The US Space Force has conducted joint drills with UK, Canada and Australia – the largest such exercises in its history – to hone its readiness for a hypothetical war in Europe, according to a statement by the Space Training and Readiness Command (STAR).
Three so-called Space Flag 23-1 drills, each lasting two days, were conducted earlier this month at Schriever Space Force Base in Colorado. The exercises enabled participants to practice “orbital warfare techniques, our electronic warfare techniques, our space-domain-awareness techniques and intelligence command,” Space Force Lieutenant Colonel Albert Harris said.
“This Space Flag focused on a US European Command scenario, so we wanted to present the problem in that theater and exercise our ability to win it based off of various problems that we presented to the team,” Harris added.
The event marked the first Space Force drills that practiced for European war and just happened to come amid escalating tensions between Washington and Moscow over the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Harris said planning for the exercises began in February, the same month in which Russia began its military operation in Ukraine.
Troops were given Europe-specific problems to solve during mission planning and practiced procedures to increase their readiness to win a conflict on the continent, but the exact scenarios remain a mystery. Colonel Jason Schramm said the drills enabled US forces and coalition partners to practice their space combat tactics.
“Winning in space underpins coalition lethality in other warfighting domains,” he said. “We will fight in space as a coalition, and these opportunities are invaluable to building the team that will fight together should the need arise.”
The US has been supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russia with weapons, supplies and other forms of military aid, such as intelligence, while claiming not to be directly involved in the conflict. General John Raymond, the head of US space operations, said in July that “commercial space has been very important in providing capabilities that have been helpful to Ukraine.”
One well-known case is the supply of Starlink ground equipment to Ukraine. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has provided access to satellite broadband internet service to Kiev’s troops.
Speaking at a space event at the UN in October, Russian representative Konstantin Vorontsov expressed concern over the US and its allies using “elements of the civilian space infrastructure, including commercial, for military purposes,” and warned that “quasi-civilian infrastructure may be considered a legitimate target for a retaliatory strike.”
The US launched its Space Force as a separate military branch in 2019, more than 50 years after joining with the Soviet Union and the UK in signing a treaty that pledged to set aside space for “peaceful purposes.” The Pentagon has claimed that it must treat space as a “war-fighting domain” because of alleged threats from Russia and China.