Colorado Springs, Colo.
– While many military space systems take years to get from the drawing board to the point where they are providing operational capabilities to troops in the field, some new capabilities are being developed over the course of a few weeks or months.
In late 2006, for example, U.S. Air Force Space Command successfully used existing technology to find a solution for boosting the accuracy of its guided munitions. Developed under the Tactical Exploitation of National Capabilities (TENCAP) program, this new technique using GPS technology paid off as soon as January 2007 when it was used in Iraq to foil the work of terrorists planting improvised explosive devices.
U.S. Air Force Col. Robert Wright, who oversees TENCAP as director of the Space Innovation and Development Center at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., intends to use TENCAP in the future as a way to improve the Air Force’s support of the Defense Department’s new Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office. And Wright says he believes the TENCAP program can help the ORS effort by concentrating on the use of existing hardware to get space services more quickly into the hands of the people who need them.
The kind of products the TENCAP program is suited to produce – rapid development of new and innovative uses of existing technology – are perfect for what has come to be known as Tier 1 of the ORS effort, which also is focused on creative use of existing technology, Wright said in an April 7 interview in his office here.
While the ORS term is most commonly associated with the concept of small satellites that can be built and launched on short notice in response to urgent military needs, Tier 1, the first option for the ORS program office, is intended to use “existing or on-station capabilities to provide highly responsive space effects through the employment/modification/revised application of existing, fielded space capabilities,” according to the
ORS report the Pentagon submitted to Congress in April 2007.
The Air Force established the TENCAP program following direction from Congress in 1977 in order to find new ways of using space systems for tactical purposes, including the use of rapidly developed prototypes, according to a Space Command fact sheet. This experience uniquely positions the TENCAP program to meet the quick turn-around, relatively inexpensive solutions of ORS Tier 1, Wright said.
Talon Namath, a program that developed a method for thwarting the planting of improvised explosive devices, involves boosting the accuracy of the GPS navigation signal used to guide small diameter bombs dropped from F-15E aircraft, Wright said.
The 2nd Space Operations Squadron at Schriever typically updates each satellite in the GPS constellation once a day with information from the ground to ensure the satellites are aware of their precise location in order to ensure accuracy of their data for users who rely on the navigation signal, according to Lt. Col. Rick Edwards, chief of the kinetic effects division at U.S. Space Command’s Space Innovation and Development Center.
Under the Talon Namath concept, the squadron provides updates every 15 minutes, boosting the signal accuracy by 25 percent, Wright said.
For some troops firing some munitions, an accuracy improvement of a few meters may not be of great interest, but in the January 2007 incident the military customer wanted the ability to hit a target on one particular side of a wall, Edwards said.
Data from the satellites
are converted into a format that the weapon system can read and then broadcast
over a secure military link, Edwards said.
The small diameter bomb, which is built by Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis and weighs 130 kilograms, is intended to reduce collateral damage through the small size of the weapon and the accuracy of its GPS guidance system.
Minimizing collateral damage was key to destroying the IED without making the road impassable because a convoy was planning to use that same road later in the day, and the U.S. forces did not want to destroy it, Edwards said. The bomb stopped the plot, killed one terrorist, and led to the capture of the other, he said.
The TENCAP program
now is looking at developing a similar capability for other military platforms, with the F-22 fighter aircraft as one likely candidate, Edwards said. Program officials are also conducting discussions with the Army about adapting this capability for use with their guided artillery systems, he said.
Wright said that he had spent significant time with Air Force Col. Kevin McLaughlin, who served until mid-April as the director of the ORS program office, helping him understand what the TENCAP program can bring to the ORS effort, and said that he expects to continue a relationship with the ORS office following McLaughlin’s departure to serve as deputy commander of the Air Force Warfare Center. Wright said he also has spoken to Lt. Gen. Mike Hamel, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, about what TENCAP can bring to ORS.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. James Pruneski, deputy director of the ORS program office, said in an April 21 interview that part of his office’s responsibility is to serve as a hub for efforts that can play a role with ORS across the military. Pruneski cited the TENCAP program as one area where his office would look for strategic partnerships to meet urgent military needs.