AUSTRALIAN JOINT OPERATIONS CENTER, Canberra, Australia, Aug. 3, 2011 -- For American and Australian Soldiers taking part in Talisman Sabre, satellites can make the difference between winning or losing.

“Space Operations help the commanders visualize movement on the battlefield using commercial topographical imagery, but it isn’t just about terrain features and maps,” said Maj. Courtney Henderson, U.S. Army Pacific Command, Space Support Element, Fort Shafter, Hawaii.

“Space capabilities enhance the military’s ability to communicate, navigate terrain, engage the enemy with better accuracy and protect its forces,” Henderson stressed.

Space Operations Soldiers retrieve and interpret data and develop products that help commanders navigate on the battlefield. Whether they’re tracking convoys, establishing landing zones and distribution networks or mapping critical infrastructure to locate obstacles, bridges and crossings, to name a few, Henderson said.

Talisman Sabre is a biennial training exercise designed to bring the different branches of the U.S. and Australian military together in a combined environment to train and enhance their combined and joint war-fighting skills.

As a combined joint task force, roughly 14,000 U.S. and 9,000 Australian military personnel conducted maritime, land, and air operations exercises, July 11-29, 2011.

Satellite and space technologies have a wide range of application, not only as an asset to commanders on the ground in a combat environment and pilots in the air, but also for emergency and humanitarian assistance.

Before a commander can decide which contingent of troops will descend to the east or if they will fan out on a western ridge or which tank formation is chosen to mount a direct assault, he needs to ensure the terrain will support the movement.

Satellite imagery allows him to know in advance if a riverbed is flooding or an area is experiencing extreme drought conditions, both of which have a huge impact on a commander’s decisions.

A significant asset is the ability to use current imagery to visualize and assess battle damage using computer images rather than sending personnel and aircraft to determine how effective weapons systems’ were.

“These systems enhance timing, effectiveness and efficiency for commanders in the air as well as on the ground,” said Squadron Leader Steven Henry from the Australian Defence Forces Air and Space Operations Center, Headquarters, Joint Operations Command.

“Whether it’s the navigation system in a cockpit or a locator beacon during a search and rescue mission, they are critical to our success,” Henry said.

Understanding these capabilities and interpreting the data that’s collected is no easy task.

Army Space Support Teams, or ARSSTs, continually monitor satellite conditions, locations, atmospheric weather conditions and environmental factors, such as solar flares, that may impact their systems' ability to collect or send information.

Teams provide a tailored support package of personnel and equipment including six members, two officers and four enlisted Soldiers, each specializing in their own fields; from communications, intelligence and computer technology to topographic analysis.

Soldiers undergo months of additional training that focuses on space-related knowledge and skills.

“What makes us unique is that every one of our Soldiers can step in and perform any function on the team,” said 1st Sgt. Chuck Meens, 1158th SPACE Company, Colorado National Guard, Colorado Springs, Colo.

These highly trained teams use their skills and various systems to advise a commander on precision engagements, geospatial intelligence, and environmental effects on satellite communications and imaging capabilities, said Maj. Joseph Paladino, commander, Colorado Army National Guard’s 217th Space Company, Colorado Springs, Colo.

This is the first time Space Operations have been fully integrated in a Talisman Sabre exercise, with components from the U.S. Army and Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force.

“The ARSST has been a huge benefit in demonstrating space operations capabilities,” Henderson said. “The exchange of this technology with our Australian counterparts through Talisman Sabre has helped demonstrate the need for this asset in a combined ground force campaign.”

“Theater security cooperation is a major initiative for U.S. Army Pacific Command, the relationships we are building and the exchange of information we receive is essential to providing Space Operations professional training and development, which we foresee going beyond this exercise,” Henderson said.

“Space Operations is relatively new to the Australian Defence Force. We have a limited number of personnel at this point, so the training and experience we gain from U.S. Army Pacific Command is critical to our development,” Henry said.