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Space Executive Course Provides Pinpoint Space Education For Leaders

Dr. Janet Fender is the chief scientist at Air Combat Command. She praised the senior level Space Operations Course for the way it encourages senior leaders to think about space in relation to their operational needs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ed White)
by Ed White
Colorado Springs CO (SPX) Feb 18, 2008
Until recently, many senior military and civilian leaders in the Department of Defense faced a dilemma regarding their understanding of space. There were no classes available to teach them the basics quickly and effectively.

"We saw the need and designed the Space Operations Executive-level Course," said Col. David Jones, commandant of the National Space Security Institute here. "At first it was solely for U.S. personnel but when our Allies heard of it they wanted to be able to attend as well. The process took some time, with the result that in 2007 the class opened up to Australian, British and Canadian forces."

The latest upgrade to the course is that it became mobile last summer. There is an "away team" of instructors who travel to a site and administer the course. It went to the Pentagon last year to brief members of the Air Staff. The Navy is also very interested in this concept. This user-friendly approach has been critical to getting busy leaders up to speed on space basics and related issues.

"The impacts of the one-day class for senior-level executives of the U.S. and our mission partners can be huge," Colonel Jones added. "The SOC-E is an overview that brings together military and civilian senior leaders and offers them the opportunity to learn or refresh themselves on space operations, the space environment, orbital mechanics, space law, satellite communications, Global Positioning System, the National

Reconnaissance Office, space-based missile warning and space control, just to name a few.

"The real benefit of the class is that it is short, easily digestible and gives the attendees lots of things to think about. It gives them a new appreciation for space capabilities and what they bring to the fight." said Col. Jones.

The most recent class, held in late January, was an international course held at the NSSI facility. It was the first time a Canadian service member attended the class.

The class addresses space at the most senior level and it gives the attendees information they need to help them plan for future operations. It also reminds them that space systems could become vulnerable and encourages them to think about what that means to their operations.

Canadian Air Force Brig. Gen. Yvan Blondin, deputy commander for force generation of the 1st Air Division, Canadian Air Force explained the usefulness of the course to him.

"In the last 30 years, most of the technologies used by our air forces have come to rely heavily on data from space," said General Blondin. "We don't even see the space connection any more. It is just there. The result is that we don't get into the details of how space works to support us. We need to get back to basics: how space is there, why it is there, and what happens if we lose it."

For General Blondin there is a large human element involved in getting back to basics.

"It was my generation that went from not having (space) to having it," he said. "The current generation has a different view. It has always been there for them and they take it for granted. We need this information to take our younger generation back to basics, so they won't assume space will always be there to support them."

One shared concern of all the attendees is the vulnerabilities of space systems. Group Capt. Stephen Cook, Australian Exchange Officer to the National Space Security Office in Washington, D. C., praised the course as a good introduction to current space operational capabilities.

"Space is ubiquitous in everyday life. Our military needs assured access to space to conduct operations. This course gives a good understanding of the vulnerabilities of our systems as well as how to mitigate them," Group Captain Cook said.

One additional value of the course is in making contacts with other senior leaders. Dr. Janet Fender is the chief scientist at Air Combat Command. Her concerns for space are operational.

"ACC needs to be able to do continuous operations," she said. "This course has gotten us thinking about specific tactics, techniques and procedures for contingencies when we may have lost a space system or systems."

"The small class size is also a fabulous opportunity because it encourages continued discussion among the students," she added.

Like any other good thing, the more of it people get, the more they want.

"Our Allies and coalition partners want more access to this information. Countries like Australia and India have expressed a strong interest in the "away team" concept, and we even got a call from Israel," Colonel Jones said.

According to Colonel Jones, the expansion of interest in space education is one clear indicator of the importance of space to military operations worldwide.

"The NSSI staff remains agile and mobile in the effort to bring space education to the force," Colonel Jones said. "This makes NSSI both a center of gravity and a center of excellence for space education within the DoD and among our nation's allies and friends.

"We are the go-to guys of space education," he added.

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