Air Force News

Cope Thunder integrates space into its warfighting

Released: May 28, 1998

by Senior Airman George Woodward
3rd Wing Public Affairs

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (AFNS) -- Aircraft weren't the only things flying over Alaska during the latest Cope Thunder exercise which began May 4.

Miles above the highest-flying F-15 were some of the Air Force's most important and valuable assets -- satellites. Providing everything from communications support to intelligence to weather updates, these space assets are increasingly important to U.S. military operations.

The Air Force has been in space for more than 35 years, but not until Desert Storm did the "air breathing" side of the Air Force really begin to understand the importance of space operations.

"Five years ago, we fought what has been called the first "space-aided war" with Desert Storm," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael E. Ryan told the Air Force Association National Symposium in November 1997. "Our space-based capabilities were instrumental in the execution of the campaign that dismantled Iraq's military capability."

Since then, Air Force leadership has made it a priority to integrate space capabilities into all Air Force operations. Cope Thunder is no exception.

Visit the 11th Air Force Air Operations Center during the exercise, and next to the mission directors and flight planners you'll find members of the Air Force Space Support Team.

"Our job here is to help commanders access and apply space assets during their operations," said Capt. Mark T. Bradley. "We show them what space can do, how it works and how they can use it."

Space assets can do some impressive things. With the aid of satellite imagery, pilots can sit at a computer terminal and actually fly a mission plan before they ever leave the ground. Commanders can use near real-time weather pictures to make last minute targeting decisions. Planners can use the latest space intelligence information to determine exactly where anti-aircraft threat areas are located. The list of possibilities is almost endless.

But having the capability and using it are two different things, and education is the key to bridging the gap.

"The space support team's primary role at Cope Thunder is education. Our ultimate goal is to make space an essential element in everything we do." The team has four members at Cope Thunder - two at Elmendorf and two at Eielson (Air Force Base, Alaska). They augment the work of the two resident space officers: Lt. Col. Gail Ramsay here and Maj. Steve Lucky at Eielson.

This is the seventh Cope Thunder the team has participated in, and Bradley said the increase in understanding and support has been dramatic.

"We have always been well received here -- we love coming to Alaska. In the beginning, they may not have understood what we were bringing to the fight, but they've always accepted us."

Bradley said he was extremely pleased with how well the team had been integrated in the latest Cope Thunder.

"We've been given the opportunity to give daily briefings on space topics and have had a lot of chances to tell people how we bring space to the warfighter."

What the Air Force is doing in space is something that can benefit every blue-suiter.

"Our goal is to eventually evolve from an air and space force, which we call ourselves now, into a space and air force," Ryan said.

The Air Force Space Support Team is helping make that evolution possible. (Courtesy of Pacific Air Forces News Service)


* F-15 Eagle
* Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska
* Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska
* Gen. Michael E. Ryan
* Pacific Air Forces