BLACK SKIES 23-1: STARCOM improves combat readiness through its second live-fire electronic warfare exercise

  • Published
  • By Space Training and Readiness Command Public Affairs
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The utilization of electronic warfare (EW) has long been an integral part of U.S. military operations. However, with the expansion of adversary capabilities in the space domain, EW has taken on an ever-increasing crucial role in U.S. space operations.

To prepare Guardians for competition and conflict in the space domain, Space Training and Readiness Command launched the SKIES exercise series aimed at improving the U.S. Space Force’s command and control capabilities.

Debuted in 2022, BLACK SKIES (BLKS) is STARCOM’s dedicated large force exercise geared toward providing advanced EW training to space warfighters focused on protecting and defending aspects of the electromagnetic spectrum, like those that intervene with GPS and communications signals.

Building upon the lessons learned during the inaugural BLKS exercise, the 392d Combat Training Squadron, under Delta 1, recently hosted its second iteration, dubbed BLACK SKIES 23-1 (BLKS 23-1), in coordination with Space Operations Command and U.S. Space Command’s Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC).

BLKS 23-1 was a live simulation exercise designed to rehearse the command and control of joint EW fires. Exercise officials explained that a live simulation exercise is a training event involving real people operating real systems, which differs from virtual simulation and constructive simulation training events.

The 25th Space Range Squadron (SRS) configured multiple advanced training ranges for BLKS 23-1.

The live range spanned the distance between California and Colorado and elevated to a specified point 22,000 miles above the surface of the Earth. This range allowed space warfighters participating in the exercise to fire their weapon systems in a safe environment that replicated certain war-like conditions, offering them an opportunity to rehearse and refine their warfighting tactics, techniques, and procedures.

The two-week exercise included participants from U.S. Space Command and four different U.S. Space Force Deltas; to include CSpOC’s Joint Fires and Information Operations Team (JFIOT) and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Division (ISRD), the 71st Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Squadron (ISRS), the 4th the 16th Electromagnetic Warfare Squadrons, the 25th SRS, and the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron.

During a notional exercise scenario in the U.S. European Command area of responsibility, participants planned and executed integrated operations and refined command relationships to protect and defend vital U.S. and coalition interests.

The BLKS 23-1 training audience used live and virtual simulation provided by the 25th SRS to layer electromagnetic effects against 42 simulated targets. The exercise also provided the ability to assess mission objectives and identify any potential issues in tactical employment of EW, all in a controlled live simulation environment.

“We built this scenario to better align U.S. capabilities with actionable targets, bringing realism to the planning process for our training audience,” said U.S. Space Force Capt. Ellie Vlahos, BLKS 23-1 exercise director.

For the first time, BLKS 23-1 also incorporated OPLAN-specific strategies for conducting ground scheme maneuvers in support of space warfare.

“A major take away for [BLKS] 23-1 was incorporating more theater products,” said Vlahos. “We beefed up the ground scheme of maneuver and wrote a USEUCOM non-kinetic fires matrix so that the SEW [Space Electronic Warfare] planner could layer in EW effects around blue air and ground objectives.”

Vlahos added that the BLKS 23-1 training audience executed according to the plan and made any necessary adjustments based on real-time feedback from the live simulation.

Moreover, the 392d CTS also incorporated an additional week so the JFIOT team could go through the whole planning process ahead of the live fire. With additional time, they were able to build better plans and provide amplifying guidance to the tactical units.

The JFIOT EW branch supports military operations by disrupting or degrading an adversary's ability to command, control, communicate, and gather intelligence, said Maj. Roger Dallman, Chief, Electronic Warfare Branch, JFIOT.

“BLKS 23-1 enabled our supported units to practice warfighting tactics in real time, and with units having a viewable effect on a satellite operating within STARCOM’s live training range,” Dallman added.

The commander of STARCOM, Maj. Gen. Shawn Bratton, said as the U.S. Space Force continues to evolve and expand its capabilities in space-based EW, it is imperative that Guardians hone their EW skills in order to maintain a strategic advantage in the space domain.

“By developing a mastery of electronic warfare, Guardians will not only enhance their ability to defend against emerging threats, but also ensure the continued advantage of our space-based capabilities,” Bratton said. “BLACK SKIES is STARCOM’s investment in the development of electronic warfare expertise. We must continue to provide our Guardians with the tools and training necessary to excel in this vital mission set.”

STARCOM plans to conduct the next BLKS exercise (23-2) in the fall of 2023. The field command also plans to debut its first-ever live simulation orbital warfare exercise called RED SKIES this summer.