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Space Warriors Add New Wrinkle To Red Flag

New generation space technologies are already making their mark in the training of US military personnel
by 2nd Lt. Virgil Magee
Schriever AFB - Sept. 5, 2001
The pilot of an F-16 studied the dry hills and arroyos of southern Nevada under her as she banked in search of the target on the ground. This was no ordinary target she was seeking.

The opposition force's space threat -- a truck loaded with sophisticated electronic warfare equipment -- was hiding along the desert floor. If she couldn't hit that target, it could jam pilots' Global Positioning System satellite signals, the same signals that let search-and-rescue units find downed pilots.

Such was the scenario at Red Flag, Air Combat Command's annual war-fighting exercise held Aug. 10 and scheduled to finish Sept. 7 at Nellis AFB, Nev. Red Flag is where the Air Force's best pilots and air aggressors grapple. To fighter pilots, it's the Super Bowl of aerial combat, where only the most highly trained and competitive are allowed to play.

This year, for the first time, Red Flag included the live-fire play of a new type of threat -- the space-capable adversary. Never before had a realistic space threat played in the traditionally air-oriented training event. Providing the orbital jam session was the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron from Schriever AFB, Colo.

"A few years ago it may have been acceptable for us to look at our battles taking place in the air," said Lt. Col. Conrad "Rad" Widman, squadron commander. "Times have changed and we have to look at the broader threat. Not only do we have to understand the things in the air, we have to understand how the loss of space capabilities affects combat operations."

That understanding may be a surprise to pilots, but to the members of the 527th it's all in a day's work. The threat and ability to respond to that danger has become high-priority for Air Force and joint combat exercises. From the Rumsfeld Space Commission Report to the Air Force Chief of Staff's Aerospace Integration Plan, space integration is the way of the future in exercises.

"We didn't show up at Red Flag to win battles. We're there to teach airmen how space-based resources can be used against them," said Capt. Richard 'Pitstop' Petty, space tactics flight commander. "We're not space cowboys, our goal is to make our people better."

For Red Flag, members from the 527th and the 14th Test Squadron Reserve aggressors deployed to remote locations on the Nellis AFB range. There, they set up their equipment at strategic locations to deny GPS to downed airman and rescue helicopters, just as the adversary would deny GPS to a downed American pilot.

The space aggressors were able to create enough problems for the search-and-rescue event that they eventually became a high-priority target for blue forces and were "killed" by the F-16 tasked with suppressing threats to the rescue effort.

"The jamming equipment utilized by the space aggressors was successful given the scope of their operation," said Lt. Col. Tim Veeder, Red Flag director of operations. "Their efforts provided an opportunity to both see the impact and how to then successfully minimize that impact."

But the space aggressors are not only skilled in jamming fighter pilots' signals. They also utilize other space systems in their work.

The squadron's mission is divided among five flights.

The Electronic Warfare Flight, the Red Flag team, makes airmen see what it is like to operate in an environment where space-based assets have come under attack. Using commercially available equipment and known adversary capabilities, they employ the tactics of the enemy to jam GPS and satellite communications networks.

"The downed pilots have been very receptive to having the space aspect of battle here," said Capt. Mark Durrell, EWF commander. "Our presence at Red Flag is a great experience and has created a real dynamic learning environment giving our airmen an opportunity to refine counter tactics, techniques, and procedures by understanding the space threat."

The Imagery Exploitation Flight uses commercial sensors to obtain incredibly detailed and accurate imagery of U.S. forces. Anyone with access to a computer and method of payment can obtain the same images. Aggressors use the images to build the opposition force's understanding of the battlespace and to analyze the force protection vulnerabilities of deploying forces.

The Red Attack Flight coordinates the efforts between the flights and devises a coherent opposition campaign plan. To be credible and realistic, it's not enough to throw adversary capability at exercise participants; the effort must be a coordinated plan with its own battle rhythm and it should be based on the strategies, doctrine and tactics of a particular enemy. To do otherwise would reduce the value of 527th operations in an exercise.

The Space Control Flight analyzes future countermeasure capabilities and develops new tactics and procedures in case of an attack on U.S. space assets.

Finally, the 14th Test Squadron's Air Force Reserve Space Aggressor Flight supports all aspects of the 527th's mission, providing a variety of operationally experienced people, helping integrate the air and space worlds.

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Army's First Space Operations Course Ends
by Donald J. Montoya
Colorado Springs - Aug. 8, 2001
Fourteen officers graduated Aug. 3 from the Army's inaugural Space Operations Officer Qualification Course. "There is only a small cadre of space operational officers," said guest speaker Lt. Gen. Joseph M. Cosumano Jr., commanding general of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command and U.S. Army Space Command, before a group of 75 military and civilian personnel during the graduation ceremony in the U.S. Air Force Space Command Headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

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