Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) is bracing for mankind’s first war in space by the 2020s, and is reshaping itself a more cohesive force of space warriors capable of defeating either Russia or China.
It said skills to fight off Russia and China will be essential in a war the likes of which has never been fought. AFSPC commanders are working hard to bridge the cultural divide between the air and space professions to create a more cohesive force of space warfighters.
“We are at the war fighter table. We are not in the cheap seats anymore,” said Maj. Gen. Joseph T. Guastella, Jr., Director of Integrated Air, Space, Cyberspace and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Operations, Headquarters Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. Gen. Guastella is a career fighter pilot who is now a “space operator.”
His directorate is responsible for organizing, training and equipping ADSPC units for globally integrated space, cyberspace and ISR operations, and for assimilating capabilities into the operational level of war.
“We are in a cultural shift to a war fighting mentality,” he said.
Gen. Guastella noted that satellite operators are typically viewed as technical support to war commanders, but will take center stage in the future. The U.S. Air Force is now staging “Space Flag” war exercises in virtual-reality simulations.
At Space Flag, satellite technicians responsible for communications;missile warning and navigation constellations are challenged to respond to enemy attempts to take down U.S systems. The next Space Flag is scheduled this April.
The idea is to give them “realistic training,” said Gen. Guastella. “Operators have to decide: Can I maneuver my satellite and stay on mission? Or do I need to do something more drastic, come off mission and survive? What other assets out there can help me?”
The Air Force has requested funds in the Pentagon’s 2018 and 2019 budgets for systems that simulate a war in space.
The Air Force held its first “Space Flag” exercise April 17 to 21, 2017. Space Flag is a new event designed to hone warfighter’s skills at operations, problem solving, and potential conflict in space.
“An exercise like Space Flag pushes our space operators to the limit of their capacity,” said Col. DeAnna Burt, commander of the 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. “Space Flag is the initial step to developing an advanced training program that parallels Red Flag, which prepares our combat air forces for success in the air domain.”
Space Flag is patterned after the Air Force’s annual four-part Red Flag exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Red Flag is the service’s largest and best-known air combat training event. It draws in units from across the country, allied partners from around the world, and was even the subject of the 2004 IMAX movie “Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag.”
The Air Force wants the new Space Flag to do the same for space operations: become the premier training exercise to bring together airmen from across the service to practice scenarios that might occur in orbit. The Air Force is looking to hold the event twice a year.
Separately, the Air Force conducts high-level strategic drills focused on space known as the Shriever War Games. These have taken place in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for many years but are now taking on additional importance as they have become a venue to experiment with new technologies and concepts.
The Shriever games give Space Command an opportunity to “fast forward five to 10 years, look at future capabilities that we’re looking at buying,” Guastella said. Officials want to “determine the relative value” of next-generation systems and “what really helps operators.”
Space and intelligence operators are the primary target audience for Space Flag and the Shriever games, but increasingly the events are aimed at “big decision makers” in charge of budgets and policy but don’t necessarily grasp the space world.
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