A Tale of Two Symposia

July 13, 2011  - By

Defense PNT Newsletter, July 2011

It is not the best of times as we have been at war for ten years without significant upgrades to the military GPS user equipment supplied to our valiant warfighters. It is not the worst of times as war inexorably draws to a close; now of course come a few military GPS upgrades for which the warfighters have been clamoring for ten years.

Space and CyberSpace Warfare Symposium

The warfighter clamoring has been accomplished for all to hear in warfighter panels at symposia such as I had the honor to attend in Colorado during the month of June. Ski season was still in full swing in selected portions of the Rocky Mountains (it sometimes lingers through July), and many warfighters took advantage of the situation to spend some time on the slopes with their families or play a round of high-altitude golf during the sixth Annual Space and Cyberspace Warfare Symposium held in beautiful Keystone, Colorado, June 14-16, 2011. This symposium, which is sponsored by the Lance P. Sijan Chapter of the Air Force Association, usually attracts about 300+ warfighters and senior decision-makers to the Rocky Mountains to spend time networking and sharing facts and perspectives concerning the war first-hand from warfighters of every description.

In just six years, Kevin Estrem, the current Lance Sijan Chapter president, and his staff have made this the place to be for space and cyberspace warriors as well as the wannabees in the month of June. According to Kevin, the Lance P. Sijan Chapter is one of the largest and most active and award-winning chapters in the AFA, and when you experience the top-flight event they put on for the space and cyberspace warriors every year, it is easy to see why they win so many awards. Timely topics, great venue, great speakers, incredible attention to detail, tremendous service, and an extraordinary venue — how can it not be a great symposium?

Warfighters Run the Gamut

At this space and cyberspace symposium you will see warfighters from across the Department of Defense (DoD) wearing four stars and warfighters with one stripe. The great thing is all are heard and have the opportunity to interact in an incredibly relaxing and collegial atmosphere.

You can opt to play golf with other warfighters, as I mentioned, or exchange thoughts and opinions over the wonderful meals provided by the Keystone Conference Center. Or many, like yours truly, prefer to ride their mountain bikes or just jog along the roaring and cascading Snake River. This year, due to the abundant rainfall in the mountains, the sinuous Snake was running close to flood stage but was contained within its banks, if barely, and that just made it all the most exciting and vociferous. What a sound and what a thrill to ride just inches away from that huge winding and cascading volume of icy cold mountain water. Imagine if you will all the fury of Mother Nature contained in that narrow channel. Breathtaking!

The high mountain backdrop for the Keystone Space and Cyberspace Warfighter Symposium can be both exciting and relaxing at the same time, while still affording everyone opportunities to express their viewpoints in a unique atmosphere. A truly inspiring venue for this type of gathering with more than 100,000 square feet of meeting exhibit and function space.

Nation’s Senior Space Warfighters

The four-star guest and evening banquet speaker at this year’s event was General William L. Shelton (USAF), the Commander of Air Force Space Command. As such General Shelton is officially responsible for organizing, equipping, training, and maintaining mission-ready space and cyberspace forces and capabilities for North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), and other combatant commands around the globe. As the senior space warfighter, General Shelton oversees U.S. Air Force network operations; manages a global network of satellite command and control (C2), communications, missile warning, and space launch facilities; and is responsible for space system development and acquisition. He leads more than 46,000 space and cyber professionals, assigned to 88 locations worldwide and deployed to an additional 35 global locations. So you might say he possesses unparalleled qualifications to be the senior warfighter at this year’s warfare symposium.

You might even get the idea that General Shelton likes Colorado, since he began his Air Force career there in 1972 at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) and this is his forth assignment to Colorado since that time. But for our purposes in GPS World, one of his most telling Colorado assignments was from August 1990 to June 1992, when he served as the Commander of the 2nd Space Operations Squadron (the folks who fly and maintain the GPS constellation among other things) at Falcon (now Schriever) Air Force Base, Colorado. In fact when I have the opportunity to speak to the space operators at Schriever AFB these days, my old stomping grounds, I quickly remind them that where General Shelton is concerned, almost any topic you broach concerning space operations, especially GPS, he can truthfully say, “Been there…done that,” and he has not the T-shirt, but the stars to prove it.

General Shelton’s Vice Commander, Lt. General Michael Basla (USAF), a lifelong communicator, was also a speaker and attendee again this year. Indeed, Mike has been a regular at this seminal warfighter event since he arrived in Colorado Springs at Peterson AFB. General Basla really knows how to stir up a crowd and he did not disappoint. While both General’s Shelton and Basla had important things to say, it was more important for the warfighters to see them there in person. The presence of the nation’s two senior space warfighters at a symposium for warfighters meant a lot to these brave young men and women, and it showed. All week long I heard the warfighters talking about meeting and getting to hear General Shelton and General Basla speak. A few even hoped to be able to speak to them privately, and they were not disappointed.

