Wednesday, October 10, 2012

'Silent Sentry' gives deployed Airmen upper hand in space superiority

by Senior Airman Bryan Swink, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- With the advancement of technology, satellite communication has been a key factor in maintaining space superiority throughout the entire area of responsibility.

Airmen assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron operate the Rapid Attack Identification Detection Reporting System, which monitors and protects the U.S. military's SATCOM links. This mission is called Operation Silent Sentry.

Using RAIDRS, the team conducts defensive counter-space operations in support of theater campaigns and combatant commanders. They monitor high priority SATCOM signals, detect electromagnetic interference on those signals and geolocate the source of that interference as well as other signals of interest.

"It's like a game of chess we are playing with the enemy," said Tech. Sgt. Josh Swicegood, 379th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron Silent Sentry operator. "They attempt to run interference and we counteract by creating a work around. We continuously update our TTPs (Tactics, Techniques and Procedures) to best support our assets in the field."

Jamming occurs when a legitimate signal is overpowered by another signal. This can be intentional (hostile) or accidental due to misconfigured equipment.

Fortunately, RAIDRS detects the jamming signal. When the enemy uses a SATCOM jammer, the jamming signal acts somewhat like a flashlight beam hitting a wall. The main portion of the jamming signal will hit the intended satellite, while a small portion of the signal also hits nearby satellites; similar to the way a beam of light would illuminate across a wall.

RAIDRS exploits these characteristics by measuring the time it takes the signal to travel the two different distances as it is relayed through the satellites. It also measures the observed difference in frequency between the two signals due to the Doppler Effect. Using this data, the Airmen then conduct a series of complex calculations to predict where the jammer is located. They relay the information forward to ensure appropriate countermeasures are taken.

The team monitors hundreds of different signals 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Their unique capability is not only utilized by the Air Force, but also by numerous joint agencies in the AOR to support the United States efforts to combat the enemy throughout the world.

Operation Silent Sentry began as a proof of concept experiment in 2004, which led to a 120-day deployed demonstration in 2005. The program was so successful, U.S. Central Command retained the capability indefinitely.

"This is the Air Force Space Command's only defensive space control asset," said Lt. Col. Blake Tibbetts, 379th EOSS Silent Sentry commander. "Prior to Silent Sentry, our nation's SATCOM was completely vulnerable to jamming that went unresolved. Our ability to geolocate sources of interference means the warfighter can find and resolve the source of the jamming, and the mission can go on. Under the Fly, Fight, Win banner, you don't know where to fly, what to fight or who won unless it's communicated correctly - we make that happen."

379th Air Expeditionary Wing Silent Sentry Airmen are composed of active-duty and reserve personnel from the 16th Space Control Squadron and 380th Space Control Squadron, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

"This team is a great group of dedicated Airmen," said Capt. Chad Gilbert, 379th EOSS Silent Sentry crew commander. "They truly are technical experts and do an incredible job. Many of the circumstances they face over here, they have never experienced stateside in training, but they learn quickly and adapt to the situation."

The next installment to Operation Silent Sentry is RAIDRS Block 10. It is expected to be operational in 2013. The Block 10 system allows for the remote control of RAIDRS sensors located worldwide from a central operating location within the United States.