Preparing Ready Guardians – Space Force STARCOM

28 November 2022

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Considered a tactically-focused exercise, SPACE FLAG (iteration 22-3, conducted this August) is designed to provide tactical space units with advanced training in a simulated contested, degraded and operationally-limited environment. The exercise is conducted using live, virtual and constructive simulations which immerse Guardians and participants into a synthetic virtual battlefield.
Image credit: US Space Force/Judi Tomich

MS&T: Major General Bratton, thanks for taking time to provide some important command developments and perspectives for MS&T. We had the opportunity to attend your media availability during September’s 2022 Air, Space and Cyber Conference. Update us on some key STARCOM developments since we last met, including the completion of the first Skies series exercise, Black Skies 22.

Major General Bratton (MGB): I always look forward to talking to people who are as enthusiastic about simulation and training for the military as we are in the Space Force, so thanks for the opportunity to speak with you today.

I have a couple of key developments I’d like to cover that show how STARCOM is getting after its mission to increase the readiness of the Space Force. The first one is a new series of advanced training exercises called the SKIES Series. Each exercise in the series is geared toward a specific community within our Guardian ranks.

So, Black Skies, which we completed in late September, was geared toward the electronic warfare folks. We used live and virtual simulation provided by Space Delta 11’s 25th Space Range Squadron. This gave Guardians the chance to deliver electromagnetic effects against 29 simulated targets during a notional crisis in US European Command's area of responsibility.

Red Skies, coming up next year, will be geared toward our orbital warfare Guardians.

Finally Blue Skies, in 2024, will focus on our cyber operators. These advanced training opportunities put Guardians in realistic scenarios using live simulations and real satellites. The goal is to put Guardians through their paces in order to prepare them for the threat we face. We owe Guardians these advanced training opportunities.

Pictured left: Major General Shawn N. Bratton, Commander, Space Training and Readiness Command (STARCOM), US Space Force. Image credit: USSF

MS&T: And the command has had significant developments in Professional Military Education?

MGB: Yes. Another key development that I’d like to share has to do with STARCOM’s education mission. A few weeks ago, we announced a new partnership with Johns Hopkins University. Their School of Advanced International Studies will provide Guardians with Space Force-specific, in-residence Intermediate and Senior Developmental Education programs starting in 2023. Working with Johns Hopkins we are setting the parameters for the curriculum and tailoring it to Guardians. Johns Hopkins and Delta 13 will teach that curriculum while giving Guardians greater access to cutting-edge STEM electives, laboratory research opportunities, and a wider range space sector and policy-makers in the Washington, DC-area. By partnering with a civilian institution, we’re giving Guardians the best of both worlds.

Developing our own Professional Military Education program that’s independent was one of the clear “go-dos” the Chief of Space Operations laid out for us, so we’re happy to be delivering on that goal.

As for enlisted PME, we’re moving out with building independent, Space Force-specific offerings for them as well. In fact, earlier this year, the first Guardians graduated from an all-Guardian senior non-commissioned officer course at the Vosler NCO Academy. Graduates completed a rigorous six-week course designed to equip them with the knowledge, skills, and ability to lead air and space forces in service and joint environments.

We’re able to do things like deliver innovative education opportunities because of our size. Space Force is such a small service - we assess only about 500 enlisted members per year, and only about 300 officers a year. So, this is an exciting time for Guardian education for both officers and enlisted.

MS&T: This I/ITSEC’s special events program includes activities at the Cyber Pavilion. Tell us how STARCOM is progressing to provide Space Force with more robust and higher-fidelity cyber training opportunities for the space domain.

MGB: One way we boost Guardian readiness is by putting them in training exercises where they go toe-to-toe with Guardians disguised as the adversary. We call these Guardians “aggressors.” Aggressors replicate the adversary’s systems and tactics. They’re a thinking, breathing stand-in for threats Guardians might encounter. Training against aggressors is the best preparation there is for our Guardians.

One aggressor unit came over from the Air Force and is mainly focused on electronic warfare. We’ve been in that business a long time. Currently we are growing our capacity and creating orbital warfare counterparts. In fact, in STARCOM’s first year, our EW and OW aggressors executed 46 training events for not only the Space Force but also the joint force. Looking ahead, we will incorporate cyber into the aggressor model. A cyber aggressor capability would be very useful for not only training but also for our test and evaluation mission.

