BLACK SKIES 23-3: USSF conducts largest-ever joint space electromagnetic warfare exercise

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Charles Rivezzo and CharLee Muse
  • Space Training and Readiness Command Public Affairs
On Sept. 22, the U.S. Space Force successfully concluded BLACK SKIES 23-3, the third iteration of Space Training and Readiness Command’s exercise series focused on tactical Space Electromagnetic Warfare (SEW).

Established in 2022, BLACK SKIES was conceived as an advanced training forum for tactical units to understand the intricacies of between operational planning and tactical tasks. 

The success of BLACK SKIES 23-1 was a catalyst for stimulating interest and collaboration among external partners. The essence of integrated domain warfare became a focal point, fostering a conducive environment for joint participation and partnerships, said U.S. Space Force Lt. Col. Scott Nakatani, 392d Combat Training Squadron commander.

BLACK SKIES 23-3, as a result, witnessed a substantial increase in participation, tripling in size with over 170 individuals from diverse units contributing their expertise to the exercise.

The roster of participating units was extensive, including the Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC), 16th Electronic Warfare Squadron (EWS), 3rd Combat Training Squadron, 25th Space Range Squadron, 527th Space Aggressor Squadron, Air Force Reserve Command’s 428th Electromagnetic Warfare Flight, Air National Guard’s 138th EWS, 138th Space Control Squadron and 114th EWS, and a series of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Squadrons.

Additionally, this iteration also included the 26th Weapons Squadron’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft Electronic Combat Officer Course (RECOC), and the U.S. Army’s 1st Space Brigade, Multi-source Intelligence Ground System.

U.S. Space Force Col. Phil Verroco, CSpOC commander, acknowledged the significant participation, highlighting the notable increase in unit engagement compared to previous exercises.

One of the key elements of BLACK SKIES 23-3 was the simulated threat scenarios orchestrated by the 26th Weapons Squadron RECOC.

This segment focused on the potential threats to Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) operations, offering a realistic simulation to gauge and enhance the readiness of military personnel. It provided an invaluable opportunity for coordinated efforts aimed at addressing the challenges posed by modern warfare scenarios, said Nakatani.

Furthermore, the 1st Space Brigade demonstrated its capability in processing multi-intelligence data from a diverse array of sensors. This aspect of the exercise highlighted the evolutionary strides in interagency collaboration and strategic warfare planning, which are instrumental in addressing the multifaceted threat landscape in space and other domains.

BLACK SKIES 23-3 was also an opportunity for the CSpOC to integrate command and control of multiple distributed, multi-service units in open air, known as “live-fire,” and closed loop capacity to meet joint operational requirements.

In the given context, “live-fire” in SEW refers to a real-world scenario where space operators send signals from Earth to a transponder on a satellite in space, said 392d CTS officials.

This process starts with transmitting a radio frequency or electromagnetic signal from a ground station or satellite dish on Earth towards the satellite. The transponder, a special device on the satellite, receives this signal, boosts it, and sends it back to Earth or another location in space. This action enables communication, like TV broadcasts, phone calls, or data exchange between Earth and the satellite, making live fire exercises critical for practicing in realistic settings.

This is in contrast to a closed loop environment, where the procedures remain the same, but the signals are sent and received in a controlled, contained setting, which doesn’t interact with actual space assets.

The live-fire engagements are crucial as they provide a realistic training environment, allowing participants to better prepare for actual combat by engaging with real-world, operational space systems, the officials added.

Despite operating within the constraints of limited resources, the BLACK SKIES series continues to evolve, said Nakatani, emphasizing the importance of SEW exercises in training forces and enhancing warfighting readiness.

“BLACK SKIES has been a massive success in training our forces and testing warfighting readiness,” he said. “The planning and execution team is small, but extremely talented and we will continue to evolve the delivery of realistic combat training to space warfighters.” 

The synergy and coordination exhibited among diverse military units across different branches accentuated the importance of synchronization in achieving mission objectives.

This harmonization is crucial for ensuring combat capability in contested, degraded, and operationally-limited (CDO) environment, stated Nakatani.

“Electronic Warfare is an integral piece to the joint environment,” said Nakatani. “It is inevitable that the U.S. Space Force should continue to integrate, communicate, and coordinate with other services in the EW environment to ensure combat capability of our forces in a contested, degraded, and operationally-limited environment.”

As BLACK SKIES 23-3 concludes, the momentum shifts towards the upcoming Concept Development Conference, hosted by the 392d CTS. The conference aims to refine service-level exercises for Fiscal Year 2024, setting the preliminary groundwork for the next iteration of BLACK SKIES.