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Near Space: Should Air Force Space Command Take Control of Its Shore? (Maxwell Paper, Number 38)

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One lesson the DOD realized from recent conflicts, as well as humanitarian and relief operations, involves significant shortfalls in command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance C4ISR, the enabling mission area that supports joint operations across the range of military operations. These shortfalls include tactical beyond-line-of-sight BLOS communications on the move, persistent ISR, red-force tracking, change detection, detection of mines and improvised explosive devices, and all-weather imaging. To correct these shortfalls, Gen John P. Jumper, the former Air Force chief of staff, tasked Air Force Space Command AFSPC with the responsibility of developing, fielding, and executing tactical and operationally responsive space ORS capabilities near and through space. Although it has expertise in providing capabilities through and in space, AFSPC possesses no such skills in near space-the portion of Earths atmosphere above internationally controlled airspace 65,000 feet and below the recognized limit of orbital space 60 miles. Thus, AFSPC created the Joint Warfighting Space JWS initiative, which focuses on near space due to the claim of achieving space-like capabilities at a lower cost and providing them directly to tactical commanders. AFSPC claims that future near-space systems will have BLOS communications and ISR persistence measured in days, weeks, and months, greatly exceeding the capabilities of long-endurance vehicles such as unmanned aerial vehicles UAV. These systems will look like neither satellites nor launch vehicles but more like balloons and blimps. The United States has had experience with the latter two since the 1930s-but at aircraft altitudes. Accordingly, the JWS team galvanized universities and commercial companies to improve current near-space capabilities, and recent experiments with balloons and tactical radios for BLOS communicailons show promise.

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  • Lighter-than-air Aircraft
  • Astronautics
  • Military Intelligence

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