Walking out to an F-16 Fighting Falcon, Staff Sgt. Erick Vega, an
avionics specialist from Aviano Air Base, Italy, is told upon
landing, the pilot experienced loss of GPS.
quickly approaches this July evening, the 100-degree temperatures
fall to a mere 98 degrees on the base just outside of Las Vegas. The
blue light from Vega's laptop illuminates his face, as he goes to
work, trying to determine if there's a maintenance issue with the
avionics, or if something worse occurred.
An hour passes
before Vega makes the determination—adversaries have degraded the
system through an attack on space assets.
July 21, 2016 - From the left, Staff Sgt. Erick Vega, an avionics
specialist with the 555th Fighter Squadron out of Aviano Air Base,
Italy, shows a look of frustration nearly an hour after encountering
degraded space operations to his F-16 Fighting Falcon on Nellis Air
Force Base, Nevada during exercise Red Flag. (U.S. Air Force photo
by Tech. Sgt. David Salanitri)
Vega, a member of the 555th Fighter Squadron, is one of
3,500 service members participating in exercise Red Flag
16-3, a realistic air combat training exercise that provides
approximately 1,900 possible targets, threat systems and
opposing enemy force.
A quarter mile away under the
cover of night, Capt. Brian Goodman and Senior Master Sgt.
Thomas Arns prepare to test F-16 maintainers, like Vega, on
what a space attack may look like should an adversary
The squadron of maintainers have been
told the F-16 Fighting Falcon's pilots experienced degraded
GPS system during flight.
As Goodman and Arns,
members of the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron from Schriever
Air Force Base, Colorado, launch their mission to degrade
the fighter squadron's GPS systems like a potential
adversary may try to do, avionics specialist scramble,
trying to figure out if their equipment is failing, or if an
adversary is attacking them.
In this example, think
of the avionics Airmen as boxers. Hitting a punching back
may help with endurance, but few things help more than
training within someone who can punch you back, just like an
opponent will. They need a training adversary who thinks
like an enemy and fights back.
“I am a professional
bad guy. I get paid to be your enemy,” said Goodman, a smirk
displayed across his face.
Goodman, a prior enlisted
aircraft maintainer, is part of a team of 25 active-duty and
Reserve Airmen from the 527th and 26th SAS, conducting space
aggressor operations at Nellis as part of the three-week Red
Flag 16-3 exercise.
The 12,000 square miles of
airspace and 2.9 million acres of land at the Nevada Test
and Training Range serve as the Red Flag boxing arena, where
red and blue forces, also known as the good guys and the bad
guys, battle in air, space and cyberspace domains.
“We are somebody who goes into the ring with the good guy,”
Goodman said. “As aggressors, our job is to be the sparring
partner for blue forces.”
To provide the best
possible opponent, the space aggressors must think like an
enemy. In doing so, their opponent must think and react to a
freethinking “enemy” rather than a pretend scenario.
“We research, we train and we replicate adversary
tactics against space assets,” said Arns—the squadron
superintendent who is also a fully qualified aggressor, like
every squadron member.
As part of their mission of
teaching warfighters, the space aggressors conduct training
mission to educate forces on how to identify threats and
mitigate their effects. Then, the team replicates the
adversary tactics during Red Flag.
exercise, they see the enemy effects,” Arns said. “They can
apply what they learned from us and overcome what we are
Dubbed as the space bad guys, the team
leverages techniques and capabilities among others to
present a realistic and relevant adversary. The aggressors
provide operationally degraded GPS environment, attack
communication satellites and establish red force system
network, serving as blue forces' targets.
presenting them problem sets that they have to critically
think through, develop solutions for and go out there and
execute them,” Goodman said.
As Red Flag progresses,
the aggressors ramp things up, including the space threats.
They play more challenges with the intent of ensuring the
warfighters continue to progress and learn from their
mistakes and achievements.
“We don't take pride in
crushing blue forces,” said Arns. “If we dominate them,
there's no added benefit for these folks. We want blue
forces to win. We want them to realize we are engaging them,
and then use logic and tactics and overcome what we are
doing. It makes them better warfighters.”
said conducting a realistic space threats during Red Flag
ensures a warfighting force better prepared for combat.
“Ultimately, when you are in a real life fight ..., the
fog and friction of war and the myriad of things that go on
in the middle of a battle presents a different landscape
when you're operating in a simulator or a virtual or
constructed environment. Being able to fight in a real time
with a thinking adversary hones your on-the-spot critical
thinking and problem-solving skills,” he explained.
With space systems, such as GPS and military satellite
communications, integrated into the Air Force mission,
training warfighters into overcoming adversary threats has
“There are adversaries who see how
much space brings to the table and how much space has become
critical to us in waging and winning wars. They want to take
that piece away,” said Goodman.
Gone are the days
when space is free range. It is becoming more congested and
contested, he continued. This is one of the reasons why the
space aggressors exist.
“If you want to be a better
fighter, you need to find somebody who will challenge you to
be better,” Goodman continued. “We challenge space forces to
get better. And they do. We as an Air Force and American
people have a more competent, resilient and more
battle-hardened and more war-ready space force. We play into
By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes
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