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Cyber Operator Enhances USSF Space Warfighting
by U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Charles Rivezzo
December 23, 2023

In a notable achievement for the U.S. Space Force’s cyber community, 1st Lt. Saan Chhan, Operations Support Flight Commander at the 64th Cyberspace Squadron, graduated on November 17, 2023 from the Space Test Course (STC), a specialized program conducted by the U.S. Air Force's Test Pilot School in partnership with Space Training and Readiness Command (STARCOM).

November 17, 2023 - U.S. Space Force 1st Lt. Saan Chhan (right), Operations Support Flight Commander at the 64th Cyberspace Squadron, graduates from the Space Test Course at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The mission of STC is to produce adaptive, critical-thinking test professionals to conduct full-spectrum test and evaluation of space-operations systems. The curriculum is designed to provide students with tailored education covering test planning, test execution, analysis, and reporting. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air Force photo by Nicolas Cholula.)
November 17, 2023 - U.S. Space Force 1st Lt. Saan Chhan (right), Operations Support Flight Commander at the 64th Cyberspace Squadron, graduates from the Space Test Course at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The mission of STC is to produce adaptive, critical-thinking test professionals to conduct full-spectrum test and evaluation of space-operations systems. The curriculum is designed to provide students with tailored education covering test planning, test execution, analysis, and reporting. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air Force photo by Nicolas Cholula.)

Chhan's graduation marks a significant milestone, as he is one of the first Cyber Operators to have completed this prestigious course, designed to rigorously test space warfighting capabilities.

U.S. Space Force Col. Sacha N. Tomlinson, Chief of the Test Enterprise Division at STARCOM Headquarters, underscored the critical role of such graduates.

“Cyber Operator graduates of the Space Test Course are essential in building organic cyber test capabilities and strengthening our Integrated Test Forces' understanding of Cyber Resiliency and Survivability,” she said.

She stressed the importance of collaboration between Cyber and Space Guardians in testing to ensure a robust evaluation of the U.S. Space Force’s weapon system combat capabilities, particularly in the context of great power competition.

“Lieutenant Chhan's successful completion of the STC as a Cyber Operator with experience in Delta 6 represents a significant step towards arming our warfighters with operational truth,” she added.

The mission of STC is to produce adaptive, critical-thinking test professionals to conduct full-spectrum test and evaluation of space-operations systems. The curriculum is designed to provide students with tailored education covering test planning, test execution, analysis, and reporting.

In addition to test foundational material, students receive instruction and practical experience covering mission systems, as well as domain science topics such as orbital mechanics, electromagnetic spectrum, sensor sciences and the space environment. This is intended to provide students with a broad base of technical knowledge to prepare them for future test and evaluation projects that span a variety of technical areas.

U.S. Space Force Col. Christopher Schlak, Director of Cyber Operations at STARCOM Headquarters, highlighted the broader implications of the STC.

“STC gives our Cyber Operators the opportunity to combine their expertise and operational experience with engineering and test and evaluation processes to improve Space Force combat capabilities and readiness,” he said. “Having those skillsets are not only important for the service, but it’s also significant personal development for individual Guardians and shows a serious commitment to growth. This is a limited capability we’re looking to build on and a tremendous opportunity.”

Schlak added that graduates of the STC, like Chhan, are outplaced into hand-selected assignments where they can best leverage their advanced training and experience.

U.S. Space Force Lt. Col. Scott Roberts, 64th Cyberspace Squadron commander, emphasized the significance of having qualified and experienced Cyber Operators engaged in test activities.

“The test community’s assessment of the Cyber Resiliency and Survivability of our Space Systems and the Effectiveness and Suitability of our Cyber Systems provides critical system readiness data to inform tactics development and the Space Force Generation model,” Roberts said. “We have to put our dedicated defensive cyber capabilities and ground systems, dedicated cyberspace terrain in the form of mission-unique networks, through the same rigorous testing as our space vehicles. If we fail to prioritize deliberate testing of the cyberspace components and capabilities, we will not have the necessary capabilities to establish localized cyberspace control to enable the ‘formative purpose of the space force', to establish space superiority.”

Chhan noted the importance of incorporating cyber test from the start of a weapon system's development.

“Test in the cyber community is of the utmost importance as the entirety of our service’s arsenal requires effective application of cyberspace for connection and command and control to achieve effects in, to, and from space,” he said. “Our systems might seem like they run on magic, but it is nothing short of sound science and technology.”

“Cyber Guardians must understand that our role in providing the triad of confidentiality, integrity, and availability for our weapon systems is understated but essential,” he added. “There is a dire need to incorporate cyber test at the start of a system’s inception, not as a bolted-on afterthought where it becomes much costlier in time, money, and energy to implement.”

U.S. Space Force | U.S. Department of Defense

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