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By 2nd Lt. Remington Sawade, Peterson-Schriever Garrison Public Affairs
/ Published December 07, 2021
Space Delta 8 – Satellite Communications and Navigational Warfare logo. DEL 8 is a space mission delta of Space Operations Command.
From growing food to saving lives, Space Delta 8 - Satellite Communications and Navigational Warfare satellites are instrumental to billions of people around the globe.
DEL 8 provides satellite-based communication and the world’s gold standard for positioning, navigation and timing signals, commonly known as GPS.
“We are providing, to 6 billion users on a daily basis, the GPS signal we all use,” said U.S. Space Force Col. Matthew Holston, DEL 8 commander. “On the military communications satellite side, we are all about connecting the force and making sure our warfighters can talk to one another anywhere [around] the globe.”
DEL 8 is comprised of the 2nd Space Operations Squadron, 4th SOPS and 50th Operations Support Squadron, which all play vital roles in supporting two very large missions, both in the U.S. Space Force realm of operations and the global realm that extends to allies and partners.
The 2nd SOPS operates the GPS satellite constellation owned by DEL 8. On top of the over 6 billion users around the globe, 2nd SOPS assets provide GPS signals to civilian organizations like the Federal Aviation Administration and to partner and ally militaries, including Canada and the United Kingdom.
Many assets in space and on the ground are needed to manage such a large base of users.
“We have 31 satellites active in our constellation with a total of 36 satellites when you include our spares as well as the oncoming GPS III satellites,” said U.S. Space Force Tech. Sgt. Joseph Wood, 2nd SOPS GPS Warfighter Collaboration Cell flight chief.
GPS is often misunderstood as simply being a tool for navigation, for guiding a vehicle or person from one point to another.
“GPS is not just navigation, we always say ‘PNT’ which is position[ing], navigation and timing. The timing is the biggest part of GPS,” said Wood. “When we talk about timing that’s how the GPS signal works, your receiver measures the amount of time it takes for the signal from the satellite to reach it. That’s how you know where you are on the globe and as long as you have four satellites in view you can acquire that location.”
Nearly every aspect of modern technology requires GPS signals for one use or another. Mining, surveying, search and rescue, conservation and even agriculture are some of the scores of daily users reliant on the GPS signals 2nd SOPS provides.
GPS provides the timing element by atomic clocks accurate down to the nanosecond. It is used in banking to time stamp transactions and within agriculture, farmers use GPS to map every inch of farmland as accurately as possible, said Wood.
DEL 8 SATCOM capabilities also have the potential for great benefit to the civilian world.
The 4th SOPS operates DEL 8’s SATCOM capabilities with wideband and protected satellite communications around the globe according to U.S. Space Force Capt. Tyler Shepard, 4th SOPS assistant director of operations. However, they are not strictly limited to U.S. military communications.
“We’re providing communications for the warfighter, but we do many things on top of that, like for disaster relief recently with [Severe Tropical] Cyclone Yasa. We provided communications for those folks working off the islands of New Zealand and Australia,” said Shephard.
The 4th SOPS utilizes multiple methods to ensure U.S. and allied forces have a secure and powerful satellite communications network overhead, capable of providing support no matter the conditions. By employing various wavelengths and many space and ground assets in multiple orbits, Shephard said 4th SOPS is more than capable of supporting whatever operations arise around the globe.
Certain SATCOM assets even have the capability to operate in worst case scenarios.
“The protected constellation uses a specific waveform called extremely high frequency or EHF and[…] why it’s integrated into the protected constellation, is the EHF waveform is one of the only waveforms that can penetrate nuclear scintillation,” said Shephard.
This means, in the event of a nuclear blast either terrestrial, atmospheric or targeting an orbital realm, SATCOM is still available thanks to EHF-capable satellites. EHF operates at a frequency that can travel through charged particles left over after a nuclear blast.
Missions like GPS and SATCOM would not be possible without highly-trained space operators to control the systems and tactics to match the complexities of space.
The 50th OSS develops training, intelligence and tactics operations for DEL 8. It forms the foundation of education on which DEL 8 is able to complete its highly demanding missions and continuously improves upon that education to keep personnel and tactics ahead of adversaries.
While each squadron within DEL 8 is already completing vital missions for the USSF, Holston said the responsibilities and capabilities are going to grow rapidly in the coming years along with the number of personnel who are part of DEL 8.
Holston explained that DEL 8 will soon integrate several SATCOM missions including wideband payload control and narrowband operations previously operated by the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy into a unified enterprise. He also added that DEL 8 will oversee several hundred new personnel who will transfer into the Space Force from multiple branches within the next couple of years.
“This is an opportunity to integrate Air Force culture, Space Force culture, Navy culture and Army culture, all underneath the SATCOM enterprise,” said Holston.
In terms of GPS expansion, Holston said the modernization of the GPS architecture is the focus.
“This summer, we launched our fifth GPS III satellite. This is our 24th M-code capable satellite,” said Holston. “What that means to the warfighter, in particular, is we are going to have three times the power, so we’re going to be able to fight through a jamming environment and it’s going to be eight times more secure.”
Wood added that it is not just the satellites going into orbit that are receiving important upgrades hardware and software are also being improved on the ground.
“We are revamping our whole operating system because the new GPS III’s are so much smarter and more capable. The capabilities of the new GPS III’s will allow us to provide a stronger, more accurate signal to all of our users,” said Wood.
DEL 8’s GPS mission is a team effort operated by the USAF and USSF and supported by the DoD and U.S. government to provide GPS signal to anyone with a capable device at no cost. Wood said no matter how quickly the user base grows, DEL 8 will continue to provide the best support possible for users around the world.
Holston emphasized that none of these massive missions would be possible without teamwork.
“Delta 8 could not do its mission without the garrisons and each of the deltas,” said Holston.
The support from Peterson-Schriever Garrison and partner agencies allow DEL 8 to complete its mission and lead the way in shaping the future of the Space Force.
“I challenge my delta to be bold and to be innovative. To stay ahead of the adversary, we have to think differently than we have in the past,” said Holston. “We have gained an advantage over the adversary, but we can’t be complacent as we move forward.”