SCHRIEVER AFB, Colo. --- The 26th Space Aggressor Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base is always gearing up for the next exercise in replicating enemy action against space-based and space-enabled systems.
Teams of adversary subject matter experts regularly employ jamming techniques to train Air Force, joint and coalition personnel how to recognize, mitigate, counter and defeat threats.
“Our mission is to train others,” said Senior Master Sgt. Benjamin Millspaugh, the 26th SAS superintendent. “Currently, Schriever is the only place in the Department of Defense that provides this type of instruction and training that we use to help get our military partners up to speed.”
The squadron acts like a consultant, teaching its clients how to navigate a world full of noise. The world being space, and the noise being rivals that want to prevent their communications or steal information.
Acting as the “bad guy,” space aggressors deny operators use of their capabilities like GPS and satellite communication (SATCOM) in order to train warfighters how to operate in environments where critical systems are interfered with or completely negated.
To do this, space aggressors replicate adversary systems to provide a threat representative affect the United States’ joint and allied forces. They use a variety of hardware in creative ways to ensure the antennas, amplifiers, and additional hardware are used in the same way an adversary would employ them.
Additionally, they build waveforms that match GPS signals coming down to jam and knock receivers off the GPS signal. They perform various operational configurations and set up multiple antenna sites just like an adversary.
Millspaugh compared the ability to discern and understand another’s data to talking louder than others. If you want to be heard, you make your voice stand out. The space aggressors stand out by projecting more power or getting closer to the target in order to transmit their signal and block others.
To successfully interfere: frequency, access and power are needed. SATCOM has many frequencies and can access a signal from a far distance. The traditional SATCOM satellite can see one-third of the Earth, from 22,300 miles away in its geosynchronous orbit. However, GPS is in a completely different orbit and uses various frequencies to update the position, navigation and timing for systems all over the world.
The space aggressors target two frequencies—L1 and L2— from the ground. So they need to be local in order to accurately affect the training audiences’ receivers, otherwise it will affect all signals within range and interfere with entities not participating in the exercise.
The team spends 200 days a year training others how to combat this interference. Setting up an exercise can take up to six months with all of the internal checks and third-party verifications to ensure they’re only affecting signals they’re authorized to. Notifications are also made to the Federal Aviation Administration, commercial airlines, and the maritime community a few weeks out to make them aware of the exercises.
“The United States Air Force Warfare Center decides which exercises to conduct, and the squadron maintains operational flexibility to cater to our client’s needs,” Millspaugh said. “Then we determine the level and type of interference based on the client’s capabilities; it’s like referring to a play book.”
One of the exercises the squadron supports is Red Flag, which takes place at Nellis AFB, Nevada, multiple times per year. Their SATCOM is run from Schriever AFB, but the GPS function happens at Nellis AFB since the jamming needs to be localized.
The 26th SAS has been training troops since World War I. It is the oldest squadron in the Air Force Reserve and one of the oldest in the Air Force. It was inactivated after the Cold War, but was reactivated at Schriever AFB in 2003 when the Air Force recognized a need for aggressors. The unit was realigned under Nellis AFB’s 926th Operations Group in 2008.