Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman speaks at a ceremony hosted by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Anthony J. Rivera

WASHINGTON — Before they attacked Ukraine, Russia’s armed forces were viewed as one of the most powerful in the world. But the conflict exposed that as a myth.

The lesson for the U.S. Space Force is that whenever it has to fight the next conflict, it can’t be caught unprepared, said Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, U.S. chief of space operations. 

The U.S. military has the world’s most advanced satellites and hardware but space forces for decades have operated in a relatively benign environment, Saltzman noted, and have not trained for a potential conflict where satellites could become military targets.

“An observation from Ukraine is you’ve got on paper, a very capable Russian military, but they didn’t necessarily have the training, they didn’t necessarily have the operational concepts for multi-domain operations,” Saltzman said on a Space Force Association webcast that aired Jan. 12.

Sometimes leaders focus on the weapon systems “and miss the fact that if you don’t have trained personnel, operational concepts and the tactics to execute with the weapon systems against the thinking adversary, that you only have half the equation,” he said. 

“The Russians didn’t have C2 [command and control] structures and sustainment capability. And they’re coming up a little short,” Saltzman said. In the Space Force, “we have to make sure that not only do we have the systems to do the mission, but that our operators have the training, the experience, and we have validated tactics that actually enable those capabilities.”

To train for space warfare, operators will require a mix of live and virtual training ranges, he said.  Space Force units will need to practice electronic warfare, operations against GPS jamming and how to maneuver satellites. Most of the current training infrastructure was inherited from the Air Force and the Space Force has to invest in updated capabilities.

“We have to build the infrastructure and the processes and procedures to make sure [Space Force guardians] have got what they need, whether it’s a test and training infrastructure, simulators that can replicate adversary threats and the interactions you would get with multiple units working together to solve operational challenges,” he said. “All of that needs to take place before we get into an actual conflict so that our operators are fully ready. And that’s really the priority that I’m going after.”

For example, he said, guardians will have to practice tactics to “control the space domain so that we can do what we want to do with our space assets, achieve the effects that we want to achieve, while denying the adversary the ability to use their space capabilities” to target U.S. forces.

“So we have to have the operational concepts for how we are going to do that. What are those techniques, procedures, and then you have to practice it … What I want to do is make sure we have the skills and the experience on day one of the conflict.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...