AL UDEID AIR BASE, QATAR, June 5, 2015 – Twenty-nine years ago, as a form of protest against cable companies charging fees to satellite dish owners, a man by the alias of CaptainMidnight intruded into a live HBO telecast of “The Falcon and the Snowman” using equipment from the teleport where he worked. This was a form of jamming satellite communications, or SATCOM, and it allowed Captain Midnight to stop the HBO programming and insert his propaganda. This highlighted a vulnerability to SATCOM that the military relies upon heavily to meet global communications needs. This vulnerability generated the need to establish defensive space control systems to monitor and protect SATCOM assets, and one of the missions to do that is conducted here, going by the name Operation Silent Sentry.
Silent Sentry was part of a proof of concept system in 2005. The mission was to test the capabilities of a new defensive counter-space system in support of joint warfighters in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility and then leave once testing was complete. However, the capability proved so valuable in the protection of CENTCOM’s satellite networks that 10 years later the mission continues.
“What we do is provide CENTCOM with defensive space control capabilities,” said Master Sgt. Brian Popham, 379th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron, or EOSS. “We monitor, detect, characterize and geographically locate sources of electromagnetic interference on high-priority signals.”
Silent Sentry is able to find a signal that is causing interference with satellite communications, characterize the signal environment and locate its origin. That information is then forwarded to support command and control of air, naval and ground forces to complete a full spectrum of situational knowledge. Two weapon systems – the Rapid Attack Identification Detection Reporting System Deployable Ground Segment-0 and Bounty Hunter – are part of the defensive space control mission.
“Communication is key to our entire joint and coalition forces’ ability to effectively and efficiently conduct our missions each and every day,” said Master Sgt. Jason Childers, 379th EOSS. “Our dependencies on SATCOM technologies have grown tremendously over the years to meet our operational needs. While military users benefit from these newer technologies, they also need additional protection and situational awareness into the electromagnetic spectrum in order to ensure robust communications.”
With upgrades in 2013, the primary focus was to improve response time to mission partners. Since then, Silent Sentry operators have created more elaborate troubleshooting capabilities, Childers said. “It’s like solving a math problem. The more known variables you have, the easier, and faster, it is to solve the equation. The recent upgrades just filled in some of those variables to allow for faster and more accurate geolocations.”
Silent Sentry employs active-duty and reserve airmen from several different career fields within Air Force Space Command. Having knowledge across the spectrum, they are able to help the program evolve and become a more technical and valuable asset to CENTCOM.
“The majority of the reserve and active-duty personnel that support this mission also work side-by-side at home station,” said Childers. “This allows the benefit of already having the interworkings of professional relationships in place, and the team is ready to hit the ground running when they arrive.”
Childers also said that the current Silent Sentry architecture will provide the foundation for future defensive space control systems. The lessons learned and tactics, techniques and procedures documented by current crews will continue to be used and refined to shape the future.