New Squadron Trains For Space-Based Aggression
Schriever AFB - Oct. 25, 2000
Air aggressor squadrons are not new. Since the creation of the Air Force, these flying squadrons have played the villain of the exercise scenario, attacking fellow blue-suited pilots in war exercises to train them as effectively as possible for the time when they had to go up against the real thing. By using the doctrines and technology the enemy has and utilizing them, these aggressor squadrons sharpen our sense of the enemy's abilities and how to counteract them. The long-used nickname for these aggressors is "Gomers."
Now the Air Force has followed that legacy into the future -- into the deep reaches of space.
The 527th Space Aggressor Squadron, under the Space Warfare Center at Schriever, became the first space aggressor squadron in history Oct. 23 in a ceremony at Peterson AFB, Colo.
"There have been a number of different aggressor squadrons, but this is the first time that space has stepped into the arena," said Lt. Col. "Rad" Widman, the first commander of the squadron. "This is a major step in bringing defensive and offensive counterspace capabilities to the fight. It's also a new opportunity for Space Command to slip out and play with the rest of the combat air forces on an equal footing."
The threat of space assets being used against American and allied forces is a relatively new concern for war planners. The space aggressors were created nearly two years ago to study the potential threat of enemies using commercial space assets against the U.S. military. They took the roles of exercise opponents April 1999 and have since been inundated with requests to participate at exercises. The scope of their job propelled the 52-person shop from being a minor branch at Schriever's SWC, eight miles east of Colorado Springs, into squadron status.
Their mission is similar to the air aggressor squadron without the aircraft -- to make the Air Force warrior realize how much they depend upon space assets and how to counteract the enemy's attempts to thwart the use of those assets.
"We are what, in this business, are commonly referred to as Gomers," Widman said. "Gomers are not the enemy, but we replicate them. Gomers have to be the best. We know what the capabilities of blue forces system are, and we must also be experts at employing enemy systems."
The squadron is divided into four functional areas: the Imagery Exploitation Flight, the Electronic Warfare Flight, the Red Attack Flight and the Space Control Flight.
The Imagery Exploitation Flight explores the Internet for the commercial satellite imagery available to anyone with a computer and a credit card. Commanders on the ground are often astonished at the detail and accuracy of the images.
"The commander becomes very sensitive to that fact that the adversary has a much clearer picture of what U.S. forces are trying to do," Widman said. "They can find out where planes, depots, soldier barracks and perimeter fences are. It could be done with untrained analysts downloading commercial imagery."
"They're extremely surprised at the detail of the images," said Master Sgt. John Weeber, the NCOIC of the flight. "It's a new potential threat that we in the military are going to have to deal with." He added that with more and more sensitive systems online foreign governments, previously without this capability, are now finding they can buy a bird's eye view of U.S. installations by simply having a credit card.
The Electronic Warfare Flight uses known adversary technology to jam U.S. systems using the Global Positioning System and satellite communications during exercises. Once more, they only use the equipment and doctrine known to be in potential adversaries' hands.
"A SATCOM jammer can be placed anywhere in the satellite's footprint (the area the satellite covers as it passes over the earth) and if we can find the frequency they're on, we simply put another signal on that frequency and they've lost their satellite communications. We're using satellite communication equipment that can be leased or purchased by anyone," Widman said.
"Since many of our systems depend on GPS for timing and navigation accuracy, we will also deny the use of GPS to blue forces. The intent will be to sharpen their skills for detecting and countering these effects.
The Red Attack Flight coalesces these disruptive abilities and makes a feasible plan to direct them against the regular Air Force's command and control capabilities during an exercise.
"We ask them before we begin 'How much pain do you want?' " the lieutenant colonel said. "We're not out to wreak havoc on them just for the sake of wreaking havoc. We want to show them what they're likely to realistically encounter. As a squadron, we will only play within the certified boundaries of what we know the opposition's tactics and capabilities are. We can replicate any adversary with space capabilities. And if we do it correctly, blue forces will build countermeasures for air and space superiority as the commander has intended. It makes for a more efficient and effective force."
Widman said the intent from the Pentagon and Space Command headquarters in Colorado Springs is to pull together his aggressors with air and information warfare aggressor squadrons to create a "full spectrum" opposition force that would mirror the realistic space abilities of an enemy today.
The squadron flexed its muscles recently at the Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment this year with jamming scenarios. This resulted in a checklist for communications operators to counteract the jamming. The "lessons learned" portion of the exercises falls under the Space Control Flight, which will develop the countermeasures, new tactics and procedures to protect from a space-based onslaught. In August of next year, they will join air aggressors for the first time in an attempt to disrupt the "blue force" operations in Red Flag at Nellis AFB, Nev.
The squadron will pick up the heritage of the 527th Air Aggressor Squadron, which was based in RAF Alconbury, U.K., for much of its mission and inactivated at RAF Bentwaters, U.K., almost 10 years ago. That squadron flew F-5s and F-16s for their missions.
"There's a legacy of getting our forces ready for the Cold War and Alconbury did a great job preparing them," Widman said. "We're excited about carrying that mission forward in Space Command. That mission is to prepare our forces by playing the enemy. Because if we forego the capabilities that the enemy has, it could mean a space Pearl Harbor."
US Space Command
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