By Airman 1st Class Amanda Lovelace | 50th Space Wing Public Affairs
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Twelve operators from the 1st and 7th Space Operations Squadrons, known together as team 8-ball, executed an orbital engagement training event July 7-10 at the Boeing Virtual Warfare Center in Colorado Springs to train operators in realistic warfighting scenarios.
This was the first advanced training event for team 8-ball since 1st SOPS assignment to the newly formed 750th Operations Group. The 7th SOPS is the Reserve associate unit to 1st SOPS from the 310th Space Wing who mobilizes to support the 750th OG.
The group’s mission is to prepare, present and project assigned and attached forces to conduct, protect and defend operations, and provide national decision authorities with response options to deter, and when necessary, defeat orbital threats.
Team 8-ball used the same simulator as the Space Flag series, which is the Department of Defense’s premier exercise for training Space Forces. The goal of Space Flag exercises is to enable forces to achieve and maintain space superiority in a contested, degraded and operationally limited environment.
During the event, the operators were split into two groups of six, with each group participating in two days of the event. Capt. Juan Trujillo, 1st SOPS crew commander, led the first group and First Lt. Andrew Sackett, 1st SOPS crew commander, led the second group.
Both groups of operators made up the blue team, which represented the U.S. during the training. Three orbital engagement system subject matter experts from the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron made up the red team and provided a ‘thinking’ adversary to the blue space warfighters.
Members from the Distributed Mission Operations Center-Space acted as exercise moderators and provided white-cell support, or support from trainers, instructors and planners. Team 8-ball weapons and tactics personnel provided tactical mentorship to the teams every step of the way.
“Prior to going out to the BVWC, all attendees received intelligence briefs on a fictional ‘road to war’ to help set the stage for what they were going to be encountering on-orbit,” said Capt. Kevin Horner, 1st SOPS deputy crew commander. “They were also briefed on the commander’s intent to help ensure their mission plan was meeting the intent of their leadership.”
After arriving at the BVWC, the operators received training from Boeing on how to operate the simulator. The trainees were then given two orbital engagement scenarios that included red team and blue team high value assets.
“They had several hours to plan how they were going to proceed in each scenario in order to best meet the commander’s intent,” Horner said. “Their plans had to include contingency operations in case the scenario deviated from the most likely scenario assessed by intelligence.”
Then, the blue team briefed their plans to the Spaceboss, whose role was to dive into the details in the team’s plans to ensure their rationale was sound.
The Spaceboss for the first team was Lt. Col. Bryan Bell, 1st SOPS commander, and the Spaceboss for the second team was Lt. Col. Aaron Lynch, 750th Operations Support Squadron commander.
The next day, the mission would execute on the simulator where the operators were able to adjust their planned operations as the orbital engagement scenario progressed.
“The [527th] Aggressors were operating the red vehicles to provide a thinking adversary,” Horner said. “Ideally, the teams had prepared for the contingencies they encountered and were able to adjust their operations quickly and effectively to counter the adversary’s actions.”
Finally, the trainees had an opportunity to review the scenario they’d just executed. In a standard post-mission activity known as shot-validation and debrief, they were able to break down each crucial decision they made and help come up with takeaways they can implement in future operations.
Both teams of operators highlighted how the event was the best possible way for them to problem solve and put their training and experience to the test.
“The event was truly ‘eye opening’ and gave me a large-scale perspective of everything that goes into an orbital engagement from start to finish,” Trujillo said.
Distinguished visitors who received tactical plan approval briefs and/or out-briefs from the teams included retired Brig. Gen. Steven DePalmer, Lt. Col. Tracie Barrett from the Headquarters Advanced Training Branch, Bell and Lynch.
“The impact of this type of training today is directly tied to the preparedness of these operators to tackle tomorrow’s large-scale conflicts, which many predict will begin in the Space Domain,” DePalmer said.
As first-hand observers of the training event, the skill and hard work of the operators didn’t go unnoticed by the distinguished visitors.
“All of the distinguished visitors were highly impressed with the level of expertise and detail the crews put into their mission plans, and their solid understanding of orbital mechanics and the tenets of orbital warfare,” said Capt. Emily Schultz, 1st SOPS weapons and tactics flight commander.
An event of this scale is not made a reality without extensive coordination. Personnel from several different entities, including members from 1st SOPS, 7th SOPS, 527th SAS, Boeing, DMOC-S and U.S. Space Force Headquarters S3/6TA executed more than 80 hours of planning.
“Our planning process involved first sitting down and determining what our learning objectives were for the event,” Horner said. “The next step involved determining what members would be able to participate during the event. Our team 8-ball operators really stepped up and agreed to participate during their [down time].”
The final phase consisted of logistics planning that relied on constant communication between team 8-ball, Boeing and DMOC-S to ensure that everything from computer accounts to food trucks were taken care of.
Boeing is under contract to ensure seven training events of a similar nature to this one are done annually, evenly distributed among all USSF units.
“So likely, each unit can plan on participating in one to two events like this per year in its current construct. This will be more likely as COVID restrictions dissipate,” Horner said.