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Space Force Prepares for Orbital Combat With Red Skies Training Exercises

By James Careless
Parabolic Arc
June 12, 2023
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Space Force Prepares for Orbital Combat With Red Skies Training Exercises
US Space Force Guardians assigned to the 4th Electromagnetic Warfare Squadron’s Force Package 5, following the recent completion of BLACK SKIES 23-1 exercise at Peterson Space Force Base.
Image credit: US Air Force/1st Lt. Charles Rivezzo.

The best way for military forces to prepare for combat is through live training exercises on suitable battlefields. When you’re the US Space Force (USSF), that means space is the logical place to train your troops. This is why the USSF’s Space Training and Readiness Command (STARCOM) is “actively developing on-orbit exercises to enhance our readiness and capabilities,” a STARCOM spokesperson told Parabolic Arc.

One such upcoming exercise is STARCOM’s Red Skies, which is currently in its early stages of development. “While specific details regarding the timing and nature of Red Skies exercises are still being fine-tuned, the first iteration is expected to commence in the near future,” the STARCOM spokesperson said. The USSF’s assets include a number of defense orbiting satellites and ground radar systems, plus the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, a reusable, uncrewed Space Shuttle-like spacecraft.

Not surprisingly, STARCOM will not reveal the specifics of these on-orbit exercises, citing security reasons. But the STARCOM spokesperson did say that “the purpose of exercises like Red Skies is to ensure that our space warfighters are well-prepared to address a range of potential threats in the space domain. These exercises will focus on training our personnel to effectively attack, defend, and support specified targets in both combat and non-combat scenarios. By conducting these exercises, we aim to enhance our readiness, strengthen our operational capabilities, and safeguard our assets and interests in space from adversary threats like signal jamming.”

So are STARCOM’s various ‘Skies’ exercises — ‘Black Skies 23-1‘ took place earlier this year — just “tabletop” (theoretical) exercises, or are actual assets moved in orbit during these training scenarios? In this instance, the answer remains unclear. “The exact nature of Red Skies exercises, including whether actual assets will be moved in orbit, will depend on various factors,” replied the STARCOM spokesperson. “As we fine-tune the exercise model, exercise planners will carefully assess the training needs of our Guardians and determine the most effective balance between simulation and live-fire activities. This flexibility allows us to adapt the exercise to meet the evolving requirements of our personnel and optimize the training experience.”

As for what is on the lesson lineup, according to STARCOM, the USSF’s Red Skies exercises will encompass both defensive and offensive elements. This is because these exercises are “designed to train our personnel in a comprehensive manner, ensuring they are capable of effectively responding to potential threats while also being able to take proactive measures when required,” the STARCOM spokesperson said. “The integration of defensive and offensive operations is crucial to maintaining a strong and credible military presence in space.

Besides signaling the USSF’s seriousness about its role in defending the United States in space, the launch of on-orbit exercises like Red Skies underlines the changing nature of military space operations in general. The takeaway: “As the space domain becomes increasingly important for national security, it is imperative for us to adapt and evolve our training methodologies,” said the STARCOM spokesperson. “By conducting these exercises, we are demonstrating our commitment to developing combat-ready forces capable of operating effectively in the space environment. The inclusion of live on-orbit training activities and the establishment of specialized training infrastructure, such as the National Space Test and Training Complex, or NSTTC, reflect our dedication to enhancing our capabilities and readiness in the space domain.”

James Careless

James Careless is an award-winning satellite communications writer. He has covered the industry since the 1990s.

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