6th SOPS delivers critical weather data to warfighters

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Don Branum
  • 50th Space Wing Public Affairs
The motto, "Get data or die" holds special significance for the 6th Space Operations Squadron, an Air Force Reserve Command unit here whose Airmen must deliver data to their customers within 10 minutes of downloading it from their satellites.

The squadron's data transforms weather from a force of nature warfighters must endure into a force they can use to their advantage.

"Every time we sit on console, we're directly supporting the warfighting user," said Lt. Col. Byron Hays the 6th SOPS commander.

"Weather used to be a force equalizer, bringing everybody to about the same playing field. Now, with the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, we're a force multiplier."

One such way 6th SOPS delivers combat effects is through providing data on sandstorms to the Southwest Asia area of responsibility.

"Right now, we are the only military source providing sandstorm data to the AOR," Colonel Hays said. "The quicker we can get this data to them, the faster they can batten down the hatches and do whatever they need to do."

Maj. Anna Stuckwisch, 6th SOPS assistant director of operations, attributed the squadron's continuing mission success to its equipment, its people and its knowledge. Ground control equipment at Schriever is maintained and ready to go at any time.

"What reservists bring to the table is a Reserve mission model: we allow great flexibility and responsiveness at a much lower cost," Colonel Hays said.

A small cadre of Airmen work during the week, and a traditional Reserve crew augments them during unit training activities.

"It also allows me to bring in support where and when I need it, which is a perfect fit for this role as a backup space operations center," the colonel said.

In a contingency, 6th SOPS can respond at a moment's notice.

The amount of time in which 6th SOPS is required to take over operations if
a contingency requires them to do so is one to three hours off duty and one hour during duty hours, he said.

"But if we're here, (we take) about five minutes. If we're off-base, we're usually here between 20 to 40 minutes. That's our proven record over the 13 times we've been called upon" to provide contingency support for (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration)."

Fitting into the training picture, 6th SOPS is the "only military aspect flying (operational) low-fliers," he said. "These are your future cadre for flying low-fliers -- for flying the Space Tracking and Surveillance System, for the Space-Based Space Surveillance system. We're looking at 6th SOPS Airmen here as potentially being your cadre to help train."

Low-flying satellites present a unique set of challenges for satellite operators, Major Stuckwisch said. A typical satellite contact window lasts from four to 17 minutes, in contrast to much longer availability times for satellites in mid-earth or geosynchronous orbits.

That set of challenges keeps operators connected -- and committed -- to the mission.

"There are a lot of folks who are passionate about this mission," Colonel Hays said. "Once you've flown a low-flier, it's hard to go back to a Geo or a MEO because everything's riding on that 10 minutes. It's such an adrenaline rush, and so you see a lot of folks who've been around for quite a few years ... don't want to leave because of how much fun they have."