VANDENBURG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Two 533rd Training Squadron instructors’ idea to revolutionize space warfighting training here was recently recognized as a top entry at the Air Education and Training Command-level 2020 Spark Tank competition.
Capt. Alex Hartenburg and Capt. Perry VanZandt’s idea to use a basic scripting and engineering visualization software called Matrix Laboratory (MATLAB), which can be used to solve any number of problems to enhance space warfighting innovation, rose above the rest to win at the MAJCOM-level.
“When our Airmen are able to use basic computer scripting to create software solutions for challenges they encounter, we enable and decentralize agility to tactical space operators defending the space domain,” said Col. Merna H.H. Hsu, 381st Training Group commander. “With this idea, we can transform the way our tacticians learn to adapt and overcome space domain security challenges against thinking adversaries.”
Hsu also noted how the approach increases initial skills training rigor while developing space warfighters with the mindset and tactical skills for agility in a contested, degraded, and operationally limited environment.
Giving undergraduate space training students tools to help them develop the ability to critically think through and design adaptive solutions for problem sets not yet encountered is vital in preparing for space operations.
“Space operators are being prepared today to think and fight in the agile battlespace which the US Space Force was created for,” said VanZandt. “We are trying to realize this need by teaching and empowering space operators to utilize readily available software to its fullest potential in pursuit of the tactical problem.”
Hartenburg and VanZandt’s idea includes the idea to secure 200 licenses of the MATLAB software to address one of the gaps in tactical space operations, which is that space operators are not taught, nor do they typically possess the skills required to use programming software to script and produce the models necessary to plan, critically think and problem solve for space-based engagements, Hartenburg said.
“By learning basic scripting, students increase problem solving skills and enable them to apply hypothetical warfighting tactics in space during check-rides and capstone exercises,” Hartenburg said. “This will help Airmen be better equipped to solve real space warfighting problems throughout their career.”
Scripting and problem solving skills are the capstone of the newly revised Undergraduate Space Training – Next curriculum, which transforms low-fidelity training into a student centered, solid foundation for space warfighters.
Some of those warfighting problems include writing script to provide a launch azimuth and list of all launch windows for a time period given the launch site location and desired orbit.
“To be ready and lethal, space operators must have these skills from the very beginning of their space career,” Hartenburg said. “They must be able to develop custom modeling and planning tools in-house in order to have any chance of responding quickly enough to make a difference in any engagement.”
In addition to basic scripting, MATLAB also creates technically accurate visualizations, which are embedded into instruction materials and prevent the need for external programs or files.
The 533rd Training Squadron is the sole location for initial skills training of space operators within a warfighting context. It is assigned to the 381st Training Group at Vandenberg AFB, California. The 533rd Training Squadron "Centurions" focus on providing students with space training and trains approximately 435 officer and enlisted space warriors each year. The 381st TRG is the gateway into the U.S. Air Force for Airmen entering the space, missile, or missile maintenance career fields.