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Gazette Premium Content Space Wing commander on hunt for efficiency

By Tom Roeder Published: March 2, 2014

On the job for six months, the 21st Space Wing's boss is looking for answers.

Col. John E. Shaw, who leads the Peterson Air Force Base unit that provides missile detection and space monitoring through a worldwide network of radars and telescopes, wants to know how the work can be done more efficiently for less money as the Pentagon's budget shrinks.

And he thinks the airmen in his wing know how to do it.

"The most precious resource we have is our people," he said.

Shaw's wing is spread from the Arctic Circle to the tropics with outposts in Hawaii, Greenland and Alaska. It is also growing its presence in Colorado Springs, with the move this year of the 90-member 4th Space Control Squadron from New Mexico to Peterson.

He said that move, which saves money and improves efficiency by allowing units in the wing to collaborate on training, is an example of the direction he's taking.

"The key question every airman can ask is 'Why are we doing it this way and is there a better way to do this,'" he explained.

Shaw came to Peterson in July from a job at the Pentagon where he helped form the Defense Department's space policy.

"Coming into the job I wanted to look at whether we are focused on what we need to be focused on," he said.

As part of that process, Shaw rewrote the wing's mission statement and set a list of six priorities for airmen.

The first priority, he said, is winning the war in Afghanistan and other current battles.

"Winning tomorrow's fight is the next priority," he said.

The wing's work on monitoring space and detecting missile attacks is growing more complex because of technological leaps overseas.

Several nations, including North Korea and Iran have demonstrated missile capabilities and are striving to build weapons with global range.

The same is true in space, where new nations gain satellite capabilities every year.

"Space situational awareness increasing in importance to what we do as a nation and around the globe," Shaw said.

The meet the growing demands on the wing, the Air Force is continuing a program to upgrade massive missile warning radars and is expected to award a contract this year for a new "space fence" sensor to track satellites.

But the missions in space face cold financial reality on Earth. The Pentagon faces $900 billion in budget cuts over the next decade.

Shaw said the 21st is looking at ways to cut costs while leaving the Air Force mission unaffected. One recent change is the addition of wind turbines to a 21st Space Wing facility in Massachusetts to cut the power bill of the massive phased-array radar at Cape Cod Air Force Station.

"It's something we are looking at to see how we can better manage energy use," he said. Other initiatives include cutting the far-flung wing's travel budget by using video conferences for meetings that used to require trips.

While budgets are shrinking, the wing's monitoring continues 24 hours a day.

Shaw said even as the Pentagon shifts to post-war realities, the mission of the 21st remains constant.

"I don't see our job changing for decades," he said.

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