WASHINGTON – The U.S. Air Force held its first “Space Flag” exercise April 17 to 21, a new event designed to hone warfighter’s skills at operations, problem solving, and potential conflict in space.

“An exercise like Space Flag pushes our space operators to the limit of their capacity,” said Col. DeAnna Burt, commander of the 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. “Space Flag is the initial step to developing an advanced training program that parallels Red Flag, which prepares our combat air forces for success in the air domain.”

Space Flag is modeled off of the Air Force’s annual four-part Red Flag exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Red Flag is the service’s largest and best-known air combat training event. It draws in units from across the country, allied partners from around the world, and was even the subject of the 2004 IMAX movie “Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag.”

The Air Force wants the new Space Flag to do the same for space operations: become the premier training exercise to bring together airmen from across the service to practice scenarios that might occur in orbit. Another Space Flag exercise is tentatively scheduled August, and the Air Force is looking to hold the event twice a year.

Col. DeAnna Burt, commander of the 50th Space Wing, Air Force Space Command, at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.
Col. DeAnna Burt, commander of the 50th Space Wing, Air Force Space Command, at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.

 “As this series matures, increasingly more realistic operational scenarios, threats, and environmental and weapon system modeling and simulation will put our space operators in the thick of the fight, thereby exposing them to the stressors of combat before confronting a real adversary,” Burt said in response to questions submitted by SpaceNews.

The exercise involved the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, the National Space Defense Center at Schriever, and the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron that simulates enemy attacks on U.S. assets for training purposes.

“Space Flag will provide space operators mission planning experience and opportunities to apply tactics, techniques and procedures in response to a thinking adversary,” Burt said, adding that the Air Force expects space operators to gain a greater understanding of adversary threats and possible responses.

Burt already has experience commanding a flag exercise. In July 2016, she became the first space officer to lead one of the Red Flag exercises at Nellis, overseeing the three-week event that involved more than 100 aircraft.

“I know from this experience that we will need a space test and training environment, live or simulated, that truly integrates how we command our space and cyber systems to deliver global combat effects,” she said. “We know we need new systems to battle manage and command and control at the operational and tactical level of space operations, and Space Flag will point the way to fully describing the capabilities those future systems must provide.”

Phillip Swarts is the military space reporter for SpaceNews. He previously covered space and advanced technology for Air Force Times, the Justice Department for The Washington Times, and investigative journalism for the Washington Guardian;...