Coalition partners from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States participated in a Space Flag exercise for the first time at Aerospace Corporation’s facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Space Flag 19-3 integrated about 160 coalition participants, observers and distinguished guests in Air Force Space Command’s (AFSPC’s) “Fight Tonight” exercise focused on using current capabilities to deter, deny and disrupt adversarial actions in the space domain.
General Stephen Wilson, the United States Air Force’s vice chief of staff, and each participating nation’s top space military leaders met with Space Flag personnel to learn more about the exercise and its criticality in training warfighters in the space domain.
“The threat in space is real, and we must train like we fight – alongside our international partners – to maintain space superiority and deter conflict in the space domain,” General Wilson said after meeting with Space Flag players.
Space Flag 19-3 provided new challenges and opportunities to learn from coalition partners, who were chosen based on their current positions through existing agreements with the 21st Space Wing, 460th Space Wing and Combined Space Operations Center.
Brigadier-General Kevin Whale, the Royal Canadian Air Force’s director general and component commander for space, spoke on Canada’s lasting partnership with the US and how he sees Canada’s future participation in Space Flag.
"Canada has a long history of collaboration with the U.S. in space under NORAD and, more recently, the expanding and multinational Combined Space Operations initiative,” he said. “Our integrated participation in Space Flag this year is a welcomed evolution of our collaboration that directly contributes to our shared interests in space."
“The coalition forces brought a different perspective that forced everyone to think outside our typical way of doing things as we integrated intelligence in space packages throughout mission planning.” said Technical Sergeant Sean Johnson, non-commissioned officer-in-charge of 20th Space Control Squadron intelligence operations. “As we brainstormed response methods, no idea was discounted, which speaks to the professionalism of each player.”
“Being able to participate in the first ever coalition Space Flag was a privilege,” said Royal Australian Air Force Flight Lieutenant Gene Elliott, chief of training at 460th Operations Support Squadron. “It was a great opportunity to bring our perspectives and talents to the fight given Australia’s relative infancy in the warfighting domain of space.”
The senior space representatives agreed that Space Flag 19-3, held in August 2019, was a critical move to normalize coalition training opportunities with junior and mid-level officers and enlisted members.
“Space Flag is a fantastic opportunity for the UK to participate and expand its role in future exercises,” said Royal Air Force Group Captain Steve Blockley, director of national air defence and space operations. “Just as we do for operators in the air, land and sea domains, this is a chance for our space operators to work alongside Allies and create partnerships that will last throughout their entire careers.”
Royal Australian Air Force Air Commodore Robert Denney, director general for air operations, said, “Space Flag is a great opportunity to build up the space cadre unlike we’ve done before with our Allies.”
US Air Force Brigadier General DeAnna Burt, AFSPC headquarters’ director of operations and communications, briefed Space Flag’s plan to expand its cooperation with Allied partners in future exercises amid AFSPC’s broader initiative to include international partners in joint, coalition space education and training opportunities such as Schriever Space Scholars, AFSPC Weapons and Tactics Conference, Space 300, and Schriever Wargame, among others.
“All operators here understand what warfighting means in the space domain,” General Burt said. “They are energized and motivated to continue these friendships and partnerships they’ve built over the course of this exercise, and we must continue building on these types of opportunities for the defense of the space domain.”
Other Coalition Space Opportunities
-- Schriever Space Scholars:
This year, the Schriever Space Scholars Program enrolled its first international student, a space officer from France, and plans to incorporate additional international students in the coming years.
Schriever Space Scholars is the nation’s first year-long, space-centric intermediate-level education program dedicated to developing space strategists for the nation. Sponsored by AFSPC, the program combines the time-tested warfighting curriculum of Air Command and Staff College, War Theory, International Studies, and Joint Warfighting courses, with space-focused classes that offer deep dives into space history, strategy, operations, and policy.
-- AFSPC Weapons and Tactics Conference:
The AFSPC Weapons and Tactics Conference, or WEPTAC, held in October, included the first coalition-led mission area working group to discuss current issues, look at future challenges, and present solutions for integrating coalition tactics development and documentation for the space domain.
Additionally, an AFSPC representative participated in this year’s UK WEPTAC, providing expertise on how US space capabilities fit into multi-domain operations. AFSPC leadership is also assessing the UK’s Qualified Space Instructor course with plans to develop opportunities for course integration among US and UK space operators.
Earlier this year, four students from Australia and three from the U.K. became the first international students to graduate the Space 300 course.
They joined U.S. Air Force, Army and Navy service members for the capstone space course designed to develop senior officer and enlisted space professionals as strategic thinkers for an international geopolitical environment and increase understanding of national space policy.
This year’s Schriever Wargame, held in September, included Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and U.S., as long-standing wargame partners. France, Germany and Japan became partners in last year’s wargame and participated in planning cycles this year before full integration in Schriever Wargame 2020.
Schriever Wargame, an annual event focused on ten years in the future, identifies future force planning and systems integration requirements.
“Space is a warfighting domain—just like air, land and sea,” US Air Force General Jay Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command, said while visiting Space Flag 19-3. “We must continue to look at opportunities to expand our Allied participation to train and fight with our partners just like any other domain. We are stronger together.”