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News > Space Battlelab stands down after 10 years
Space Battlelab closes its doors
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Cols. Robert Wright (left) and Stephen Latchford furl the Air Force Space Battlelab guidon during an inactivation ceremony at the Space Innovation and Development Center here Nov. 2. Previous Space Battlelab commanders also attended the ceremony. Colonel Latchford is the 595th Space Group commander and was the last Space Battlelab commander. Colonel Wright is the SIDC commander. (U.S. Air Force photo/Germaine Hill)
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Space Battlelab stands down after 10 years

Posted 11/19/2007   Updated 11/19/2007 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Don Branum
50th Space Wing Public Affairs

11/19/2007 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The Air Force Space Battlelab here stood down in an inactivation ceremony Nov. 2 presided by Space Innovation and Development Center Col. Robert Wright. 

Colonel Wright and 595th Space Group commander Col. Stephen Latchford retired the Space Battlelab's guidon before an audience that included all the previous Space Battlelab commanders. 

The inactivation completed Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley's direction to inactivate all Air Force battlelabs, Colonel Wright said. The Battlelab's mission was to directly support combat operations through innovative and revolutionary applications of space systems. Its goal was to turn around projects at low cost within 18 months. 

Although the battlelab itself is gone, the SIDC will continue to pursue many of the research projects that started at the battlelab, said Colonel Latchford, who was the battlelab's last commander. 

The battlelab became operational June 30, 1997, with Col. Jeffery Wenzel as its first commander. It was one of six Air Force battlelabs established at that time by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Ronald Fogleman to develop ways to take advantage of quick and inexpensive recommendations and demonstrate those recommendations in the field. 

"We would try out ideas in an operational environment to determine if they had military utility," Colonel Latchford said. "The reports could be used to decide if someone wanted to field the idea." 

The Space Battlelab comprised Airmen from a wide variety of Air Force specialties as well as civilians and contractor partners. While the unit was relatively small, with a total of about 25 people, the environment they created was unique, Colonel Latchford said. 

"It was an excellent opportunity to come and work with a bunch of people who were excited about their jobs," he said. "The excitement was palpable because everyone was involved with something they loved - it was new, it was interesting and it was innovative." 

The Space Battlelab's contributions to warfighters are numerous. Some of those innovations included projects to track satellites using ambient radio frequencies, demonstrating commercial off-the-shelf software for scheduling satellite communications on the Air Force Satellite Control Network and GPS jamming resistance programs. 

"One of our NCOs came up with a program to use GPS to align aircraft components within a hangar," Colonel Latchford explained. "This saved the maintenance folks in the field hours of maintenance time because planes didn't have to be rolled out of the hangar to get GPS alignment - they could stay inside." 

It earned recognition for its contributions through Air Force Organizational Excellence awards, which it received consecutively between Aug. 1, 1997 and Aug. 31, 2006. As its reputation spread, units that wanted to test a concept would often bring money with them. 

"Our budget was $3 million per year, but as people found out what we could do, they brought more and more projects our way," Colonel Latchford said, "so we were executing about $6 million per year." 

Rumors of the battlelab's closure first started to circulate in 2006. 

"It became apparent (that the Space Battlelab would close) in December 2006 when we started seeing the official Air Force funding documents that talked about closing all the battlelabs," Colonel Latchford said. "When we saw the decision documents, we realized it was going to happen. 

"We knew the news would be disruptive. We focused on our people so they could keep working. They wanted to work on their projects, not worry about whether they were going to have to move to another base or whether they were going to lose their job, so we kept the information flow going," he continued. "We also looked at how we would continue to use government off-the-shelf and commercial off-the-shelf software after the battlelab closed." 

The early planning allowed Space Battlelab officials decide how best to inactivate the unit. 

"Before the Air Force told us how the Space Battlelab was going to close, we came up with the plan of how to close it," Colonel Latchford said. The plan detailed where people would go after the inactivation, what projects would have to be dropped and what projects could continue under the SIDC's umbrella. 

"Having the Space Battlelab inside the SIDC was a good thing because it allows some of the innovations to continue after the battlelab is gone," Colonel Latchford said. "The billets and funding are gone, but it was important to keep the projects going, even if at a reduced rate." 

Of 14 projects that were active before the battlelab closed, roughly seven will remain active under the SIDC. One of the remaining projects provides 3rd Space Operations Squadron operators to maintain constant telemetry from their Defense Satellite Communications System satellites. 

Another project, a high-altitude weather balloon system, is designed to increase the range of warfighters' land radios from approximately seven miles to more than 400. The balloon could also be equipped with a network router, allowing warfighters to link up within a battlespace and transmit photos, video and Voice over Internet Protocol, or VOIP. 

The colonel said he had mixed feelings about the inactivation. 

"On one hand, it was neat because we had all the previous battlelab commanders. Colonel Wenzel stood up and shared his views on what it was. Afterward, we all had lunch and shared stories about the innovations, trials, obstacles and successes." 

The closure was a sad day as well, however, because of the loss it represented for the Air Force and the people who worked there. 

"The people made the mission," Colonel Latchford said. "Life happened there. We had people taking care of people - it was a culture of, 'How do we make things better?' Everyone was looking for ways to do everything better, not just their particular job. Those people will be able to take that with them."

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