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US Space Force conducts training on 'live fire' satellite jamming

Crew members manually redirect an antenna for Space Force's Bounty Hunter counterspace system at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Jan. 30, 2017.
Crew members manually redirect an antenna for Space Force's Bounty Hunter counterspace system at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Jan. 30, 2017. (Image credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Miles Wilson)

The United States Space Force is conducting a training exercise designed to train guardians how to conduct "live fire" satellite jamming.

The training, known as "Black Skies," is part of a new series of exercises designed to focus on specific skills in which Space Force expects its guardians to be proficient, according to a report published by Breaking Defense (opens in new tab). Following Black Skies, which is focused on satellite jamming, the service will conduct "Red Skies" to train in orbital warfare, followed by "Blue Skies," which will focus on cyber warfare.

The training comes as both ground-based and orbital threats to private and U.S. military-owned satellites continue to proliferate, threatening to turn space into a battlefield in the event of a major conflict between space-faring nations.

Related: Russia is jamming GPS satellite signals in Ukraine, US Space Force says

According to Breaking Defense's report, the exercise involved the use of a commercial satellite leased from a private firm to serve as a training target. It was not stated which company allowed its satellite to be jammed. 

Maj. Gen. Shawn Bratton, commander of Space Training and Readiness Command (STARCOM), told Breaking Defense that STARCOM is looking into whether or not it can acquire its own satellites to serve as dedicated "live fire" training exercises like Black Skies. The command is exploring partnering with universities that operate their own cubesats to build out a fleet of target satellites. "We're in planning, and trying to find the right way forward,” Bratton said.

As militaries worldwide continue to depend on satellites for critical intelligence, communications, and early warning systems, it's no surprise that the ability to jam or otherwise disrupt them is becoming a top priority for armed forces worldwide. 

U.S. Space Force officials have previously reported that GPS satellites have been jammed throughout Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. "Ukraine may not be able to use GPS because there are jammers around that prevent them from receiving any usable signal," Gen. David Thompson, the Space Force's vice chief of space operations, said in April 2022. "Certainly the Russians understand the value and importance of GPS and try to prevent others from using it."

The Space Force already conducted "simulated on-orbit combat engagements" in a "contested, degraded and operationally-limited environment" at a previous STARCOM training exercise in August 2022. 

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Brett Tingley
Editor, Space.com

Brett is a science and technology journalist who is curious about emerging concepts in spaceflight and aerospace, alternative launch concepts, anti-satellite technologies, and uncrewed systems. Brett's work has appeared on The War Zone at TheDrive.com, Popular Science, the History Channel, Science Discovery, and more. Brett has English degrees from Clemson University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In his free time, Brett is a working musician, a hobbyist electronics engineer and cosplayer, an avid LEGO fan, and enjoys hiking and camping throughout the Appalachian Mountains with his wife and two children.