Space Force Aggressors ... Adversary Focused Training
by U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Charles Rivezzo
November 17, 2022
As our nation’s prosperity becomes intertwined with space, our nation’s security becomes just as reliant.
That’s where the U.S. Space Force comes in – to deter and compete against threats to the space domain. And that only happens through Space Training and Readiness Command (STARCOM) carrying out its responsibility of developing and preparing Guardians to prevail in conflict.
One way to boost the readiness of Guardians is by putting them in training exercises where they go toe-to-toe with Guardians replicating adversary tactics. These Guardians are known as Aggressors.
Using validated emulators, Aggressors attack friendly forces by jamming their Global Positioning System receivers or disrupting satellite communications signals. They’re a thinking, breathing stand-in for threats that Guardians might encounter.
The Quad-band Large Aperture Antenna (QLAA) and Ground Multi-band Terminal (GMT) satellite dishes are used by space range operators during a CRIMSON SKIES exercise near Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado, Nov. 2, 2022. Hosted and the led by the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron, CRIMSON SKIES was the first Aggressor driven event in the "Aggressor Red Shade SKIES series." The exercise focused on training wideband military satellite communication (MILSATCOM) operators and crews to identify, react to, and resolve adversary interference on the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) constellation. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Charles Rivezzo)
“The Aggressors are the professional, thinking adversaries who bring realism to combat training,” said Col. Kyle Pumroy, Delta 11 commander. “Realistic combat training is essential because it instills credibility to our Guardian’s readiness by providing unscripted, combat-like experiences to learn from, hone skills, and refine tactics.”
Leveraging this specialized capability, STARCOM premiered a new exercise series designed to enhance threat-based training for military satellite communication (MILSATCOM) operators, Oct. 31 – Nov. 4, 2022.
Hosted and led by the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron, this was the first Aggressor driven event in the "Aggressor Red Shade SKIES series."
Pumroy said the Aggressor Red Shade SKIES series is not directly related to STARCOM’s SKIES series [BLACK, RED, and BLUE], which are large force exercises that seek to train multiple USSF units or missions in a single event.
He added that these Aggressor exercises are intended to provide similar readiness-building, readiness-validating opportunities.
“The Red Shade SKIES series seeks to close the identified gap of adversary focused training that the Space Force has identified, normally using live training capacities,” Pumroy said. “They are the answer to the question of, ‘How do we conduct USSF missions in a contested environment?’”
The inaugural Red Shade SKIES exercise, dubbed CRIMSON SKIES, focused on training wideband MILSATCOM operators and crews to identify, react to, and resolve adversary interference on the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) constellation.
Utilizing their reserve partners from the 26th Space Aggressor Squadron as operators for the aggressor system, CRIMSON SKIES targeted space operators at Wideband SATCOM Operations Centers (WSOCs) assigned to Delta 8’s 53rd Space Operations Squadron, Detachment A.
The 53rd SOPS provides mission assurance and continuous operational support through real-time correlated monitoring, control, and management of MILSATCOM through its five geographically separated WSOCs. WSOCs are the first line of defense for assigned satellites, terminals, and users, providing assured access to Department of Defense-owned wideband satellite communications.
During the exercise, the training audience was charged with identifying adversary interference replicated live on the WGS, perform applicable reporting procedures to notify affected users and additional entities within the satellite communications (SATCOM) enterprise.
U.S. Space Force Capt. Terry Lindsey, 25th Space Range Squadron training flight commander, left, and James Vise, 25th SRS range technician, right, operate a spectrum analyzer during a CRIMSON SKIES exercise near Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado, Nov. 2, 2022. Hosted and the led by the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron, CRIMSON SKIES was the first Aggressor driven event in the "Aggressor Red Shade SKIES series." The exercise focused on training wideband military satellite communication (MILSATCOM) operators and crews to identify, react to, and resolve adversary interference on the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) constellation. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Charles Rivezzo)
Simply stated, the training event simulated what it would look like if a specific adversary jammer was attempting to intentionally disrupt communications on WGS.
From there, participants needed to plan for and provide mitigation instructions to the user to return affected signals to full mission capability.
“This is a brand-new mission for the Space Force,” said Capt. Kyle Schroeder, 527th SAS flight commander for weapons and tactics. “It is imperative that we provide adversary focused training for this new aspect of the SATCOM mission. [Our operators] need to practice detecting, reporting, and resolving interference on MILSATCOM systems before the United States is in a near-peer fight.”
As is the case with every Aggressor training event, current intelligence assessments drove the CRIMSON SKIES scenario.
“Our mission planning process starts with what Intel has observed or assessed that an adversary can or will do,” Schroeder said. “The Aggressors will never replicate effect or support an event without Intel driving our actions.”
To that end, Schroeder noted that the Space Force is pushing to increase adversary focused training to prepare for great power conflicts.
“It became apparent that the Aggressors would need to expand [its scope] to provide adversary threat focused training to all tactical missions in the Space Force,” he said. “CRIMSON SKIES was our first hack at that. Today it’s SATCOM providers. We’re already planning future events across other Deltas.”
Although the assessment of CRIMSON SKIES is still on-going, Schroeder said that from his perspective the WSOCs are a motivated unit that effectively sought to mitigate the impact of interference events.
“CRIMSON SKIES would not have been possible without the enduring support we received from Delta 8 and the SATCOM Syndicate,” he said. “This event was certainly a departure from typical training events, and if not for their willingness to step forward and take a chance on a new way of doing training, it would not have gotten off the ground.”
According to the 527th SAS, more Aggressor Skies events are coming.
“The more support the Aggressors can get from the Deltas we seek to train, the better the event will be and the more combat credibility our Guardians will be able to develop,” Schroeder said.
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