Airmen prepare A-10 Thunderbolt IIS to land and take off from a dry lakebed during Green Flag-West. Space Force is looking to break out exercises—called “skies” instead of “flags”—similar to the model used by USAF. Tech. Sgt. Alexandre Montes
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Space Force Builds Off Flag Exercise, as USAF Exercises ACE

Feb. 17, 2022

The Space Force will debut a new training exercise this year, aimed at improving the service’s command and control capabilities, the head of Space Training and Readiness Command (STARCOM) said Jan. 26. 

The event, called Polaris Hammer, will happen sometime this fall, Brig. Gen. Shawn N. Bratton said during an AFA Air and Space Warfighters in Action virtual seminar.

“We had a request before STARCOM even stood up to develop a command and control exercise for the Space Force, really geared at the ops center level—so what would be the AOC equivalents, or for us the [Combined Space Operations Center] out of Vandenberg [Space Force Base, Calif.] or the National Space Defense Center here in Colorado Springs,” Bratton said.

STARCOM officially stood up this past August, making it the newest of three field commands under the Space Force. And with only a few months under its belt, the new command has plenty of work to do to develop the training doctrines and exercises that will shape the new service branch, Bratton said.

“We’ll have our first go here in [2022] and see how that goes and if we’re meeting the training objectives,” Bratton said of Polaris Hammer. “And then, of course, we continue to support the combatant command tier one exercises, getting after that. But, … we need to develop a little more of that on the service side, and from my seat, really … tease out the doctrine we need to gain and maintain space superiority.” 

That won’t be the only exercise that STARCOM organizes in 2022, though. Bratton said the command is set to host an “initial planning conference” in the coming weeks for an exercise called Black Skies, intended to be a more focused version of the Space Flag exercise. 

“We do an exercise today called Space Flag that is probably most akin to Red Flag, but it’s sort of got everything in it, and it tries to be everything to everybody,” Bratton said. “I think we’ll break that out into pieces over time, starting with [electronic warfare.]” 

That’s not to say the Space Force won’t continue to run Space Flag exercises, Bratton added, but they hope to develop more specific exercises “modeled” after the Air Force’s Flag exercises. 

“I think there’s nothing too creative going on here, but we replaced ‘Flag’ with ‘Sky,’ and I see the Space Force going down that road of Black Skies, Blue Skies, Red Skies exercises to get after the needs of those specific training audiences,” said Bratton. 

The Air Force uses Red Flag exercises for aerial combat training, Black Flag exercises as a way to test large weapons and capabilities, and Blue Flag exercises to train participants at the operational level. It also hosts Silver Flag exercises, in which civil engineers practice operating in a contingency environment, and Green Flag, a predeployment exercise for Air Combat Command flying units to practice close-air support and precision-guided munitions delivery. 

And just as the Space Force is looking to refine its command and control operational capabilities, the Air Force will likely look to refine its own Blue Flag exercises, said Maj. Gen. Case A. Cunningham, commander of the USAF Air Warfare Center. 

Air Combat Command has designated five units to serve as “lead wings” as the Air Force looks to overhaul its force generation model and pivot to strategic competition with China and Russia. 

The five wings, scattered from Idaho to Georgia, will be designated to “rapidly generate combat power as a deployed force,” ACC commander Gen. Mark D. Kelly said in a Jan. 5 memo.

“As we look at what it means to be a lead wing in an Agile Combat Employment environment, at wing-level C2 and distributed C2 in the contested environment, the 505th [Command and Control Wing] is also supporting those efforts to more fully develop what those kind of war games will look like to support Agile Combat Employment and make sure we’re rapidly iterating the capabilities there as we continue to get at that,” Case said. 

The five wings are:

  • 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C.
  • 23rd Wing, Moody Air Force Base, Ga.
  • 55th Wing, Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.
  • 355th Wing, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
  • 366th Fighter Wing, Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho 

The lead wing concept “further refines Agile Combat Employment and Multi-Capable Airmen concepts,” Kelly said in his memo. 

“This shift takes us from a reactive force optimized for counterinsurgency ops over the past 20 years in permissive environments, to wings ready to deploy as high-performing, task-organized combat teams, and operate in a contested environment with joint and coalition partners,” Kelly said in a statement. 

Kelly also designated five wings as “Lead Wings in Extremis” to provide support when additional forces are required for a lead wing. Those five are:

  • 1st Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.
  • 20th Fighter Wing, Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.
  • 325th Fighter Wing, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.
  • 388th Fighter Wing, Hill Air Force Base, Utah
  • 633rd Air Base Wing, JB Langley-Eustis, Va.

ACC is still working to determine “required force elements and organizational structures” for the new lead wings, it said, but experiments and exercises are planned in 2022 to test the new structure.