Another aspect of training cyber Guardians is the teamwork piece. STARCOM can’t just train an intel operator separate from a cyber operator separate from a space operator; we need to train them collaboratively.

When you think about a cyber operator, a cyber attack might target a satellite ground station. Quickly, though, this expands beyond being just a cyber Guardian problem: the space operators will need to figure out if the breach affects anything on-orbit, engineers will need to identify design flaws in the system and how to correct them, and intel operators will need to assess where the attack came from. Nearly every Guardian, regardless of spacepower discipline, needs to be involved in carrying out the complex missions of the space domain. So, we’re emphasizing integration in training so that all spacepower disciplines can build off one another and get stronger together.

MS&T: Looking across your portfolio, highlight how your command is integrating, or soon will be integrating, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and other emerging technology enablers in your courses, exercises and other activities.

MGB: In order to properly train our Guardians, we need a controlled environment where we can replicate adversary threats and try out tactics for countering them. We call this environment a range. In other domains, in the air, sea, and land, those services are able to just carve out a piece of real estate where they can run new systems and test them out. But in the Space Force, we don’t have that luxury, so we have to develop a new approach to ranges where we can test and train.

We’re building the National Space Test and Training Complex, where we can provide live and virtual environments and opportunities to enable force-on-force training between Guardians and threat-representative adversaries and systems. It’s our biggest technical challenge: designing digital modeling and simulation where we can experiment with new capabilities in a virtual environment. One of the technology enablers for the NSTTC will be high-powered computing to handle all of the simulated and recorded mission data that will feed our models. The challenge is creating a virtual environment that acts exactly how space acts, a problem that will require cutting-edge digital infrastructure.

MS&T: Preview some of STARCOM’s major milestones your service members, and other members of the joint force team, will see in the next 12-24 months.

MGB: At the end of August we turned one year old. Year one was mainly about accession into the force. We made some leaps and bounds in basic training and how we onboard people into the service.

For year two, we’re looking at advanced training to increase readiness. We’re focusing on the threat. Russia and China’s capabilities are legitimate threats on orbit and they’re coming to deny space. They think there’s a weak link there that they can defeat land forces, air forces, naval forces - if they beat us in space. They’ve seen the advantage that it provides to the joint force and they’re coming after us. We owe Guardians advanced training that really puts them through their paces. So, that’s where the Skies Series comes in.

Another priority for the next 12-24 months is integrated deterrence. STARCOM is focused on building partnerships with our allies across the globe. A few milestones in that effort include training together, wargaming together, and learning together.

In March next year, we’ll hold our Schriever Wargame Capstone event where we come together with our allies to study how to shape the strategic operating environment, as a coalition, in order to prepare for future conflict.

Coming up in December, STARCOM will execute the latest iteration of the Space Flag training exercise. This will be a coalition-based version of the exercise. We’re preparing to host Australia, Great Britain, and Canada as allied participants. We’ll look at specific threats, compare each other’s tactics, and decide the best way to interoperate to tackle those specific challenges. We will do this again, a Coalition Space Flag, in 2023.

Lastly, STARCOM is continually building relationships with international partners at our National Security Space Institute. NSSI provides space education to over 2,600 DoD and select allied officers, noncommissioned officers, and civilians. In addition to graduating Space Force, Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine students, NSSI is proud to have expanded its international education to over 50 allied and partner nations.

MS&T: Anything else to add?

MGB: I’d like to end by highlighting what an exciting time this is for space. Launch costs are dropping, and launches are going up and up. We’re able to pack more and more capability into smaller and smaller satellites. The global space economy is expected to grow into a $1 trillion industry by 2040.

So, while space is becoming more exciting, and more and more of an opportunity, we have to recognize that it’s also becoming more and more contested and congested. As our nation’s prosperity becomes intertwined with space, our nation’s security becomes just as reliant. For that reason, Russia and China view our satellites as highly attractive targets.

That’s where the US Space Force comes in. We deter and compete against threats to the space domain, and are prepared to prevail in conflict if called upon. That only happens through STARCOM carrying out its responsibility of preparing Guardians and we measure that with readiness. A ready Guardian is one who has completed training and education, who has tested and evaluated their systems, and who has studied warfighting doctrine to guide their actions. It’s an exciting opportunity to lead STARCOM toward this goal, but it’s also a huge responsibility!


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