ROTC cadets from Virginia Tech and the University of Colorado-Boulder virtually participated in a space operations training exercise earlier this year with the Joint Task Force-Space Defense – a component of U.S. Space Command.
The Sprint Advanced Concept Training events are an experimentation cycle for JTF-SD operational units and intelligence teams to participate with civil, commercial, interagency and international partners at an unclassified level. It is a forum for clarifying technical challenges and exploring options while identifying “unknown unknowns.”
These future military officers’ participation in SACT 20-1 was part of a testing construct that helped to establish a space support operation “in the cloud,” with no centralized operating location. During the COVID-19 environment, the cadets all participated through a virtual, remote setting.
“SACT proved to be an exceptional opportunity to expose cadets to space operations. Rather than simply reading about or observing space operations, in SACT 20-1 cadets were actual participants,” said Col. Eric Dorminey, Virginia Tech AFROTC Detachment 875 commander. “That made the event far more significant. The feedback from the cadets has been nothing short of exceptional. In my mind, the SACT 20-1 success is a demonstration of the impact such experiential opportunities can have on cadet development and the potential positive influence we can have on the growth of future space warriors.”
Incorporating cadets into the exercise proved to be a success, as they supported multiple parts of the operation and provided fresh insight into developmental operations. Focus areas ranged from space domain awareness to space traffic management.
To provide the cadets with the most realistic experience possible, multiple implementation constructs were used for operations practice, including live on-orbit events, simulated events and “sim-over-live” which overlays simulated activity on top of real-world data sets.
“Space Domain Awareness, or SDA, is foundational to our ability to operate in the space domain,” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Tom James, JTF-SD commander and USSPACECOM Director of Operations. “We have to understand what is occurring in the space domain, to have a sound picture of our area of responsibility in order to operate in a responsible and coordinated manner. This particular SACT, incorporating some of our future space operators, was an excellent opportunity to run various scenarios and expand our thinking about SDA and battlespace management.”
USSPACECOM’s mission is to conduct operations in, from and to space to deter conflict, and if necessary, defeat aggression, deliver space combat power for the Joint/Combined force and defend U.S. vital interests with allies and partners. SDA provides the clarity and awareness to ensure JTF-SD can deter aggressive behavior from potential adversaries.
“SACT pushes the bounds of our operational unknowns and helps the command better prepare for potential future scenarios,” James said.
This experiment provided these ROTC cadets with a small sampling of what their careers could look like as space operators. The cadet participation may grow into normalized training for cadets in Air Force ROTC interested in space operations and internship opportunities with space operations teams.
Beyond the participation of the ROTC cadets, the SACT 20-1 experimentation also incorporated components of the civil and commercial sectors. As a primary example of this integration, the Department of Commerce – who is taking on responsibility for space traffic management – was an active partner during the exercise.
“Building relationships, such as with the DoC, is groundbreaking work that we tested using real-world scenarios during SACT 20-1,” said Air Force Brig Gen Chris Povak, JTF-SD deputy commander. “Strengthening our collective security by expanding our allies and partners is a direct line of effort set forth in the USSPACECOM’s campaign plan. Building effective mission relationships with our interagency and commercial teammates, as we practiced in this exercise, is critical as we work together in developing capabilities and concepts of operations to protect our interests in space.”
Australian, British, and Canadian space units have all participated in the SACT from its inception. Civil and commercial partners from Australia, France, Japan, and the UK are also integrated into the training exercise, which helps to enhance the space traffic management scenario development.
The SACT experimentation exercise will continue to gain steam with additional cycles planned for the coming months.