedures for scheduling a constellation that increased enormously in magnitude,” said Wimmer.“Having the entire constellation in one location is much more demanding on the operations crew.”
With a mix of both new and seasoned space professionals, the men and women of the 2nd SWS and the 460th Space Wing have worked together to overcome any challenges this new system had thrown their way.
“We’re asking men and women, who are around twenty years old, to accomplish really high-responsibility jobs,” said Bryan. “It’s been impressive to see them accept this new challenge without much experience and continue to accomplish it so successfully.”
Since the beginning of Block 10, these Airmen have been working tirelessly to maximize the system’s potential. Every day, they continue to learn, develop and deliver better warning to those in harm’s way.
Although the current ability of Block 10 is certain, members of the 2nd SWS are looking forward to seeing where it takes them in the future.
“I am extremely excited about the future of Buckley and the capabilities that this new system brings,” stated Wimmer. “Together with Space and Missile Systems Center, we are working to find new ways to use the data of the sensors to contribute to the defense of the nation, battlespace awareness and technical intelligence. I think you will see many revolutionary uses of Overhead Persistent Infrared Data (OPIR) coming out of Buckley in the years to come.”