Building a Better Space Training Pipeline

Brig. Gen. DeAnna Burt, Air Force Space Command's director of operations and communications, participates in a panel at the third Women’s Global Gathering in Colorado Springs, Colo., on April 11, 2019. Air Force photo by SSgt. Dennis Hoffman.

Air Force Space Command is launching four new tracks for space operators as part of a broader training overhaul, a senior command official announced July 19.

Orbital warfare, space electronic warfare, space battle management, and space access and sustainment are the four focus areas, dubbed “space warfighter follow-ons,” Brig. Gen. DeAnna Burt, AFSPC’s operations and communications director, said at an AFA Mitchell Institute breakfast in Washington, D.C.

“The first three are probably going to be our bread and butter and the heart of what we do,” she said. “Space access and sustainment is really our Air Force satellite control network and launch, and some [command and control]. That’s probably going to be a second-tier assignment, or kind of a place you would go to do extra.”

That smaller area will rely more heavily on commercial launch contractors, as the Air Force turns to cheaper ways of putting assets in orbit and streamlines the number of blue-suiters that work in launch and satellite command and control.

Airmen will begin funneling into those tracks next summer after the first undergraduate space training class graduates in April, Burt said.

AFSPC is already in the process of building a better training pipeline by modeling it after pilot education. Undergraduate space training will be 111 days for officers and 72 days for enlisted airmen, and the command over the next couple of years will look at adding more joint and multidomain aspects to the courses. Other space education changes are also underway for exercises, the Air Force Weapons School, and Air University.

When undergraduate pilots learn their craft, the Air Force first teaches them to fly an airplane before splitting them up for courses on fast platforms like fighter jets or slower platforms like mobility airframes. Then, airmen choose a platform.

“I go to [undergraduate pilot training], I become a fighter pilot, I get the fighter track,” Burt said. “I go to a next level of learning [tactics, techniques, and procedures] and things that all fighter pilots need to know. Then I get assigned to the F-35 and I go to the F-35 formal training unit, where I learn the F-35 down to every knob and bolt and screw on that aircraft. That’s what we’re doing in the space domain.”

Starting Oct. 1, courses will be conducted at the top secret/sensitive compartmented information level instead of at the lower secret level.

“That is a huge leap because the enemy gets a vote, and the enemy is the basis for every bit of the training that we do,” Burt said.

Training will dig deeper into space fundamentals and applications. Instead of simply learning what the different orbital layers around the Earth are called and how high they sit, Burt said undergrads will learn why the Air Force uses those three layers, how space operations differ from air ops, how to determine when systems are being jammed, and more.

“If I have to move satellites and keep them in mission, if I have to move and stop doing mission in order to save that vehicle, what does that look like” Burt continued. “Why would I do that? What are all those agencies doing to each other and how are they talking and integrating in a fight”

As the Pentagon revives its US Space Command and looks to create a military service to manage space personnel, Burt added there’s a lot of work to do to build a unique culture among space warfighters.

“Air Force Space Command recognizes the importance of not only culture, but how we start to build airmen from day one who can understand technology, the enemy, the threat, and innovation, and get after it,” she said.