Space Aggressors Preparing Warfighters
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Arielle Vasquez
May 2, 2018
On the far southwest end of Schriever Air Force Base is an operations warehouse known as 'the Barn' … where members replicate live GPS and satellite communication electronic attacks for training service members across the world.
It is the home of the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron.
The 527th SAS relies on its total force integration to get the mission done, which includes 26th Space Aggressor Squadron Reserve personnel. The 527th SAS stood up as the first space aggressor unit in 2000, while the 26th SAS activated in 2003.
The history of the space aggressors traces back to the Vietnam War, when they were established to address aircrew training deficiencies.
“During that time, there were unsatisfactory kill rates in the air domain,” said Capt. Brian Goodman, training flight commander, 527th SAS. “Adversaries were shooting down too many aircraft, especially compared to past successes. They realized they were executing so poorly in air-to-air combat because pilots were not exposed to adversaries’ techniques and capabilities.”
Thus the evolution of the air aggressors. As the Air Force’s mission portfolio grew, the aggressor program grew toward space, which is now known as the space aggressors.
“We narrow our mission down to ‘know, teach, replicate,” said Maj. Sheri Lattemore, a Canadian service member and director of operations, 527th SAS. “We know and understand all the realistic and relevant threats and we teach those threats to different training audiences.”
“The 527th SAS has three mission sets which involve GPS electronic attack, satellite communications electronic attack and orbital engagement systems,” she added. “GPS electronic attack is when we put noise over the GPS signal so nobody can receive the signal on their receivers. We do the same thing for satellite communications; however, we will send our signal to the satellite itself so communication on the satellite is no longer possible. For orbital engagement systems, we are play the role of the adversary against satellites.”
These tactics are engaged as part of military training exercises isolated to controlled environments. At no time do aggressors use these tactics outside of coordinated and approved exercises.
To best prepare for the challenges they may face, the aggressors have an intelligence flight whose entire function is to research adversaries' capabilities, weapons systems, limitations and how they're going to employ those systems. The flight coordinates with the intelligence community to gather information.
The 527th SAS then conducts the teaching and replication part of their mission with the warfighters, including the Air Force, sister services, allies and coalition partners.
“In the summer of 2016, we created a memorandum of agreement with the U.S. Army, then followed by the U.S. Navy,” Lattemore said. “We train them to do our mission, with the intent of creating their own aggressor units.
“We plan to have Canadians visit us to absorb as much information as they possibly can start their own GPS electronic attack unit,” she added. “Over the years I have been here, I’ve learned a lot about the policies and procedures, but also how to create an aggressor unit. We want to show them they can provide this training in Canada too.”
On a year-round basis, the squadron participates in various exercises. The 527th SAS gathers intelligence and provides relevant and realistic training for the warfighters that helps enhance their situational awareness regarding adversary space systems. Currently, the space aggressors are participating in RED FLAG at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
During those exercises, the 527th SAS conducts adversarial tactics including jamming satellite communications and GPS receivers in an attempt to teach warfighters the effects of the adversaries' weapon systems. The friendly forces then attempt to identify and mitigate the problems associated with these effects.
“For exercises, we work closely with the 26th SAS,” Lattemore said. “We support three RED FLAGS a year as well as weapons school integration, which is twice a year.”
According to Capt. Nathaniel Lee, assistant to the flight commander for aggressor weapons and tactics, 527th SAS, the squadron is developing a threat replication program from the ground up, that was finalized in April 2018. He explained the need for space aggressors is increasing because adversaries are always developing new capabilities.
Lee reflected on what it means to be a part of the squadron.
“We hear a lot in Air Force Space Command about the looming threat of combat in space,” he said. “Understanding the threats and developing tactics are centered on the aggressors. Knowing the space community is getting that out of this small organization is something we take a lot of pride in.”