Space Force's first-ever 'orbital warfare' exercise has been delayed

A planned Space Force exercise to iron out working practices to counter missile and orbital threats called "Red Skies" has been delayed until later this year.
Christopher McFadden
The exercise will simulate ways to counter missile and orbital threats.


The United States Space Force's first-ever "orbital warfare" exercise has been delayed until the end of the year, Breaking Defense reports. Officially called "Red Skies," the exercise is organized by the force's Space Training and Readiness Command (STARCOM).

Red Sky at night

"Red Skies" is an annual training program by STARCOM for Space Force personnel under Space Operations Command (SpOC). It aims to prepare "Guardians" (the term for Space Force service members) to respond to potential attacks on US satellite systems. As the primary field command of the Space Force, SpOC's Delta 9 unit is pivotal in conducting orbital warfare. The mission's main objective is, according to its official website, to “protect and defend operations and providing national decision authorities with response options to deter and, when necessary, defeat orbital threats.”

“We anticipate that the inaugural execution of the Red Skies exercise will be near the conclusion of this year. Prior to this, the team will be extensively building out and refining various aspects of the exercise during the latter part of the summer,” a STARCOM spokesperson told Breaking Defense.

Last week, STARCOM conducted its first change of command ceremony with Space Force Brig. Gen. Timothy Sejba taking over from Air Force Maj. Gen. Shawn Bratton, who was the first commander of STARCOM in February 2021. Sejba mentioned to reporters after the ceremony on June 20 that his team is currently working on developing a "vision" for Guardian education and training. “That document is still kind of in the works,” he added.

But why the delay with this first-of-a-kind training exercise? Well, the answer appears to be a legal one. One of the main challenges STARCOM faces is figuring out how to provide "live" training for "Guardians," where they operate actual satellites in orbit instead of relying on simulations.

This decision is complicated because international law prohibits any nation from claiming sovereignty over any part of space. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty specifically forbids any claims of national sovereignty in outer space or on celestial bodies like the Moon. Therefore, it is not possible for the Space Force to establish a testing and training range as the Air Force uses in remote areas of the western US for live wargames.

No live firing

However, it is important to note that Red Skies will not include any live training, a STARCOM spokesperson confirmed. “The primary objectives for this inaugural run are to focus on mission planning and execution using orbital warfare modeling and simulation techniques. In the future, 'Red Skies' may expand to include orbital warfare range capabilities through representative systems. The approach taken, be it simulation or live-fire, will be contingent upon the specific training requirements of our 'Guardians,'” the spokesperson said.

“The 392d Combat Training Squadron will thoughtfully construct and adjust the exercise to fulfill the demands of our 'Guardians.' Depending on the needs of the participants, we may incorporate aggressor or range support. So, while the first exercise has not yet happened, we anticipate valuable insights from this endeavor and the opportunity to refine our methods for subsequent training exercises," they added.

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