Maj. Gen. William Shelton

Commander, 14th Air Force; Commander, Joint Functional Component Command for Space, U.S. Strategic Command

S hortly after taking over at U.S. Strategic Command in 2004, Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright created Joint Functional Component Commands (JFCCs) dedicated to his missions. Space was combined with another mission to create the Joint Functional Component Command for Space and Global Strike, but Cartwright elected to separate the two in July, a move that Maj. Gen. William Shelton, the new commander of the Space JFCC, says will add emphasis to both missions.

The creation of a separate JFCC for space was welcome news to some space advocates who had complained that the combination of the space and global strike missions had adversely affected the focus and priority of the space mission. Shelton says he believes the new structure will help mollify the critics — though he sidesteps the issue of whether their perception was ever reality.

Leading the JFCC for Space, which is headquartered at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, is a proud honor, Shelton said, noting that his career has primarily consisted of space jobs since his posting as a launch facilities manager and launch director at Vandenberg.

During the 29 years since that assignment, Shelton has served in a variety of space billets ranging from space shuttle flight controller at Johnson Space Center in Houston, to heading plans, requirements and operations in three separate positions as a general officer at Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The position of commander of the JFCC for Space means wearing two hats — he also is commander of the 14th Air Force. The JFCC hat puts him in the leadership of a joint organization that includes officials from the Army and Navy, whose representation could increase in the near future, Shelton said during a recent interview.

Having a joint organization for space could be helpful to the career advancement for space professionals, Shelton said. Military promotion boards look for joint experience, and finding it often requires space professionals to step outside their field. Serving in the JFCC may offer a better alternative for some of those space professionals, he said.

Shelton’s responsibilities include overseeing the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg, which he describes as the command and control center for the JFCC for Space. The center, which serves as the focal point for providing space capabilities to deployed troops, also monitors and responds to related events such as U.S. and foreign launches and atmospheric re-entries.

Shelton talked about the issues on his agenda during a recent interview with Space News staff writer Jeremy Singer.

What is your assessment of the decision to split the JFCC for
Space and Global Strike into two separate organizations?

I see it as win-win. It provides a better focus on both areas. With separate commanders accountable for each mission, it gives a finer focus for Gen. Cartwright.

The JFCC for Space and Global Strike was considered the leader of all of the JFCCs. Who has that responsibility now?

The JFCC for Global Strike Integration has the responsibility for integration – it’s in their title. They have clearly been assigned the responsibility for integrating the capabilities across Strategic Command and bringing together a course of action for Gen. Cartwright.

What is your top challenge?

With the emerging threats that we see, there is a need to go from a space surveillance mentality to a space situational awareness mentality. Surveillance is the foundation for space situational awareness. But space situational awareness also requires bringing in additional information about the space environment, intelligence data and information on the status of all [nations’] space capabilities [and activities].

Can you do this today?

It is done today, but the data is not as integrated as we would like.

How are you going to better integrate the data at your disposal?

We need systems that can better fuse the data and present it in a visual format that gives spacecraft operators a better picture of the scene in space.

How long will it take to get there?

I anticipate this will be something that is worked hard in the budget over the next several years. I see it as spiral development — we’ll get better and better.

Will this be expensive?

I’m one of those guys who is surprised by how much these things cost. But in a network centric architecture, you put the data out there so it is discoverable, and bring it into your systems and fuse it and integrate it — to me it doesn’t sound terribly expensive. But again, I’ve been surprised before.

What is the hardest part of your job?

The most difficult thing we do is maintain a focus on both our global responsibilities as well as support of the regional combatant commanders. We’re a bit stretched to support everyone around the world in space, and at the same time, stay focused on people engaged in combat. All of our users are extremely important.

That’s our challenge — to give people the support they need, when they needed it, and at the tempo they choose.

Can you give an example of the challenge involved with supporting deployed troops as well as other users around the world?

GPS is an example. During a particular operation, a commander might request that GPS accuracy in the area be increased a bit beyond the norm. We’d make sure that we did that, but we also need to pay attention to the entire constellation to make sure that worldwide users are supported as well as those in the theater.

Satellite communications are another example. There are users all over the world, but troops in combat need communications support, so priorities and resources need to be managed. It’s a bit of a challenge, and it’s a balancing act, but troops in combat get first support. Always, always.

What are some of the issues that you are working on in regard to current operations in Iraq?

We’re seeing quite a bit of interference with communications signals. A lot of it is cases where we are accidentally jamming ourselves with our own systems. We try hard to manage the frequency spectrum in the combat zone, but sometimes things happen.

We work hard to identify the cause and resolve those conflicts. I can’t go into specifics, but normally they are ground systems that are brought into the combat zone to work a specific problem, and that particular system could interfere with satellite communications, so we have to resolve the situation once we’ve identified it.

What does the Joint Space Operations Center do to support current operations?

It’s a one-stop shop for space. If a commander needs a capability from space, they know whom to call. If they have a problem with a space system, they know whom to call. It brings a closer focus to space operations. That results in a lot better space support.

There’s nothing else that we work here — we just work space — so that laser focus on that one operational area for Strategic Command will pay dividends.

What are some of the things that could improve space support to deployed troops?

We have a director of space support deployed in the Air Operations Center in Iraq right now, but I’d like to see this concept expanded to Air Operations Centers in other areas of the world as well. It gives us a place to coordinate the space support in those areas. That official — a colonel deployed by Air Force Space Command — addresses the space needs for the commanders in the area, and deals with us to deliver those capabilities.

There’s no substitute for having someone on the spot who understands the commander’s intent and can work on his problems. This is the first time that it has been used, and it’s worked successfully in Iraq thus far.

What’s on your wish-list for new space capabilities?

Space situational awareness is my No. 1 priority. It’s [Gen. Kevin] Chilton’s No. 1 priority, and Cartwright’s No. 1 priority. If there was one thing that I want to improve in space, it’s the ability to understand what happens.

As threats continue to emerge, the business of surveillance cannot be about what happened in the past. We need real time capability to understand what is going on, to understand what objects are being launched into space, and what their mission is. As soon as that launch occurs, the JFCC turns to the problem and tries to solve it as quickly as possible.

When will you be able to do this?

There is a tremendous amount of information available today that we just haven’t put together right. We haven’t integrated it, we haven’t fused it. But there are also inherent limits to some of our sensors in terms of their location.

If you look at a map of our ground-based space surveillance sensors, most are in the Northern Hemisphere. If you really want to do a better job, you need Southern Hemisphere coverage, which would allow you to see threatening objects much faster than we can today.