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News | Sept. 19, 2023

STARCOM’s 527th SAS Named DAF’s Best in Electromagnetic Warfare

By 1st Lt. Charles Rivezzo Space Training and Readiness Command Public Affairs

On Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado, a squadron of Guardians and joint servicemembers don a Red Star, a symbol that evokes the specter of Cold War-era threats. Their mission? To play the ultimate “bad guys” in a high-stakes chess game, challenging friendly forces to think on their feet in the ever-evolving theater of space and cyberspace warfare.

This squadron, the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron, was recently named the Department of the Air Force's (DAF) Outstanding Level II Electromagnetic Warfare Unit of the Year, a testament to their success of exposing the joint force to the physical and psychological rigors of going toe-to-toe with a thinking, breathing adversary.

The DAF Electronic Warfare Annual Awards Program recognizes individuals and units’ efforts that further electronic warfare operations that contribute to advances in the Air and Space Force and throughout the Department of Defense.

Selected from 47 nominees across the DAF, the 527th SAS was one of only two U.S. Space Force winners across 15 awards program categories.

Born out of lessons from the Vietnam War, the Aggressor program within the DAF has undergone significant evolution since its inception. Originally established in 1972, the program aimed to improve air-to-air combat training. This was in response to a declining kill ratio of U.S. Air Force pilots.

The root cause was identified as inadequate training against foreign aircraft and tactics. To remedy this, Aggressor squadrons were formed to simulate enemy capabilities and present a realistic, challenging training environment.

In 2000, the 527th SAS became the first Space Aggressor squadron in history when it was reactivated under Air Force Space Command.

Now under the umbrella of the U.S. Space Force, the 527th SAS is a hybrid force of Space and Cyber Aggressors, tasked with replicating enemy tactics in the space and cyber domains. They are the sparring partners for “Blue Forces,” providing a controlled environment for realistic threats, from jamming satellite communications to infiltrating cyber networks.

As the commander of the 527th SAS, U.S. Space Force Lt. Col. C. Gene “Shocker” Adams, put it, “It is better to lose to the Aggressors 100 times than to lose to a near-peer adversary once.”

The squadron takes great care in ensuring the authenticity of the threats they replicate. They rely on their in-house Intelligence flight and the Intelligence Community at large to provide accurate and up-to-date information. This ensures that the Blue Forces are training against realistic and relevant threats, tailored to the specific scenarios they might encounter in actual conflict.

“It does Blue no good to practice against threats or tactics that are not accurate or realistic to what they will see in conflict,” said U.S. Space Force Maj. Jeremy “Fire” Hancock, 527th SAS director of operations.

In this challenging environment, the 527th SAS doesn't just rely on technology; they leverage the power of human ingenuity.

To bridge the gap, Hancock noted, “Aggressors need to think creatively and logically. We will never know everything about how an adversary thinks or acts, but we use intelligence, observations, and our own experiences to fill in the knowledge gaps and create realistic scenarios.”

As U.S. Space Force Maj. Kyle “Gambit” Schroeder 527th SAS chief of weapons and tactics explained, “Getting to play the role of the Aggressor is a special privilege. It is an opportunity to use a unique mindset and put yourself in the place of the adversary to really challenge your peers.”

This mindset is cultivated through specialized training and a deep partnership with intelligence units, ensuring that the Aggressors are always one step ahead.

For instance, Aggressor activities often start with a simulated threat. Whether it's interfering with a communication signal or navigating through a cyber network in a way that is similar to a pre-determined threat actor or asset, the Aggressors act based on credible intelligence, said Schroeder.

“Once Blue has identified that the threat is present, they will react according to their plan or operating procedure,” said Schroeder. “After that reaction occurs, it becomes a move, counter-move engagement with Blue, creating a dynamic training environment where both sides adapt and react, providing invaluable experience for all involved.”

But what makes the 527th SAS truly exceptional is its collaborative spirit. With an embedded U.S. Marine Corps detachment and U.S. Navy team, as well as strong ties to the U.S. Air Force and an influx of transfers from the U.S. Army, the squadron is a microcosm of joint military cooperation.

This diverse operational background allows them to simulate a wide range of threats, making them critical sparring partners for pre-deployment exercises across all branches of the military.

“While we exist to bring the most motivated adversary to bear against our teammates, our singular goal is to make Blue better,” said Hancock. “Sure, we play the bad guy, and we talk about how to beat Blue and are motivated to win, but we will never sacrifice fidelity of training for our own ego. We are here to make sure the U.S. is ready for conflict.”

As the landscape of space and cyberspace warfare continues to evolve, the 527th SAS is not content with the status quo. Recognizing that tomorrow's threats will not mirror those of today, the squadron is committed to staying ahead of the curve.

“We are in a constant state of evolution,” said Adams. “Our mission demands that we not only understand current threats but also anticipate future challenges. To that end, we are actively working to build and maintain partnerships with industry leaders, the intelligence community, and across the services to increase our capabilities to close the gap between our threat replication and adversary capabilities. Our aim is to ensure that we continue to offer a training environment that is as close to real-world conditions as possible. We must remain relevant to ensure that our forces are prepared for whatever comes next.”

Reflecting on the DAF-level award, Schroeder said, “This recognition validates what I have known since I’ve gotten here: first, that this really is the best job in the Space Force, and second, that these are the absolute hardest working and highest caliber of people in the U.S. military.”