General officers do not of course vie to win popularity contests, but if either General Shelton or General Basla were running for public office this year, and the warfighters had their say, the generals would win by a landslide after their presentations and their presence at Keystone.

General Jerome O’Malley Award

The General Jerome F. O’Malley Distinguished Space Leadership Award was awarded to Brigadier General David D. Thompson, the Director of Air, Space and Cyberspace Operations for Air Force Space Command. Mrs. Sharon O’Malley Berg was on hand to present the award and speak about her famous father who many credit for originating the idea of and laying the groundwork for Air Force Space Command.

Warfighter Panel

Nothing Earth-shattering came out of this year’s conference, and that’s probably a good thing, but the highlight had to be the warfighter panels. The young warfighters were exceptional this year; their stories were both heartwarming and heartrending. It is incredible the feats our young warfighters accomplish, whether they are in an F-16 Fighting Falcon or infiltrating Taliban positions as Special Operators on the ground, always in harm’s way. There are space and cyberspace warfighters supporting all the warfighter missions, as space operators in CONUS (Continental U.S.), in the
ater at command positions, and in theater with the Special Operators; heck, as many of us discovered many of them are the Special Operators. I could not have been prouder, and everyone else felt the same way, as was demonstrated by the thundering applause and standing ovation each panel received. If you have never been to one of these events you can justify it by the warfighting panels alone. It is something you will always remember — bravery has that effect.


I attend a great many symposia and numerous conferences every year. Sometimes, unfortunately, the venues tend to blend together and you may not even know in what city you are located. However, few if any come close to the ambiance and connectedness of the warfighter symposium at Keystone. You will never mistake it for any other location. The facilities at the Keystone Hotel and Convention Center are first class, and the staff treat the warfighters with special care. More than one of the warfighter panel members, who had just arrived back home from theater, commented that he and his family (yes, the symposium sponsors paid for him to have his family with him) felt like they were in a five-star resort, and it was a much-needed vacation and time together with his family. Many of the warfighters also commented on the extraordinary level of service and the excellent cuisine. For that they have the fantastic magician Angela Andrews, the director of Conference Services and Catering, and her excellent staff at the Keystone Convention Center to thank. Angela and her staff oversee every detail and you do feel pampered. Another distinct advantage of a small but personal and service-oriented symposium in the Rocky Mountains. The cuisine is five-star quality and they have their own pastry chef, which is immediately evident the first morning you partake of the incredible breakfast pastries and treats. Don’t tell my wife, but I’m quite sure I had more than one every morning. It generates a genuine desire to have breakfast for lunch, and breakfast for dinner, if you catch my drift!

Now, I ask you, don’t our warfighters deserve this kind of treatment? From a dark, dank, dangerous, and stinking goat-infested cave in the mountains of Afghanistan, with enemies on every side, to the Keystone Hotel in the beautiful Rocky Mountains where everyone is your friend and supporter. Frankly, it doesn’t seem like too much to me; it just simply seems like the right thing to do. Join us next year won’t you? June 2012, and if you dare, bring your mountain bike.

Joint Navigation Conference (ION-JNC)

Actually, the real name of this conference is a mouthful: The Joint Services Data Exchange (JSDE) and The Institute of Navigation (ION) Annual Joint Navigation Conference (JNC) — or just JNC for short.

For our purposes, the difference between this conference or symposium and the previous warfighter symposium is that papers, presentations, and demonstrations are given by GPS, GIS, and GNSS experts from around the globe on our favorite topics, things to do with positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT).

There are numerous exhibits and an exhibit hall, which will suck you in and never let you go if you allow it to, but only because the exhibits are so interesting. There are of course plenary and general sessions, but basically everyone comes for the individual papers, the research, the camaraderie, the networking, the technical expertise, and the of course the warfighter panels. Indeed, the warfighter panels at this conference are held at the SECRET level each year in a secure location and are limited to citizens of the U.S., U.K., Australia, and Canada. This year the classified events were held in Colorado Springs at Fort Carson, Colorado, one of five military installations in the Colorado Springs area. More on the warfighter panels later.

JNC Venue

This year the JNC ran June 27-30 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the Springs, and as I said the classified sessions were held at a separate and secure location.

The accommodations at the Crowne Plaza were barely adequate this year because no one knew the conference would grow so much in popularity. But then when your conference is in demand, attendance will grow, and attendance at the classified sessions alone this year doubled from 300-600 attendees. So the normally unflappable Lisa Beaty that I know and respect at ION and her excellent staff were caught a bit off guard. People typically travel from all over the globe to attend JNC, and this year was no exception. As the numbers mounted, Lisa had a choice between restricting attendance and limiting papers or opening the gates and hoping for the best. The latter choice was the correct one, of course, and in the end it all worked out fine. Some sessions were standing room only and the hotel could not accommodate everyone, but there are numerous excellent hotels in the vicinity. There may have been room for a few more exhibits, but if it grows by as much next year the space may well be maxed out. Such is the price of popularity, and who knows? There may be some hidden space no one noticed. I am sure they will have it all sorted out by next year.

