BOSTON — The U.S. Air Force wrestled with a variety of the types of space issues that it may need to deal with in 2025-time, including piracy on-orbit, as it conducted the most recent edition in a series of space war games from March 24 through April 1.
The scenarios that formed the basis of Schriever 4 were classified, but officials involved with the game told reporters during a March 24 conference call that the neutrality of space assets was another issue that was part of the exercise.
The Air Force began conducting the Schriever war games in January 2001 in order to address issues including space doctrine, the utility of new assets, and the integration of satellites and terrestrial systems.
While the first two wargames took place at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, the second two have taken place at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada in order to better integrate space and aircraft personnel, as well as to take advantage of the Combined Air Operations Center located at Nellis, according to Col. Larry Chodzko, executive director of the Schriever war-game series.
The game involved roughly 400 participants, including increased participation from civil agencies like the departments of Homeland Security and State than in the past, Chodzko said.
Past Schriever war games have helped the Pentagon develop its rules of engagement for dealing with attacks on satellites, according to Ronald Fogleman, a retired Air Force general who serves as a mentor for the war games. Fogleman, who retired as chief of staff of the Air Force in 1997, said the military made a broad effort to address rules of engagement for future battles after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 raised questions about how best to respond to unanticipated attacks — like hijacked aircraft being flown into buildings — and the decisions those incidents make necessary such as whether to shoot down an airliner with civilian passengers.
Schriever 3 allowed the Air Force to explore the various constraints that troops would face in responding to an attack on satellites, and helped form the basis for guidelines as to what actions those troops could take without seeking permission from senior government leaders, Fogleman said. While he declined to go into detail regarding the rules of engagement, he said that some examples could include a decision on whether to withdraw forces from a particular area due to an attack on satellites, or to engage an enemy who had attacked a satellite.
While counterspace operations were part of the scenario, their importance and scope was similar to the level in previous Schriever war games, Chodzko said.
Schriever 4 was intended to examine issues including defending, augmenting and replacing satellites; command and control relationships with U.S. Strategic Command and regional commanders; the ability to use capability projected to be available in 2025 from space, integrated with terrestrial systems to support military commanders; and the role of space with homeland security, according to an Air Force news release issued March 24.
The game drew from documents including Air Force Space Command’s strategic master plan, as well as the Pentagon’s most recent Quadrennial Defense Review, to judge the Pentagon’s probable capabilities and the likely threats it will face in 2025, Chodzko said.
As was the case with previous war games in the series, the plans for Schriever 4 were developed over an 18-month period, Fogleman said. However, the Air Force experienced turn over during that time with changes in the positions of commander in chief at Space Command and the chief of staff of the service. As a result, Air Force officials revisited their plans with the new officials in those positions.
As satellites play an increasingly important role for U.S. forces, the Pentagon might be forced to deal with many of the same problems in space that it currently faces in land, air and sea, Fogleman said. While it is unlikely that an adversary could physically board a satellite and take over its functions in the same way that a ship or aircraft could be hijacked, computer hackers could function as pirates, and covertly or overtly take over a military or commercial satellite, he said.
The Pentagon has not devoted enough attention to this type of threat, and the war game could help develop rules of engagement for dealing with it, Fogleman said. He declined to go into further detail about the issue due to classification, and faced similar constraints in talking about exploring the neutrality of satellites during the war game.
However, Fogleman noted that ships from neutral nations have often been cleared to operate in areas during wartime, and the military would like to see how similar considerations may apply to satellites. The military also wants to explore what measures of protection should be given to commercial satellites used by hostile nations, he said.
The Schriever war games have also helped to highlight the importance of space capabilities to officials throughout the military, Chodzko said. Senior leaders from various military commands were slated to be briefed on the preliminary findings from the results of Schriever 4 March 30, he said.