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Air Force Provides Space Support for Bosnia Service Members

By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 9, 1996 – Air Force officials said they hope to provide service members in Bosnia the best spacebased support during their yearlong peacekeeping mission.

"The bottom line of all of this is we are trying to make space a routine part of military operations," said Maj. Gen. David Vesely, who commands the 14th Air Force at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The organization runs Air Force space support operations.

The 14ths mission includes launching and controlling satellites, space access, and denying spacebased information to enemy forces. However, its main role in Operation Joint Endeavor is in force enhancement ensuring those in the Balkans have spacebased communications, navigation support, weather forecasting, surveillance and, if needed, ballistic missile warning.

"Military forces rely upon communications, and spacebased communications are critically important to any operation not the least of which is this one," said Vesely. "During Desert Shield and Desert Storm, it became very clear that space was an important part of military operations."

Although senior military officers recognized use of spacebased systems gave them military advantages, Vesely said officials didn't realize the extent of the advantage until the Persian Gulf War. Since the war's end, Vesely said, U.S. Space Command began focusing its efforts toward better using resources invested in space and space systems.

"We have a number of commercial, military and, in fact, NATO satellites involved in this operation," said Vesely. "We have done some minor repositioning of those satellites to make sure that we are providing the support."

Part of that support is troop navigation. A 24satellite network known as the Global Positioning System continuously sends navigational and timing systems. Troops with the systems receivers will know their location coordinates within 15 meters a fact Vesely said is critically important when patrolling specific areas.

"You must know exactly where you are to navigate through very difficult terrain with marginal weather and road conditions," he said. "So all of our forces have learned to use the GPS receivers for precise navigation to a great extent."

Vesely said the Global Positioning System is now in use by virtually every military unit requiring navigation data on the ground in Bosnia or on the waters of the Adriatic or the skies above the former Yugoslavia. "We've become far more adept of being able to exploit space systems, and I think it's going to turn out to be extremely important in certain operations there," he said.

For example, Vesely said, the Global Positioning System will play a key role in countermine operations. "Knowing precisely where you are with respect to those mines is critically important," he said. "Being able to precisely navigate, precisely locate systems is going to be important, and GPS is going to provide a great benefit in doing that."

Another improvement comes in Space Command's survival radio system an improvement since Air Force Capt. Sean O'Grady's rescue from Bosnia last year. "He [O'Grady] had with him a small GPS receiver, which would tell him his location. He also had with him a survival radio, and he was able to talk to rescue forces on that radio," said Vesely. "But he had to transmit to them what his precise location was using the voice transmission."

Vesely said a new survival radio now in production will combine both functions into one. The device is a normal survival radio that incorporates a GPS receiver. The user turns it on, hits a button to get his precise GPS coordinates and pushes another button transmit that location to rescuers in less than a second."

Another area Vesely said DoD is improving is multispectral imagery. Using satellite information, Vesely said, imagery interpreters can give unit commanders and pilots detailed graphics of areas in Bosnia such as railroad yards, roads and populated areas. "That gives us a broad area coverage, which, in fact, we were missing to a great extent in Desert Shield and Desert Storm," he said.

Vesely referred to early humanitarian missions when pilots were dropping cargo to Sarajevo residents. "When the initial air drop crews were planning those missions, they were looking for a suitable drop area," he said, "and spent literally days planning those missions to find a suitable drop area."

Now it only takes minutes. Vesely said they first take the image and break it into multispectral data plotting forested areas, urban sites and wetlands. They then overlay information to pinpoint areas where pilots can drop cargo.

Vesely said getting information directly into small aircraft is a problem, but feeds to cargo pilots have been successful. "We now have a system called the multisource tactical system, which is today flying on command and control aircraft," he said. "It is flying on the airlift aircraft that are going into Tuzla. It has been flying on the C130s, the C5s and the C141s flying into Sarajevo for some time."

Multispectral imagery is also important in helping predict weather for those in Bosnia. Officials said the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program is DoD's most important source of weather data. The satellites record cloud cover and measure atmospheric moisture and temperatures. They then send multispectral imagery useful in planning theater operations.

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