Space Command’s New Way of Training

Feb. 1, 1997

When Air Force Space Command was given control of USAF’s intercontinental ballistic missile force, it took a logical step and combined the training of ICBMs and space units—the command’s two operational elements. The command wants to breed future leaders who have experience in both missions.

Once a new officer completes the 10-week basic course in space and missile operations, he or she is permitted to choose from a list of available assignments, based on class standing. When the choice has been made, the new officer goes through more intensive initial training in missile operations, satellite operations, or space surveillance.

Lt. Col. Terence Tallent is deputy commander of the 381st Space and Missile Training Group, Vandenberg AFB, Calif., which handles AFSPC training. Getting experience in space and missile functions, he said, “is very much the way to go now.” He added, “As a matter of fact, in just a short number of years, we hopefully won’t have ‘missile officers’ or ‘space officers.’ They will be ‘space and missile.’ “

Vandenberg is now the home of all Initial Qualification Training (IQT) and recurrent training for space and missile functions for both officers and enlisted members.

Air Education and Training Command oversees and conducts this training, as it does with the Air Force’s aviation elements. AETC’s 381st Space and Missile Training Group comprises four separate training squadrons. They cover missile operations (392d Training Squadron), ballistic and cruise missile maintenance (532d TRS), space surveillance and missile warning (533d TRS), and satellite operations (534th TRS).

The Basic Course

In addition to giving instruction in basic missile operations, the 392d TRS is also the first stop for all officers joining the AFSPC work force. The squadron teaches the 10-week introduction to space and missile operations, called Undergraduate Space and Missile Training (USMT).

The course is designed to give new officers a foundation in AFSPC’s entire mission. All brand-new accessions—second lieutenants and occasionally a first lieutenant or captain—go through the USMT program at the 392d TRS.

In 1993, AFSPC took over the nuclear missile mission from Air Combat Command. Brig. Gen. (Maj. Gen. selectee) Gerald F. Perryman, Jr., now the director of Operations at AFSPC, was a missile operations division chief at ACC. He said that he got the chance to work the changeover and bring space and missiles “together as one team,” at least the officer portion.

“I sat down with [AFSPC] folks at Keesler [AFB, Miss.], and . . . one of the earliest things we did was come up with the idea for a common basic training, which turned out to be USMT, from which weapon system–specific courses would flow,” General Perryman said. “Our superiors bought the concept.”

Before that time, USAF had conducted undergraduate space training at Lowry AFB, Colo., and undergraduate ICBM training at Vandenberg, which had both ICBM launch facilities and space-launch facilities. Lowry’s training functions were relocated after it was added to the base closure lists.

The USMT course is basic but not a breeze. Competition among students is rigorous, especially since AFSPC launched its merit assignment program in October 1995.

“Merit assignments are something the flying portion of our Air Force has been doing for some time,” said General Perryman. He said that students get their choice—consistent with the needs of the Air Force—based on their class standing. About two weeks before graduation from USMT, the students have the opportunity to look at the Air Force’s needs and their own ranking. Then, the General said, “assignments are made in an open forum.”

“What that does is cause the students to pay attention—causing them to work harder,” he said.

Gen. Joseph W. Ashy, USAF (Ret.), former AFSPC commander, initiated the merit approach, contending it was one more way to emphasize the operational nature of the command.

General Perryman observed that the top graduates do not always opt for sunny climates or beautiful vistas. “You’ll find that some of the missile bases [on the US high plains] and places like Thule [AB, Greenland, for space surveillance] have drawn the top grad” over the years.

A Good First Step

Though space is a growth field, USMT students do not automatically choose space jobs. The end of the Cold War reduced the emphasis on the Air Force’s strategic nuclear missile force, but many graduates still see the missile field as a good first step. About two-thirds of the available jobs are in missiles and a third are in space.

General Perryman acknowledged that the top graduates typically go off to the space side. However, he said, future leaders must be familiar with both missions. “We tell them that, to be a leader in this organization, [they] should have experience in both the space operations portion and missile operations portion of the field.”

In fact, the command encourages its officers to change from missile to space and vice versa, in what it terms “interflow.” The General said that, while interflow is not mandatory, “we continue to look and continue to make adjustments to the program to make sure that we do grow enough of these folks to be leaders in the future.”

