– As the Pentagon’s designated buyer and operator of satellites and rockets, the U.S. Air Force traditionally garners the most attention when it comes to military space activities. But when it comes to putting space-related goods and services to actual use on the battlefield, the U.S. Army plays as big a role as anyone.
Col. Tim Coffin, commander of the Army’s 1st Space Brigade, says the responsibility for ensuring that
forces are able to take advantage of the full range of space capabilities typically rests with experts within his service. The 1st Space Brigade also plays a key role in enabling troops to use services from commercial satellites, Coffin said during a Jan. 11 interview.
Army space experts have been working closely with the other military services, particularly the Marine Corps, in recent years, a trend that is likely to grow in the future, Coffin said. As it seeks to meet the growing demand for space-based information from other services as well as its own troops, the Army is increasingly turning to its National Guard and reserve components, he said. These forces are as well-trained and versed in space capabilities as those on active duty, he added.
The Army established the 1st Space Brigade at Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC),
, in October 2005. Its origins date back to the first Gulf War, when the Army deployed experts to the theater to train troops in the use of GPS equipment.
The training was expanded to support satellite communications during operations in the 1990s. The 1st Space Brigade was created in recognition of the growing demand from deployed forces for increasingly capable space-related services, Coffin said.
The 1st Space Brigade now handles a variety of duties across the space spectrum, including providing commanders with data from the Defense Support Program missile warning satellites, controlling the payloads aboard the Defense Satellite Communications System satellites, and supplying troops with relevant commercial satellite imagery, according to an Army fact sheet.
The 1st Space Brigade can share the commercial satellite imagery with allied forces and relief organizations because these pictures are not classified and thus are not saddled with the handling and security constraints that apply to photos taken by the Pentagon’s secret spy satellites, Coffin said. Commercial satellite imagery has helped relief workers in
and elsewhere avoid minefields, find fresh water and plan locations for relief camps, he said.
The 1st Space Brigade can tailor the teams it deploys to the needs of commanders in theater, Coffin said. The brigade can send forward a large team, or just a few experts depending on what a commander needs, he said.
One of the key tasks for the Army space experts is to help troops deal with disruptions to their space capabilities, Coffin said. While the Iraqi military attempted to jam GPS satellite navigation signals during the initial phase of fighting there in 2003, most satellite-service disruptions today are self-inflicted, Coffin said. Typically they involve signal interference caused by a variety of radios carried by troops or mounted aboard vehicles in the theater of operations, he said.
One of the more important and challenging space issues for the Army is ensuring that troops have access to satellite communications.
The Army Space Master Plan, approved Nov. 17 by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, calls for the service to plan for a “prioritized migration” of satellite communications users from commercial to military-owned spacecraft for sending “mission-critical data.”
At the same time, the document said the overwhelming demand for bandwidth from military satellites, coupled with deployment delays on next-generation military systems, means the Army will need to find “innovative solutions” to meet its satellite communications needs, including a likely increase in the use of commercial services.
Coffin said the Army is fortunate to have an officer at the top of SMDC who is intimately familiar with space issues. Commanders often have come to SMDC without prior space experience, he said.
That is not the case with Lt. Gen. Kevin Campbell, who took command at SMDC Dec. 18.
previously served as chief of staff at U.S. Strategic Command and director of plans at U.S. Space Command, allowing him to hit the ground running at SMDC with knowledge of the subject matter and a solid working relationship with Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, commander of Strategic Command, Coffin said.