A coalition space team made history during exercise Resolute Sentinel 23, executing the first-ever defensive space control operation in U. S. Southern Command history and demonstrating the real-world impact of Agile Combat Employment operations for space.
Operation Thundergun Express is a 21-day space deployment exercise nested under RS23, focused on space domain awareness training and providing real-world satellite imagery for host and partner nations. During the exercise, U. S. Space Force Guardians, Colombian Air Force Guardianes, and Ecuadorian Air Force members worked together to build mobile space detection systems at a forward operating location in Cali, Colombia, with command and control centered in Lima, Peru, said Lt. Col. Jonathan Whitaker, Director of Space Forces for 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern).
During the exercise, the forward-deployed team rapidly detected and reported live-fire electromagnetic interference sent from an exercise input cell attempting to disrupt a commercial satellite on orbit over the Atlantic Ocean. The team made use of portable commercial off-the-shelf systems for the exercise, namely, the Olympus Bolt intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and Multi-band Assessment of the Communication Environment (MACE) systems.
“These readily-available systems allow us to train our partner nations using easily acquired, cost-effective capabilities that can be tailored to the mission at hand,” Whitaker said.
Once partner nation teams were up-and-running largely on their own, an exercise input drove the space team to demonstrate the ACE concept of interoperability by forcing command and control of the systems to shift from the Joint Task Force Space Defense Commercial Operation headquartered in Peru to the field-based systems in Colombia. This marked the first time a space team has assumed expeditionary command and control of all RS23 space operations in the southern hemisphere, Whitaker said.
After several days operating in Cali, a space-ACE proactive maneuver broke new ground as the team moved 30 operators and three mission systems via Colombian Air Force airlift to set up in a second forward operating location in Rionegro, Colombia, in an early morning maneuver, Whitaker said. This rapid move and reset showcased their ability to quickly move in the area of operations, assuring uninterrupted space domain awareness and command and control, and achieving freedom of action to accomplish the commander’s intent.
Colombian Air Force Col. Nestor Cortes, Chief of Space Operations, said the exercise has been an excellent opportunity to share doctrine, build new technology, tactics and procedures, and forge strong relationships that will allow Colombia to grow toward its goal of being a key part of the coalition in the space domain.
“I am overwhelmed by the professionalism of the coalition joint space team,” Whitaker said. “Our hosts in Peru and Colombia gave us a worldclass opportunity to test operational aspects of the future Space Forces Southern Component Field Command. We exceeded every goal for this exercise.”