The Air Force is creating a new training program for special satellite operators to defend the country’s orbiting systems during armed conflict, it announced this month in a white paper.
The new division, Space Mission Force, has been the focus Air Force Space Command’s General John Hyten for almost a year and could include live virtual constructive technologies and other war game simulations.
“We no longer enjoy space supremacy, even though we’ve tried over the years to keep space out of the military domain,” Colonel Dean Sniegowski, Space Mission Force total force lead, told FedScoop. “Unfortunately our adversaries are starting to get that it’s a huge asset of the U.S. and her allies.”
The training will lead to a culture change according to Sniegowski, and the “folks in the middle who have been doing it the legacy way” will be challenged by it, but senior personnel will understand the changes and why they are necessary.
While Hyten hasn’t worked out specifics in his white paper, it highlights points of change from the Air Force Space Command’s original training plan.
“My intent is to transform our culture by implementing the Space Mission Force, a new advanced training and force presentation model that prepares our space forces to meet the challenges of today’s space domain,” Hyten wrote in the report, released on July 15.
Operators are responsible for constellations of about 24 satellites around the world that provide GPS-based services. Adversaries attacking satellites can lead to things like jammed GPS or cause early attack sensors to fail.
Previous training — covered in an undergraduate space training program over a three month period — was focused on system operations and mission areas, including space-based warning, missile warning, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, Sniegowski said.
“They got a really good basis of knowledge of how to operate in space, and then when they got to their systems, they were more concentrated on making sure the system worked properly and making sure the health and status of the constellation was always in a good place,”
The new plan includes updated debriefing procedures and more in-depth training for ground and in-orbit systems.
“We still expect them to be systems experts and to know what the faults and the anomalies [are] and understand how to work all the switches…but now we need them to think outside of the box and get to the point where they’re able to look at something as a potential threat or adversary action and work around it,” Sniegowski said.
After initial training, new operators will work alongside more experienced members of the program.
“These training assets must emulate real-world systems, threats and environments, and enable multi system and multi domain training against a thinking adversary,” Hyten wrote.
Virtual constructive technologies will allow linked machines to create simulations including computer- and human-controlled adversaries that behave like an attacker. This will allow trainees to learn “workarounds” and defensive maneuvers, Sniegowski said.
The program components will be created with help from the Threat Assessment Team, the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, and the Space Security and Defense Program.
“Space as a global commons is vital to commerce and is an essential element of Joint Warfare and global stability. Space is no longer a sanctuary where the United States or our allies and partners act with impunity,” Hyten wrote.