He emphasized that, when young officers are competing for jobs, the additional experience is valuable. If two contestants are equal in everything else, a broader background, with both space and missile jobs, could be the deciding factor.

After serving an initial assignment in either missiles or space, an officer can apply for a job in the other function. If selected, he or she would then go back to Vandenberg for IQT in the new function.

First, they would return to the 392d TRS for a four-week bridge course that provides basic training in either the space or missile environments. Following that, the officer would go through IQT for a particular system. The IQT is the same whether the officer is on an initial assignment or coming in to interflow.

After completing IQT, which lasts about four months, the officer is classified as “near mission ready.” Officers typically need about one month after reaching their first assignment to get acclimated to their unit’s procedures.

According to Colonel Tallent, “mission ready” status for both officers and enlisted members trained at Vandenberg depends on the equipment the group has on hand. The 381st is working with AFSPC to get all the current equipment used in the field to “bring the people as near mission ready as we can.”

At the 392d TRS during IQT for missile operations, students train on a Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting console similar to ones used in the field. It is slightly smaller than the actual REACT station, which provides side-by-side seating for two missile launch officers—a commander and deputy. Students take 25 six-hour rides over a four-month period in the REACT capsule, putting their academics into practice.

The 533d TRS conducts IQT for officers and enlisted members going into space surveillance and missile warning on basically the same type of computer and communications setup as in the field. One real difference: The unit uses its computer technicians to simulate contact with US Space Command units at Cheyenne Mountain AS, Colo., when a student works through a missile warning scenario.

Similarly in the 534th TRS—the satellite operations IQT unit—the computer consoles are like those used by the satellite operations squadrons at Falcon AFB, Colo. It is realistic down to a second—or in some cases a third—student sitting at identical consoles and keyboards who will verify all satellite commands before the first student enters them on his or her keyboard.

Side by Side

On the space side, enlisted members train with officers, much as they will work once they complete training. Several years ago, AFSPC realized that many of the space functions performed by engineers no longer required such expertise and that it did not require officers to perform what had become fairly routine tasks.

Now the command typically has a space crew of enlisted members commanded by a junior officer. General Perryman noted that enlisted crew members do fine work. “Twice a month,” he said, “I get to go out and be a crew member, and I sit with people who really understand how the satellites work, how ground systems and communications systems work, and how we can support warfighters around the world.”

The 532d TRS instructs all enlisted missile maintainers, whether for ICBMS or cruise missiles. The maintainers take a three-month electronic principles course at Lackland AFB, Tex., after completing basic training. They then come to Vandenberg where they learn how to run diagnostic checks and to take out and repair the engine and the guidance unit on their assigned missile. Those who will work on the Advanced Cruise Missile even learn how to repair the weapon’s stealthy coating.

Enlisted members usually remain with the same system throughout their careers. However, it is possible for those in some specialties to cross over to others. For instance, some cruise missile maintainers make the transition to ICBMs, while some ICBM maintainers go to spacelift vehicles.

Vandenberg is in the process of converting its Launch Facility 08 to an enlisted missile-training facility. Colonel Tallent said once that is completed, the 532d will be able to certify maintainers on more tasks, getting them closer to mission ready before they go into the field.

On to the Weapons School

In June 1996, the Air Force incorporated AFSPC’s Space Tactics School into the space division at the USAF Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nev. Space Tactics had been part of the Space Warfare Center, located at Falcon AFB.

By combining the course with its Weapons School, the Air Force has taken another step to normalize space, emphasizing the growing convergence of air and space assets.

General Perryman said that people who work with spacepower must understand airpower, and vice versa. “To give [a theater commander in chief] really good support, we need to know what he’s looking for, we need to be schooled in his problems—and we need to be schooled in the other systems he would employ,” said the General. “[He], too, needs to be schooled in what we are all about and what we can bring to the battle.”

The graduate course in space tactics accepts eight students per class twice a year. Graduates receive a weapons-coded prefix on their Air Force Specialty Code and are sent to W-coded assignments normally at operational jobs other than in space.

The placement of the space tactics division at the Weapons School permits airpower students to get acquainted with spacepower, an attractive proposition for the Air Force, said General Perryman. “If we’re truly going to be an air- and spacepower force, we need to have young men and women who understand both aspects of our work.”