Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group

Peterson Space Observer

Red Flag space operations: Not just a flyer’s exercise

by Maj. Chris Roszak

21st Operations Support Squadron

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The 21st Space Wing made Air Force history in February as two of its space control units participated in Red Flag 11-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. This was the first time Air Force Space Command units were a primary training audience in Air Combat Command’s premier tactical training exercise.

Employing long haul assets from the 21st Logistics Readiness Squadron, the 21st Space Wing deployed elements of the 16th and 76th Space Control Squadrons to join with 31 units and more than 1,800 participants from the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines, as well as the British Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force who brought their best operators and weapon systems to Nellis AFB. Their combined objective was to further hone proficiency and foster cross-domain integration, engaging skilled “aggressor” air and space forces in a fully integrated air, space and cyberspace battle.

Red Flag exercises were born in the post-Vietnam era, and focused on developing combat mission-ready crews through realistic training environments.

While Red Flag originally developed a flyer’s combat proficiency, the last six years have slowly incorporated space and cyberspace capabilities which often were segregated from the remaining combat air forces. This year, for the first time, Headquarters Air Force Space Command elements and the 21st Space Wing assets were fully integrated at the tactical level. Space control capabilities from the 76th and 16th Space Control Squadrons as well as the 16th’s associated Reserve unit, the 380th SPCS, shaped future war fighting tactics, techniques and procedures, by delivering combat-critical effects alongside air, space and cyber capabilities.

“Red Flag truly offered an incredible training opportunity as our space crews had to resolve difficult tactical problems alongside cyber operators and aircrew from multiple services and different nations,” said Lt. Col. Curtis Hernandez, 21st Space Wing Red Flag detachment commander. “Our space crews gained invaluable combat planning, execution and debriefing experience that will translate into more refined tactical employment of space capabilities in the future.”

Additionally, Red Flag 11-3 saw another first as a space officer was designated an overall mission commander. As the first space officer to serve as a Red Flag mission commander, Maj. Warren Riner from the 76th SPCS also made Air Force history as he was responsible for developing a combat plan that integrated air, space, and cyberspace capabilities into a single composite force package that solved an advanced tactical problem. Space officers from the 21st SW were also appointed as non-kinetic effects duty officers, an emerging combat role that was refined during Red Flag.

The event created a realistic training environment.

“Red Flag 11-3 is unique in that it provides a more heavily contested and degraded operational environment than previously used,” said Col. Martin Schans, 414th Combat Training Squadron commander. The 414th CTS is responsible for executing Red Flag.

It was precisely this heavily contested and degraded operational environment in which the 16th SPCS and the 380th SPCS came to fight.

The preparation undertaken by the 21st SW to deliver premier warfighters to Red Flag was evident as Gen. William Shelton, Air Force Space Command commander and Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, 14th Air Force and Joint Functional Component Command for Space commander, observed their space professionals deliver space effects for the United States and allied forces.

“Our team of skilled operators brought years of deployed defensive counterspace experience to Red Flag, helping to characterize (satellite communication) interference and geolocate where the signals of interest were being transmitted from,” said Lt. Col. Paul Tombarge, 16th SPCS commander. “The data we produced was synthesized at the (combined air operations center) with air and cyber information to truly create synergistic effects.”

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