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CHIPS Articles: New Army space unit streamlining satellite communication missions

New Army space unit streamlining satellite communication missions
By Sean Kimmons, Army News Service - September 13, 2019
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- In just 1.5 seconds, Soldiers can bounce a communications link off a satellite 23,000 miles in space down to a warfighter halfway around the world.

To better streamline these link requests from across the Defense Department, the Army officially stood up a task force in May to consolidate its satellite communication missions ahead of U.S. Space Command's activation last month.

Now supporting the new unified combatant command, Task Force Eagle has combined the efforts of the Army Space and Missile Defense Command's 53rd Signal Battalion and G-6 SATCOM directorate.

Today, the budding task force has about 500 personnel and will grow to 675 within the next three to five years, making it the Army's only SATCOM brigade.

"By bringing them together we can fully use the various but complementary skillsets to ensure seamless SATCOM support to the warfighter, and ensure unity of command," said Col. Tonri Brown, task force commander.

The task force includes signal Soldiers who operate five Wideband SATCOM Operations Centers, or WSOCs, that provide global transmissions and payload control of the Wideband Global SATCOM constellation -- the military's foundational secure communication network -- and of the legacy Defense Satellite Communications System constellation.

The WGS constellation can process more than 3.6 gigabits per second of data for strategic and tactical users -- 10 times more than the previous system.

Task Force Eagle also includes civilians in the G-6 directorate who provide strategic oversight of narrowband and wideband satellite missions, in addition to Regional SATCOM Support Centers that plan satellite access requests.

"We receive those satellite access requests from the foxhole to the president of the United States," Brown said.

While their missions for the most part will not change, one of the task force's goals is to reduce redundancy and bureaucracy in those operations.

"The task force is able to provide efficiency in reporting and also command and oversight that has been lacking in the past," said Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Dawson, first sergeant of the unit's Headquarters and Headquarters Company.

The advantages of placing all the stakeholders into one unit has already trickled down to troops on the battlefield, giving them better and more efficient coverage, he said.

"A benefit that I've seen is that it empowers the commanders under the philosophy of mission command to really have an influence on the Soldiers, the mission and the equipment that they're responsible for," he said.

Mission command is also used within the task force, which has much of its forces spread out across the world.

"We have some very smart personnel, Soldiers and civilians, at each level of Task Force Eagle," Brown said. "I provide them with my priorities and vision and they're able to go out and execute. <>

"Everyone here wants to be a part of the team, so they're motivated to support the mission."

As part of the job, the task force strives to further help American troops by learning more about the U.S. military's capabilities in the space domain as well as those of near-peer adversaries.

"Space is important because it is going to be the premier warfighting domain of the next big conflict," Dawson said. <>

Soldiers have even come up with new tactics and procedures within the domain by finding other ways to use technology that originally had a single purpose.

"Every day they're coming up with new strategies and new techniques to combat the enemy and gain superiority in the space domain," Dawson said. <>

Another effort is building up the task force's Battalion SATCOM Operations Center, or BSOC, at Fort Carson, which will serve as a help desk for the WSOCs located around the world.

Sgt. Chayse Burns, a 23-year-old satellite network coordinator, will be one of the Soldiers manning the battalion BSOC when it comes online.

The new role means more responsibility for Burns and allows the commander to focus on higher-level strategic missions.

"We're taking a few of the roles and responsibilities from that SATCOM directorate so that we can have [more situational awareness of] our WSOCs," he said, "and pretty much have a little bit more control over our mission."

Before that can happen, Staff Sgt. Adam Koppenhaver, the task force's training and evaluations NCOIC, is helping Soldiers get trained up for the new mission.

"We're taking on roles from a higher echelon and with that comes additional training, documents, doctrine," he said. "We have to put everything in line to ensure that when we go forth with everything that it's 100 percent."

That's crucial, Koppenhaver said, because for many Soldiers in combat, satellites are their only option to transmit secured messages.

"Space is important mainly because it [provides that beyond line-of-sight] communications in the Army," he said. "Due to the increased length in distance our warfighters are at, you can't always use radios, you can't use those troposphere communications. You have to go up and beyond.

"We don't want to lead them astray. We want to make sure it's right."

For more information, visit:
Army Futures Command
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Soldiers from 53rd Signal Battalion perform duties on the operation floor inside the Wideband Satellite Communications Operations Center in Fort Meade, Md. In May, the Army Space and Missile Defense Command stood up Task Force Eagle to consolidate its SATCOM missions, including the signal battalion, ahead of U.S. Space Command's activation last month. (Photo Credit: Carrie Campbell)
Soldiers from 53rd Signal Battalion perform duties on the operation floor inside the Wideband Satellite Communications Operations Center in Fort Meade, Md. In May, the Army Space and Missile Defense Command stood up Task Force Eagle to consolidate its SATCOM missions, including the signal battalion, ahead of U.S. Space Command's activation last month. (Photo Credit: Carrie Campbell)

Satellite dishes can be seen at the Wideband Satellite Communications Operations Center at Fort Meade, Md. In May, the Army Space and Missile Defense Command stood up Task Force Eagle to consolidate its SATCOM missions ahead of U.S. Space Command's activation last month. (Photo Credit: Carrie Campbell)
Satellite dishes can be seen at the Wideband Satellite Communications Operations Center at Fort Meade, Md. In May, the Army Space and Missile Defense Command stood up Task Force Eagle to consolidate its SATCOM missions ahead of U.S. Space Command's activation last month. (Photo Credit: Carrie Campbell)

Soldiers from 53rd Signal Battalion perform maintenance on a modernized enterprise terminal inside a radome at the Wideband Satellite Communications Operations Center on Okinawa, Japan. In May, the Army Space and Missile Defense Command stood up Task Force Eagle to consolidate its SATCOM missions, including the signal battalion, ahead of U.S. Space Command's activation last month. (Photo Credit: Carrie Campbell)
Soldiers from 53rd Signal Battalion perform maintenance on a modernized enterprise terminal inside a radome at the Wideband Satellite Communications Operations Center on Okinawa, Japan. In May, the Army Space and Missile Defense Command stood up Task Force Eagle to consolidate its SATCOM missions, including the signal battalion, ahead of U.S. Space Command's activation last month. (Photo Credit: Carrie Campbell)

A radome can be seen at the Wideband Satellite Communications Operations Center on Okinawa, Japan. In May, the Army Space and Missile Defense Command stood up Task Force Eagle to consolidate its SATCOM missions, including the signal battalion, ahead of U.S. Space Command's activation last month. (Photo Credit: Carrie Campbell)
A radome can be seen at the Wideband Satellite Communications Operations Center on Okinawa, Japan. In May, the Army Space and Missile Defense Command stood up Task Force Eagle to consolidate its SATCOM missions, including the signal battalion, ahead of U.S. Space Command's activation last month. (Photo Credit: Carrie Campbell)

Soldiers from 53rd Signal Battalion inside the Wideband Satellite Communications Operations Center on Okinawa, Japan. In May, the Army Space and Missile Defense Command stood up Task Force Eagle to consolidate its SATCOM missions, including the signal battalion, ahead of U.S. Space Command's activation last month. (Photo Credit: Carrie Campbell)
Soldiers from 53rd Signal Battalion inside the Wideband Satellite Communications Operations Center on Okinawa, Japan. In May, the Army Space and Missile Defense Command stood up Task Force Eagle to consolidate its SATCOM missions, including the signal battalion, ahead of U.S. Space Command's activation last month. (Photo Credit: Carrie Campbell)
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