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Space shapes today's front lines

Staff Sgt Cristina Kavanagh and 1st Lt. Tanya Frazier provide space-based theater ballistic warning to U.S. forces in the Southwest Asia theater from the Combat Operations Space Cell inside the Combined Air Operations Center. They also run Global Positioning Satellite predictions to ensure GPS accuracy and support combat search and rescue missions when necessary via space support. Sergeant Kavanagh is a space duty technician from Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., and Lieutenant Frazier is a space duty officer from F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Scott Wagers)

Staff Sgt Cristina Kavanagh and 1st Lt. Tanya Frazier provide space-based theater ballistic warning to U.S. forces in the Southwest Asia theater from the Combat Operations Space Cell inside the Combined Air Operations Center. They also run Global Positioning Satellite predictions to ensure GPS accuracy and support combat search and rescue missions when necessary via space support. Sergeant Kavanagh is a space duty technician from Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., and Lieutenant Frazier is a space duty officer from F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Scott Wagers)

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- Its existence is only acknowledged by its absence. It doesn't attract attention, yet it changes our behavior. It is there without asking; thus it is often taken for granted. Theater space operators put the power of space at the fingertips of warfighters.

"We are combat integrators," said Maj. Troy Endicott of the Combined Air Operations Center director of space forces staff. "We take space down that last tactical mile."

Space assets typically provided strategic surveillance behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. A little more than a decade later, theater space operators use space assets to support a range of tactical missions including communications, navigation, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance: keys to victory for today's war fighter.

"Today, space is a critical integrator and enabler on the modern battlefield and the operators are not just Airmen," Major Endicott said.

At the division level or higher, about 90 Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines work to integrate space at the operational and tactical levels of war.

"This group of theater space specialists operates at key echelons to merge space into combat operations and strengthen coordination between theater and global space organizations," Major Endicott said.

The Combined Air Operations Center in Southwest Asia is the primary command and control node for theater space operations. More than a dozen space professionals, including the director of space forces, work in the strategy, the planning and the operations divisions to integrate space at all levels.

"We contribute to (the war on terrorism) by providing GPS satellite navigational accuracy to precision weapons," said Staff Sgt. Cristina Kavanagh, a CAOC space duty technician, deployed from Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. "We also run GPS predictions for resupply missions which use air drop systems such as JPADS (joint precision aerial delivery system) to precisely airdrop supplies at forward-operating bases."

The supplies are critical to the warfighters on the frontlines. Space also lends a hand in protecting and rescuing warfighters in need by listening for survival radios to help locate injured or missing personnel.

"We must be faithful to our fallen comrades," Sergeant Kavanagh said. "(We also must) warn and protect American and coalition forces and innocent bystanders from missile threats."

The director of space forces is the senior space advisor to the Combined Forces Air Component commander and executes the CFACC's day-to-day theater space coordination duties.

The director advises the CFACC on space employment and how to integrate space into the CAOC processes from drafting operations plans to detailing space effects in specific tasking orders. He also works to strengthen theater space coordination and planning across all U.S. Central Command components and task forces.

To do this, they integrate new technologies, like the Talon NAMATH GPS enhancement system, that have a direct contribution to the warfighters on the ground. The Talon NAMATH system is employed with the Air Force's newest precision weapon, the guided bomb unit-39 or small diameter bomb.

"Talon NAMATH boosts the bomb's accuracy, thereby reducing the chance for collateral damage," Major Endicott said.

Theater space professionals have made great strides to deliver space effects to forces throughout operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.

"By coordinating all joint theater space operations and integrating space into the fight, we are establishing the precedence on how space effects will be provided to U.S. and coalition forces for the next decade," said Col. Jay Raymond, the director of space forces.