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Space Flag prepares Airmen for a real fight

Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. (AFNS) -- Air Force Space Command concluded its fourth iteration of the Department of Defense’s premier space exercise last month in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Space Flag 19-1 took place over the course of two weeks, testing Airmen from the 50th Space Wing and the 460th SW. SF 19-1 also included Airmen from the 27th and 26th Space Aggressors squadrons, which are tenant units of Air Combat Command located at Schriever Air Force Base, Louisiana.

The goal of the exercise is to enable forces to achieve and maintain space superiority in a contested, degraded and operationally limited environment.

"The intent of Space Flag is to allow tactical operators the ability to learn how to fight and defend their systems as an enterprise with other tactical operators in an arena we currently do not have,” said Col. Devin Pepper, 21st Operations Group commander and SF 19-1 space boss.

To prepare Airmen for any conflict, space operators are thrown a dynamic range of scenarios.

“We train the way we fight,” said Capt. Josh Thogode, 27th SAS flight commander and SF 19-1 space aggressor. “My goal as an aggressor is to make blue (United States) lose in any scenario. If they lose during the exercise, then we can win when it matters. At the end of the day, we are all on the same team. The aggressors can add value to our techniques, tactics and procedures moving forward – that’s what we bring to the fight.”

The training space operators see is diverse and comes from several perspectives. In addition to aggressors testing space operators, senior space operators, referred to as tactical mentors, also provide training. The mentors observe and counsel Airmen throughout the exercise and look for opportunities to give feedback to the space operators on how to improve their response to the threat.

“Space Flag really brings out the creativity in our space operations crew force,” said Maj. Justin Roberts, 50th SW weapons officer and SF 19-1 tactical mentor. “This exercise is an excellent opportunity for our space operators to think and test out new ideas. I, alongside other mentors, am there to gauge and guide their ideas. I have now been a tactical mentor for SF three times and I have seen a huge increase in the quality and capabilities of the operators coming to the exercise.”

Before Space Flag, facing an adversary in a space training environment was a rare thing.

“Space had always been benign,” Pepper said. “Back in our lieutenant days, we didn’t expect to have to defend our assets on orbit. We weren’t actively training against those threats. The war-fight is shifting though, so we have to be ready to encounter anything against our land-based and terrestrial systems. Having living, thinking aggressors acting as adversaries in the training environment prepares us for that day, if it ever comes.”

During calendar year 2017 and 2018, Space Flag occurred twice a year. During fiscal year 2019, Space Flag will increase to three times a year.

“Our adversaries have made tremendous strides in contesting us in the space domain,” said Pepper. “We have transitioned our culture and our way of thinking from just providing a service to the warfighter to actually being a space warfighter. We are a part of the fight, and the fight is on today.”

The next Space Flag is slated for April 2019.

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