Beyond Advanced Training: The Bar Has Been Raised

  • Published
  • By Maj. Steve Lewis
  • Reserve National Security Space Institute
“Current, Realistic, Relevant” is my favorite mantra for education and training.  On May 2, 2015 the commander of Air Force Space Command, Gen. John E. Hyten, raised the bar even higher with a call to transform how we train our forces in order to continue to be effective in the space domain.  Ironically, I was attending the Global Positioning System Partnership Council to discuss advanced training and felt compelled to answer the call.

I am an Air Force Reserve officer currently assigned to the 310th Space Wing’s Headquarters Reserve National Security Space Institute (and have been in the Air Force for 17 years, 11 of which have been solely with GPS).  I have been blessed to work GPS operations, modernization, navigation warfare, weapons and tactics, evaluations and now education and training.  Similarly, our team of 47 reservists at the RNSSI is filled with similar stories, to include many with advanced science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees as well as depth and breadth of industry experience across the gamut of space systems.  We are all advanced graduates in our space mission areas and feel strong conviction to serve both our community and country.  Our calling is to give space professionals in AFSPC unsurpassed knowledge and skills on space systems, threats and the space environment in the contested, degraded, and operationally limited space domain.

As the HQ RNSSI Chief of the Space Curriculum Research and Development Division, I immediately put my team into action, building bridges and new curriculum alongside active duty, Reserve and contractor instructors at the Space Education and Training Center.  Knowing status quo was not an acceptable course of action, we decided to tackle advanced CDO education with elements of the live, virtual, constructive, or LVC, training model.  Without a budget, we rescued $30,000 of discarded equipment and received a generous donation of Defense Advanced GPS Receivers worth over $50,000 from the Joint Navigation Warfare Center.  We were even blessed with the opportunity to work with the Army Future Warfare Center Battlelab to build a GPS receiver that would allow us to harvest raw, live navigation and timing data.  The goal is to have the students reach a more advanced level of learning by conducting mission planning, deploy to a degraded PNT environment, conduct analysis and debrief.  We call it the GPS CDO Lab.

A key element in development of the new curriculum was academia.  We first reached out to the highly distinguished Professor Per Enge of the GPS Laboratory at Stanford University, who fielded the first ever Massive Open Online Course for GPS.  We requested the use of his distance learning materials to ensure our student base had accessible, advanced tools to baseline their knowledge base before arriving to our in residence Navigation Operations Advanced Course.  He graciously obliged, giving us a no-cost, yet advanced, training tool.  The next step was to create curriculum for the live-sky lab modules and ensure they were properly vetted.  We reached out to Professor Dennis Akos from University of Colorado, Boulder, whose research has demonstrated the ability to detect, locate and mitigate GPS spoofing through design elements in software and hardware Global Navigation Satellite System receivers.  He, along with other professors and subject matter experts reviewed the GPS CDO Lab material and offered their astute academic advice, ensuring the accuracy and raising the bar for the lesson material even further.  Five of them even volunteered their time to be guest speakers in our courses, sharing cutting edge research with future space cadre.

Curriculum development wouldn’t be complete without strong working relationships with our primary stakeholders, the 2nd Space Operations Squadron and their Reserve Associate Unit, 19th Space Operations Squadron.  Early on in the process, 2nd SOPS and 19th SOPS commanders, Lt. Col. Todd Benson and Lt. Col. Samuel Baxter, along with their subject matter expert operators, provided invaluable inputs into the development process through frequent, open communication.  The 19th SOPS even provided a team of representative students to participate in the first GPS CDO Lab trial.  With all the kinks ironed out, the lab went live in the July 2016, and in one of our student’s words, was “highly effective [at] driving home many of the [CDO] concepts.”

This advanced curriculum research and development success story has gone far beyond one lesson.  It has led to several successful branches and sequels:  Five new radio frequency signal processing and cryptography tools, a real-world GPS threat detection and mitigation development initiative, and five additional LVC lab modules in the cue aimed at other mission areas.  More importantly, this one initiative has brought together members from Space and Missile Systems Center, the Joint Navigation Warfare Center, Army Future Warfare Center, and the both the 50th and 310th Space Wings to build something bigger than any of us:  the foundation and momentum to transform how we train our people to be effective in the space domain.