There were few senior officers present this year, although they have frequently been there in the past. But again this is more of a technical and warfighter exchange than it is a policy meeting. Frankly, the people that needed to be there were there, although a few more stars might increase the draw for some potential attendees. Sure, just what Lisa needs right now, a bigger draw! Stars or no stars, if you are a technical PNT geek, this is the conference/symposium for you.

While the presentations generally ran the gamut from good to great (we are generally speaking about engineers here after all), the information exchange and networking that went on were phenomenal to see. There are numerous subject-matter tracks to follow, and only you can decide where you need to be when, but fortunately there are plenty of readily identifiable JNC staff members around to help you find your way.


As far as presentations go, the presenters have a stop-light system to help them stay within time limits and ION is ruthless about enforcing it. After all, why wait all day for your favorite presentations just to have them canceled because someone was long winded? This will never happen at JNC. Stars, bars, stripes, mister, or doctor — you have your allotted time for sound and fury on stage and then the hook. It is all very politely accomplished of course, and no one gets the bum rush, but that red light blinking in your face lets you know your allotted time has come to an end. I sincerely wish more conferences ran with this much precision and efficiency. Lisa and her staff are to be congratulated for their Teutonic punctiliousness.


I wish I could relate more concerning the excellent FOUO papers; however, ever since 9/11, many JNC presentations have been conducted at the FOUO or For Official Use Only level. Frankly that means that, since this is an international magazine, I cannot relate details of the various presentations. I know some publications blithely ignore that restriction, at their own peril, but you won’t catch me making that mistake. For ION members the papers will be published online at the ION site, and of course you are always free to attend and hear them in person, which is what I hope you will do next year. The presentations are well worthwhile, take my word for it. You can of course peruse the agenda and paper topics at the ION website. When they are posted you should be able to download a cleared version of some of the papers. The papers cover the gamut from an excellent GPS constellation update by Lt. Col. Jennifer Grant (USAF), the current Commander of the 2nd Space Operations Squadron, to something as esoteric as Al
ternative Navigation Technologies (Natural Occurring Phenomena) chaired by my good friend and colleague James Doherty (Capt., USCG Retired) at the Institute for Defense Analysis. Jim is a former President of ION and former Commander of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) NAVCEN (Navigation Center), and for Jim the more esoteric the presentation the better. Jim was also the moderator and organizer of the excellent warfighter panel. He shared the panel duty this year with the immediate past ION President Mickel Miller.

JNC Warfighter Panel

While there is indeed something for everyone at JNC, again the highlight of the event was the final classified day, which included the warfighter panel. And since it was held at the SECRET level I can say almost nothing except that you should have been there. However, Jim Doherty did ask a question of the panel that relates directly to GPS — the question we have been asking of warfighters in this column for the last five years, “If you could have the perfect handheld GPS/communications device, what features would it have?” Not surprisingly, the answers have not changed. The consolidated answer was basically an iPhone-sized device with iPhone weight and battery life with embedded military (SAASM-enabled) PNT and communications capabilities with an Apple- or Garmin-like friendly operating system, and a color screen with maps and multiple grid coordinate systems displaying blue force tracked assets and networking capabilities. In other words, everything the current MUE (like the DAGR) does not do in an iPhone-sized device with an operating system someone could actually enjoy using. There were other specifics, of course, that I cannot go into in this venue. But there were no surprises. The warfighters’ needs have not changed and the DoD continues to not meet them. I thank Jim for asking the question.

In the end the warfighters were simply phenomenal, and there was again thunderous applause, and the only standing ovation of the day, and possibly for the whole conference. If you are reading this in GPS World magazine, then this is not a conference you can afford to miss. I hope to see you in Colorado Springs next June at JNC 2012.

Until next time, happy navigating.

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About the Author:

Don Jewell served 30 years in the United States Air Force, as an aviator and a space subject-matter expert. Don’s involvement with GPS and other critical space systems began with their inception, either as a test system evaluator or user. He served two command assignments at Schriever AFB, the home of GPS, and retired as Deputy Chief Scientist for Air Force Space Command. Don also served as a Politico Military Affairs Officer during the Reagan administration, working with 32 foreign embassies and serving as a Foreign Disclosure Officer making critical export control decisions concerning sophisticated military hardware and software. After retiring from the USAF, Don served seven years as the senior space marketer and subject-matter expert for two of the largest government contractors dealing in space software and hardware. Don currently serves on two independent GPS review teams he helped found, and on three independent assessment teams at the Institute for Defense Analyses, dealing with critical issues for the U.S. government. Don has served on numerous Air Force and Defense Scientific Advisory Boards. He writes and speaks extensively on technical issues concerning the U.S. government. Don earned his Bachelor’s degree and MBA; the Ph.D. is in progress.

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