By Staff Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
Know. Teach. Replicate.
These are the words that best encapsulate the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron.
The squadron provides warfighters realistic training designed to give friendly forces their first experience in a contested space environment.
“We train warfighters for tomorrow’s victories,” said Lt. Col. Scott Bonzer, 527 SAS commander.
As a squadron under the 57th Adversary Tactics Group, 527 SAS fully embodies the aggressor concept. It operates adversary space replication systems, fosters new tactics, techniques and procedures to counter threats, improving U.S. joint warfighting capabilities.
“We present the aggressor mindset,” Bonzer said. “We are not playing the bad guy just for the sake of being a bad guy. It is more than that.”
Because of the concept of “know, teach and replicate,” the squadron brings relevant and critical thinking of the adversary into training.
As part of the “know concept,” the 527 SAS has an intelligence flight whose entire function is to research adversaries’ capabilities, weapons systems, limitations and how they’re going to employ those systems. The flight coordinates with the intelligence community to gather information.
“We take that knowledge and information, develop a subject-matter-expert briefing and provide that to the rest of the squadron,” said Capt. Mark Crimm, 527 SAS Weapons and Tactics Flight commander.
With this information, the 527 SAS conducts the teaching and replication part of their mission with the warfighters, including the Air Force, sister services, allies and coalition partners.
“We teach the warfighters exactly what the threat is, we talk to them about their mission and we help them figure out ways to mitigate those threats,” said Tech. Sgt. Steven St. John, 527 SAS Weapons and Tactics Flight NCO in charge. “We provide them advanced training to employ and hone tactics, techniques and procedures.”
From the lessons learned, the 527 SAS replicates the adversaries’ capabilities, St. John said. This is done by knowing what the adversaries are capable of doing and what their intentions are, and replicating their satellite communications and GPS electronic attack systems.
“One of the hot topics currently in the Department of Defense community is a contested, degraded, operationally-limited environment,” he said. “Our part in replication is to create that threat environment from a space perspective.”
The 527 SAS takes all this information and provides relevant and realistic training for the warfighters that helps enhance their situational awareness regarding adversary weapon systems. Usually, the squadron participates in various exercises, such as RED FLAG at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 527 SAS Airmen play the aggressors to the friendly, or blue, forces during these exercises.
“We replicate what it would be like if an adversary fought back and tried to take away the force enhancement capabilities from the warfighters,” said Crimm. “This may include communication, GPS or any space systems that we could use to leverage against the enemy. Our aggressors will try to take those away from the blue forces in an exercise environment.”
During those exercises, the 527 SAS conducts adversarial tactics including jamming satellite communications and GPS receivers in an attempt to teach the warfighters the effects of the adversaries’ weapon systems. The blue forces then attempt to mitigate the problems associated with these tactics.
“By replicating the effects of the adversaries’ weapon systems, we are providing realistic training to the warfighters,” said St. John.
With a varied responsibility and high demand, the 527 SAS relies on its total force integration to get the mission done, which includes 27 military, four contractors and three civilians as well as more than 30 Reserve personnel from the 26th Space Aggressor Squadron. The Space Aggressor Airmen assume various roles and every one contributes to the mission.
“It feels like our unit is a well-oiled machine; we have sections that take care of different aspects,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Bouma, 527 SAS Support Flight radio frequency transmissions journeyman. “Our crew structure is set up with an operator, crew chief, field commander and mission commander. Because we are such a small unit, sometimes the officers and the enlisted will do each other’s functions.”
Additionally, everyone has to know how equipment works so they can be part of the troubleshooting process, Crimm said.
“We don’t have a dedicated maintenance flight,” he said. “If you are in the field with a four-man team, you have to know the equipment and be able to fix it. Our crew chief becomes the technical expert on how to fix it.”
Because every Airman in the 527 SAS is an aggressor, everybody is trained as an aggressor, Bouma said.
“One of the most unique things about this squadron is you have knowledge operators, system administrators and intelligence personnel who are doing the same mission as a space operator and a maintainer,” St. John said. “You don’t see that often in any other unit.”
On a day-to-day basis, the squadron observes a diverse operations tempo. Some days, the Airmen go through recurring and upgrade training, as well as evaluations and maintaining currency on their system. On other days, they conduct mission planning functions.
“When we go out on a mission, our days totally change,” St. John said. “A couple of months ago, we had a group of individuals go to a Navy vessel for five days to teach and understand their systems, and provide them with suggestions on how they can get better against adversaries who have the ability to deny them space effects. Each day is different.”
The need for space aggressors is increasing because adversaries are developing and dedicating capabilities for the purpose of removing that space superiority the United States traditionally has and relies on heavily, Crimm said.
“Traditionally, space hasn’t always been an operational environment in the way that an air domain is,” he said. “If we are not going to be prepared to fight that, we are going to lose a lot of our space capabilities that we rely on. If adversaries successfully remove the space systems, this may lead to a bigger impact.”
Bonzer echoed the sentiment and added that there’s a myriad of threats and they don’t just live in one domain.
“We try to prepare our warfighters for those potential space threats,” he said. “During a sparring session, if you take a punch on the chin from your sparring partner, you’re going to learn from it and hopefully, next time around, you’ll know how to duck and mitigate that threat. We are the sparring partner for our warfighters in the space domain.”