Since Schriever’s last State of the Base update in September, the installation has redeveloped its strategic plan, gained seven satellites, disposed of four, and is focused on changing its culture and operations to prepare for a space war, according to base leaders.
Last week, veterans, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and other civic leaders gathered for the Air Force base’s biannual address to hear about new missions and priorities, including updates on the top secret Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center.
Schriever’s revised mission statement: Operating space and cyber systems to provide global combat effects.
“The words I want you to key in on are ‘cyber’ and ‘combat effects,’” said Col. DeAnna Burt, commander of the 50th Space Wing and the Schriever installation.
The 3,840-acre base, with the largest restricted area in the entire Air Force, has typically operated in a peaceful, benign environment — until now, Burt said.
“With the Chinese and Russians really pursuing counter-space capabilities, we have to ask, ‘Are we prepared if required to fight in space?’” she said. “No one wants a war in space because of debris and concerns for humanity. Taking out the Global Positioning System wouldn’t just be a military problem, but also a civil one.”
That’s why staying ahead of the enemy is critical, Burt said.
“We fight from this installation, and our infrastructure is critical to what we do,” she said. “We have to stay ahead of anyone who wants to contest in the domain so we can continue to operate and provide combat effects. If you go to a flying base, they pick up airplanes and head down range — they don’t fight from the installation. We do and it’s a different mindset.”
In the past, Schriever has primarily focused on its space mission, but the reality is the base can’t operate in the space enterprise without cybersecurity, making it integral to everything the base does, according to Burt.
“If I do not have a network and communications to command and control a satellite, I can’t do anything,” she said.
And despite the increased threat, the base must also deal with decreased budgets. Innovation is the only way the base’s mission can survive in today’s fiscal environment, with fewer people and funds at Schriever since sequestration in 2012.
“We have to evolve the force and master the domain,” Burt said. “Every day we fight downrange with ISIL or a future-nearcompetitor, it’s going to be a multi-domain fight — air, land, sea and space. It’s not one domain but all working together.”
Schriever will also handle qualification training to certify space operators, with the new class beginning April 1.
“Historically, airmen would attend undergraduate space training at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., but now, all will directly come here for it,” Burt said. “That gives us tremendous flexibility. Now the courseware is much more responsive to what is happening on the ground and we are able to directly influence something by owning the training.”
The base also started a classified center at Schriever that stood up in October that is composed of members from U.S. Strategic Command, U.S. Air Force Space Command and the intelligence community. Its intent is to facilitate information sharing across the national security space enterprise and was very successful in its initial phase, Burt said.
Schriever houses the center, but it is not a part of the 50th Space Wing.
“In a matter of four months they spent $16 million, putting together contracts as a special access program facility,” Burt said. “That is an unheard of speed, but with high-level support, those are the amazing things we can get done.”
The center is in its experimental phase with three experiments down and one more to go.
The implementation phase begins fiscal year 2018.
“A lot of space players are coming in and out of the base, and it has visibility to the highest levels,” Burt said. “In my opinion, if this takes off and the new administration supports this, I think it’s going to be a big growth area for Schriever and Colorado Springs.”
Col. Kel Robinson is assistant to the director in the Missile Defense Agency at Peterson Air Force Base and for the Missile Defense Integration and Operations Center at Schriever.
“We have a big role in homeland ballistic missile defense,” he said. “Our current system is a ground-based, mid-course defense system with radars and interceptors that allow us to literally hit a bullet with a bullet in space, three times the altitude of the space station.”
These missiles will continue to be a threat because they’re getting cheaper, and more accurate, Robinson said.
“It’s going to be pretty clear that there will be a continued appetite by the nation and DoD to continue with a ballistic missile program, and Colorado Springs is a big part of that,” he said.