Weapons School: Multi-domain integration since 1996

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Airmen of the Joint Space Operations Center monitor computer systems designed to detect, track, and identify all artificial objects in Earth’s orbit at Vandenberg AFB, Calif, Sept. 27, 2014. Its mission is to provide a focal point for the operational employment of worldwide joint space forces and enable the commander of Joint Functional Component Command for Space to integrate space power into global military operations. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Krystal Ardrey)

The purpose of Weapons School Integration — the capstone event for each class of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School Weapons Instructor Course — hasn’t changed much over the years, but the capabilities, platforms and domains involved have.

A leader in tactics, techniques and procedures development, the USAFWS has focused on integrating combat capabilities across domains since 1996 when the school’s Space Division was established. The division structure was dissolved in 2003 but integrating space operations as part of the USAFWS syllabus continued under the 328th Weapons Squadron, which graduates about 20 Weapons Instructors each year.

“The Weapons School recognizes and understands that our adversaries are building threats to space systems and that the total force has to be prepared to confront those challenges,” said Maj. Mark Crimm, USAFWS chief of space integration. “And so, to tackle those challenges, the USAFWS commandant’s office of integration ensures Weapons School Integration missions address impacts for every Air Force doctrinal mission, including satellite and space operations.”

While space operations are integrated across WSINT missions, space takes front and center during Operation SKYTRAIN.

“Operation SKYTRAIN, a strategic attack and space operations scenario, is the only mission during WSINT not led by aircrew,” said Crimm. “Instead, because protection of space assets is the primary goal of the mission, it’s led by a space operator.”

In the scenario, adversary weapons pose a threat to U.S. assets in space. The defense of these vital national assets requires the integration of air, space, ground and cyberspace capabilities, according to Capt. Marcus Fairchild, 328th WPS student and lead planner for the most recent WSINT Operation SKYTRAIN phase.

“I’m an effects-based planner, so I know I need certain threats gone so we can protect our assets in space,” said Fairchild. “I, along with my deputy who’s a pilot, lead the planning and execution of the mission to mitigate threats to space assets while keeping our aircraft in the best possible position for success and survivability.”

The planning process is similar to traditional mission sets. What differs is “the timing and tempo of the operation is built around when space operators are able to perform the maneuvers needed to keep satellites defended,” said Fairchild.

“Integration between the space and air domains isn’t new,” he said. “Downrange all of our space effects were timed and synchronized with what our airborne assets were doing. I learned how to integrate downrange when it really mattered and I get to practice it here in a much bigger bubble.”

According to Fairchild, the insight he has gained into the capabilities of other platforms is what makes the training provided by the Weapons School so significant.

With squadrons dedicated to intelligence, cyberspace operations, electronic attack, and command and control, the Weapons School ensures their graduates are prepared to leverage their platforms and expertise for maximum effect in virtually any combat scenario.

“The Weapons School teaches you to talk multiple operational languages so this isn’t something I could have done six months ago,” said Fairchild, who deployed to Afghanistan in support of the 21st Space Wing prior to starting Weapons School.

“Before I didn’t necessarily have an awareness of what others were doing and why,” said Fairchild. “I didn’t have a true understanding of what the platforms I was working with were capable of. After coming through the Weapons School, I now know the resources, the people, and what their platforms can do and the best way that space integrates into those plans. The same would be true for any graduate.”