By Staff Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
For the first time in Red Flag’s 40-year history, an Air Force Space Command contingent created and incorporated a Collateral Space Planning Cell into the exercise’s 15-1 iteration Jan. 26-Feb. 13 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
Airmen from 50th, 21st and 460th Space Wings participated in the exercise designed to maximize combat readiness, capability and survivability of participating units through realistic training in a combined air, ground, space and electronic threat environment.
“The planning cell integrated GPS, Overhead Persistent Infrared and Defensive Space Control,” said Maj. Sean Ianacone, 50th Operations Support Squadron and Red Flag mentor. “These AFSPC Airmen planned these capabilities for the Red Flag.”
Adding a space cell to Red Flag taught exercise participants about some of the command’s mission areas and how to integrate them throughout Red Flag mission sets, Ianacone said.
Meanwhile, the AFSPC Airmen received the opportunity to learn about the combat Air Force and how the service plans and fights its wars.
“The space cell wasn’t just about one wing’s capabilities, it’s about space integration, knowledge and planning,” said 1st Lt. Even Rogers, 4th Space Operations Squadron.
As the individuals who built the planning cell, the team met various challenges when building a construct that facilitated the integration of space effects into Red Flag.
“We were basically thrown into the starting line up,” said 1st Lt. Dustin Crews, 3rd Space Operations Squadron. “Part of the challenge was trying to figure out how mission planning works with space operators who have never applied space mission planning to a combat scenario in their entire lives.”
When performing mission planning there are inherent complexities that allow the mission to either be a failure or a success, said 1st Lt. Ryan Vath, 50 OSS.
“Mission planning first requires a comprehensive understanding of the overall mission, from both a space and air planning perspective,” Vath said. “It is then our responsibility to articulate space effects to other Red Flag participants who may have limited knowledge about our mission areas or know how they apply within the overall strategy. Mission planning then culminates in tailoring those space effects to the situation, so they can be properly implemented during execution.”
The planning cell essentially had to inform the flyers about space capabilities and how they were applicable to an air mission.
“We were not just a GPS or a 50th (Space Wing) person; you go there and speak on behalf of all space effects and capabilities,” said 2nd Lt. Jason Mills, 2nd Space Operations Squadron.
Mills added that since all the personnel represented AFSPC, each one of the planning cell members has to be knowledgeable about other space effects as well.
“We have to go there and get spun up on each of the wings’ capabilities and then be responsible for delivering effects for all three wings,” he said. “That was really the intriguing part.”
Despite the growing pains of setting up the new planning cell, the team was able to push through the three-week exercise and generated numerous lessons learned.
One of the biggest takeaways for Rogers is the mission planning.
“That’s how we do our business now in our flight,” he said. “We are rolling out the mission planning construct for our squadron. That’s going to be the way we approach our mission operations.”
Vath pointed out that for mission planning to be successful in the space community a culture change would be required.
“Implementing mission planning and execution ultimately provides lessons learned that will help advance operations,” he said. “Mission planning is a continuous process that will lead to more efficient execution and units will improve over time.”
Ianacone said exercises like Red Flag are in line with the AFSPC’s paradigm shift on how it organizes, trains and equips forces to operate in a contested environment.
“We want to enable our Airmen with being more effective instructors, weapons and tactics personnel, and ultimately space professionals who are focused on how we fight in a contested, degraded and operationally-limited environment,” he said.
According to Ianacone, although the planning cell was just in its infancy, the members performed with flying colors as Mills, Crew, Rogers and Vath earned Red Flag Superior Performers awards.
“There are talks throughout AFSPC about how effective our personnel were and how effective the space planning cell was in the Red Flag exercise,” he said. “Red Flag 15-1 set the ground work for increased Red Flag and space integration.”