527 SAS, 26 SAS: Knowing your enemy

  • Published
  • 50th Space Wing Public Affairs

Nestled in the southwest corner of Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, is a large warehouse commonly known to its inhabitants as “the Barn.” But this is no ordinary storage unit, nor does it house farm animals.

It’s the home of the 527th and 26th Space Aggressors Squadrons, and they have a unique mission set - playing the bad guys.

The mission of the Space Aggressors is to prepare joint forces and coalition partners to fight in and through contested space environments by analyzing, teaching and replicating realistic, relevant and integrated space threats.

“We replicate adversary tactics,” said Capt. Dustyn Carroll, aggressor training flight commander. “We want to know what our adversaries are capable of, study that and see how we can apply that. We then teach (joint and coalition forces) what adversaries may or may not do, and then we go out and replicate it ourselves.”

The Aggressors trace their roots back to the Vietnam War when they were established to address aircrew training deficiencies. At that time, the U. S. Air Force pilot air-to-air kill ratio dropped to only 2.4 to 1.  Analysis indicated that pilots were not exposed to enemy aircraft capabilities and tactics before entering combat. That mentality transferred to the space aggressors today who know, teach and replicate adversary space capabilities, doctrine and tactics to more realistically train joint and coalition forces.

Currently, the Space Aggressors replicate live GPS and satellite communication electronic attack for training audiences across the globe.  Carroll equated the training to watching TV while someone on the side talks to you, throwing off your focus.

“In the same way, your receivers are listening for a certain signal while (the Aggressors) talk over it loud enough with (another) signal that it confuses the receiver and therefore it denies it making it lose its signal. This is a tactic known as brute force jamming,” said Carroll.

To prepare forces for a contested environment, the Space Aggressors educate training audiences about the adversary and their tactics. Exercises and training events are vital elements to the Space Aggressors mission, making travel a necessary part of their operations.

“The (operations) tempo is pretty intense, but it's great. We get to go out and see all sorts of different places, train (forces) that are out there fighting the war and ensure they've got the information and their (tactics, techniques and procedures) down so that they can succeed in battle. I myself have probably traveled between 80 to 100 days in a year, so it's rewarding,” said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Pepau, 527 SAS GPS EA crew chief.

The 26th SAS shares the burden of the intense operations tempo in order to accomplish the Aggressor mission.

“We cannot be effective Space Aggressors without the 527 and 26 (squadrons) working in harmony. We are a family here, we have total force integration and they are an integral part of our team,” explained Maj. Keith Harrigan, 527 SAS director of operations.

However, the total force integration involves much more than just these two Aggressor teams.

Today, a visitor to “the Barn” may encounter not only Air Force uniforms and Schriever civilians, but also military members of a different cloth. The space aggressors are currently training U.S. Army Soldiers for the next two years for their space aggressor certification. The Aggressors also work with the U.S. Navy and Canadian forces.  The growing diversity underpins the importance of their mission.

“It just shows an acknowledgement that we live in a dangerous world and that a GPS (and SATCOM) denied environment doesn't just exist for the Air Force - it exists worldwide. It is a viable threat worldwide that has to be addressed smartly and trained smartly. What it means is jointly we are not sitting on our thumbs and letting this threat develop, we are running toward the fight to make sure our troops are the best equipped and trained to handle any threat and environment,” said Maj. Rich Hartlaub, 26 SAS acting operations flight commander.

According to Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Arns, 527 SAS superintendent, a common misconception about these Aggressors is that they’re all space professionals when in fact, the squadrons use a broad spectrum of career fields including intelligence, communications, cyber, pilots, administration, contractors and government civilians as operators to accomplish their missions.  Everyone assigned to the 527 and 26 SAS executes as an Aggressor regardless of their primary specialty.

But the rallying mentality that binds the squadrons is the understanding of why acting as the enemy is so important to their mission.

“Understanding our heritage as Aggressors is critical to us because when you are tasked to act nefariously, to be the bad guy, we have a responsibility to understand exactly what that means. That is not to win, it’s to train (joint and coalition) forces to win. The best day of our lives is when we lose, because that means we did our job,” said Hartlaub.