Navy Reserve Final Frontier
by Cmdr. Pat O'Brien, U.S. Navy Space Cadre
March 8, 2020
Was the adversary moving assets for reconnaissance only or in preparation to disable critical U.S. satellites? Will our defensive actions in space inadvertently immobilize warfighters on the ground in the midst of a major conflict? How fast could we get ahold of the President? The stress was almost unbearable, but exactly what was needed to be ready for a worst-case scenario.
These were some of the scenarios and questions facing members of U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM) during exercise Global Lighting.
Lt. Cmdr. Ian Roessle’s annual training in Colorado Springs supporting the space focused exercise was exciting, stressful and rewarding. It was also historic, as it was a final test of the newly organized SPACECOM capabilities before being officially commissioned in August, 2019. Roessle became one of a small group of founding members testing the mettle of SPACECOM as a full-fledged combatant command.
“This was uncharted territory,” said Roessle. “We were adjusting our tactics, techniques and procedures as we went.”
Roessle is a Reserve member of the Navy Space Cadre ... a diverse community with extensive space training, education and experience supporting Navy and joint force space missions. The Space Cadre is part of the Information Warfare Community and qualified Space Cadre members can earn the Information Warfare Officer pin. But unlike the other information warfare community programs like intelligence or information professionals, Space Cadre members can hold any designator.
Most members are either unrestricted line officers, engineering duty officers, or members of one of the other components of the information warfare community. But there are even Judge Advocate General’s Corps and public affairs officer members of the Space Cadre. What they all have in common is a passion for space.
To join the Space Cadre, an officer must spend time in a space-related billet and complete the Space Cadre Personnel Qualification Standard (PQS).
“It covered a lot of ground,” Roessle said about the PQS. “From orbital mechanics to spacecraft subsystems to space law to how you actually deliver all this critical data and imagery to the warfighters. You don’t come out an expert on any of it, but at least understand how all these things fit together.”
Roessle completed the PQS in a previous assignment to one of the seven Navy Reserve space units with space missions. Among other space-related tasks during that tour, he spent time on active duty orders as a launch room watch officer during the launch of several of the Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellites. But Roessle caught the “space bug” years earlier when, as a college computer science major he interned at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, developing artificial intelligence algorithms for the Earth Observing-1 satellite.
The continued development of anti-satellite weapons by potential adversaries has propelled the military space sector into the public eye and prompted several recent reforms, including standing up SPACECOM.
When fully manned and operational, SPACECOM will oversee nearly all defense department satellites, from the Air Force’s GPS constellation to the Navy’s own MUOS communications satellites. It also controls a myriad of radar sites, satellite ground stations, and joint centers that support warfighters in areas such as missile warning and navigation. SPACECOM will also play a role in training space operators from all four services in a similar way that U.S. Special Operations Command does for special operators.
The Space Development Agency was also stood up in 2019 to streamline the procurement of new space capabilities. Further, the White House is advocating for the establishment of a sixth branch of the U.S. military that would man, train and equip space operators, a proposal that is being deliberated by Congress. Whatever form a new service might take, the Navy will continue to need space expertise within its own ranks.
The Navy has a storied history in space, going back to the Vanguard Program which launched some of the world’s earliest satellites in the 1950s, closely trailing the Soviet Union’s Sputnik program. The Navy still operates the MUOS constellations and other communications satellites from the Navy Satellite Operations Center in Point Mugu, Calif. But much of the focus within the service is on getting timely, relevant satellite data ... whether from military, intelligence, commercial or partner nation satellites ... to the Fleet.
The increasing reliance on satellite data, from communications to precise timing on weapons systems, has brought a surge in demand for space experts needed, not only at space-related commands, but also embedded within Navy carrier strike group staffs and at numbered fleet headquarters.
With only 124 Reserve Space Cadre members, the demand is quickly out pacing the number of qualified officers. “We’re in very high demand,” said Capt. Stephen Melvin, commanding officer of NR SPACECOM. “There’s never been a better time to be in space. It’s the equivalent of buying Amazon at $2 a share.”
October 23, 2019 - Navy Capt. Stephen Melvin (center) led Navy Reserve support to the Joint Force Space Component Command during exercise Global Lighting 19. The annual command and control and battle staff exercise is designed to train Department of Defense forces and assess joint operational readiness across all of United States Strategic Command’s mission areas. This year's event also served as the final test of the newly organized SPACECOM as a full-fledged combatant command. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jacob Mosolf)
As the unit CO, Melvin led Reserve support during the establishment of SPACECOM and continues on active duty orders there. Like many of the active component members, Melvin has served in a number of roles. Over the course of the command’s transition from a three star component, through a four star component command, to a full combatant command, Melvin has served as the director for Plans and Policy, the Warfighting Logistics, battle watch commander and even as the chief of staff.
According to Melvin, most people selected for the Space Cadre gained knowledge of satellite operations and applications from varied active duty experiences or from civilian careers. In this, he sees the Navy Reserve as uniquely capable to fill the growing demand. “There are so many Reservists in space-related civilian careers,” he said. “Since there is currently no designator that would keep an active duty officer on a continuous career path in space, this has become an especially important area for Reserve support to the active component.”
If you have space experience in your military or civilian jobs, you can use your expertise to take center stage in the Maritime Operations Centers, and be a critical part in enhancing fleet operations. Any Navy Reserve officer interested in joining the Space Cadre can contact Reserve Space Cadre Advisor Cmdr. Scott Maley at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also interested in hearing from civilians in the space field who would like to pursue a direct commission to the Navy Reserve. You can find more information on www.mynrh.navy.mil by searching “Space Cadre”.
At a White House ceremony marking the establishment of SPACECOM, President Trump said, “As the newest combatant command, SPACECOM will defend America’s vital interests in space ... the next warfighting domain.” Not long ago such words would have been dismissed as the stuff of science fiction. But they describe today’s reality as experienced by an elite cadre of Navy Reservists.
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