China And Russia Test The U.S. In Space
Mar 24, 2017
Jen DiMascio | Aviation Week & Space Technology
China and Russia are engaging in hybrid warfare in space, says a member of former President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council. “They are conducting probing, provocative actions just below the threshold of any meaningful U.S. or allied response,” charges Roger Robinson, who heads RWR Advisory Group, a security and business consultancy. Like the “little green men” who helped provoke conflict in Ukraine, the techniques—using cyberattacks, radio-frequency interference and orbiting satellites that linger near U.S. and allied spacecraft—are temporary and reversible. “If you look at the way China and Russia are playing their cards, it is a classic hybrid warfare gambit,” he says.*
Robinson, also chairman of the Prague Security Studies Institute, asked Vice Adm. Charles Richard, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, about the “space hybrid warfare” tactics during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.*
“We have to rapidly get past the academic debate and get into the specific actions we’re ready, willing and allowed to take,” says Vice Adm. Charles Richard. Credit: U.S. Navy
The question is how to respond to a competition that is “just short of war,” Richard says, adding that the U.S. needs to do a better job of collaborating with its allies to figure out exactly what’s happening in orbit. He also says the military should think about fundamental deterrence—denying a competitor’s objective or imposing unacceptable costs on the adversary—in other theaters of war. “We have to rapidly get past the academic debate and get into the specific actions we’re ready, willing and allowed to take,” Richard says.*
Such responses should include naming and shaming adversaries in select instances and imposing economic harm on state-run companies involved, Robinson says. If the kind of cyberintrusion that happened during the 2016 presidential election had happened on Reagan’s watch, “We would have taken that on and inflicted considerable pain on the foreign capital responsible,” he says. “That’s not where I think we are today.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is glad President Donald Trump has signed a new NASA authorization bill designed to keep the space agency on a steady course. Now he wants to change it. “We have the chance to think bigger and bolder; in this coming Congress I hope to take up another commercial space-launch piece of legislation and a longer-term NASA authorization,” Cruz told the Commercial Spaceflight Federation one day after watching Trump sign the space bill he helped shepherd to passage.
He described the NASA Transitional Authorization Act of 2017 as “a transitional authorization as we get a new administration in place,” but offered no details on what the new legislation would contain. “I’m going to start by listening, which is I think the right approach to take, particularly on a long-term vision.” Cruz, who was introduced by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.)—a contender to become the next NASA administrator—terms the expectation that Vice President Mike Pence soon will be named chairman of a reconstituted National Space Council responsible for coordinating federal space activities “a very positive development.” “President Trump wants to be bold,” says Cruz, who lost to Trump in last year’s Republican presidential primary race. “That’s a terrific characteristic in a president, particularly when it comes to something like space. It’s easy to be timid and tepid and take tiny, little incremental steps. Whatever the next four years hold, I think it is unlikely that we will be applying the adjectives ‘timid’ and ‘tepid’.”
The new NASA authorization directs the next NASA administrator to deliver a plan for the International Space Station (ISS) “to transition in a step-wise approach from the current regime that relies heavily on NASA sponsorship to one where NASA could be one of many customers of a low-Earth-orbit, non-governmental human spaceflight enterprise.” At a March 22 hearing on what will happen to the ISS after its funding expires in 2024, Rep. Brian Babin (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Science space subcommittee, warned that “the longer we operate the ISS, the longer it will take to get to Mars.” William Gerstenmaier, associate NASA administrator for human exploration and operations, says the station has consumed $67 billion to date, including space shuttle flights to build it, and costs the U.S. about $3 billion a year to operate. That funding wedge could be available for exploration beyond low Earth orbit if the ISS is terminated or transferred to a private operator. So far, cautions Mary Lynne Dittmar, executive director of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, it would be difficult to close a business case for totally private operations, given the $1.7 billion a year NASA is paying to deliver crew and cargo to the station. “One of the questions is when are you generating enough business that you can start shifting the transportation cost back to the people who are actually generating the business, in other words, pay for your ride?” she says. And Gerstenmaier notes that the ISS is a valuable testbed for the life-support and other technology that will be needed to sustain crews on missions to Mars. The transition plan is due on Capitol Hill Dec. 1. Stay tuned.
—With Frank Morring Jr. in Washington
How Should U.S. Military Change Its Space Operations?
Mar 29, 2017
Lara Seligman | Aviation Week & Space Technology
An often overlooked core function of the U.S. Air Force is its stewardship of space. From the private citizen sending a tweet to the president’s ability to order a nuclear strike, the U.S. relies on satellite technologies fielded by the military’s air service.
But as space becomes more contested, the government is taking a hard look at how to better manage military assets in that domain. The Air Force is pushing to maintain its lead role, but other ways of managing U.S. space operations are being proposed. Among them are a separate Space Corps, modeled on the U.S. Marine Corps, or a Space Guard, inspired by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) has operated for decades in a relatively benign environment, says Maj. Gen. David Thompson, AFSPC vice commander. Operators are accustomed to keeping an eye out for natural threats such as space debris, background radiation or solar storms, and taking appropriate action to move spacecraft out of harm’s way.
The Fight for Space
- GAO, Congress are scrutinizing how Pentagon manages its space assets
- USAF wants to maintain its role as Pentagon’s point man in space
- USAF considers equipping spacecraft with offensive, defensive capabilities
But all that is changing. Potential adversaries are beginning to field offensive capabilities in space, from electronic-jamming devices to anti-satellite weapons that could destroy U.S. spacecraft, says Thompson. To counter the emerging threat, the Air Force is looking to fortify its space infrastructure.
“It’s become very clear, based on the activities of those who could be our adversaries in the future that they intend to challenge our ability to operate in space,” says Thompson. “While we don’t want to see that war extend to space, we have to recognize it might, and we have to be prepared.”
And Vice Adm. Charles Richard, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, points out that space, a domain that enables other domains such as cyber, ground, land and sea, needs to be integrated. “To wage war effectively, we need to be operating in all domains,” he says.
The push comes as the Pentagon faces pressure to better manage its space assets. Although the Air Force is currently responsible for more than 90% of the Defense Department’s space enterprise, defense space leadership responsibilities—including acquisition—are fragmented across an astounding 60 government stakeholders. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report last year warning that this fragmentation is contributing to program delays, cancellations, cost increases and inefficient operations. Congress is also taking an interest: Lawmakers wrote in the fiscal 2016 defense policy bill that they are concerned by the disjointed nature of the military’s space acquisition.
The Air Force is responsible for more than 90% of the Pentagon’s space assets, including the GPS satellite constellation. Credit: U.S. Air Force
This scrutiny could potentially threaten the Air Force’s long-standing role as the Defense Department’s point organization for space. The deputy secretary of defense designated the secretary of the Air Force as the Principal Defense Department Space Advisor (PDSA) in 2015, but it is possible the Air Force could lose that position. The GAO report noted that officials and experts are “skeptical” that the move has been effective in consolidating fragmented leadership responsibilities, and some thought the PDSA authority would be better placed under the auspices of the secretary of defense.
“Why reorganize military space?” asks Maj. Brent Ziarnick, an assistant professor at the Air University’s Air Command and Staff College. “Space is a different domain from air, land and sea. A new organization is needed to develop new ways of thinking,” he says. “The current Air Force structure has shortchanged new needs. The Air Force is too focused on its core mission; it is an air force, not an air and space force.”
Col. Michael Smith, a professor at the Air University’s School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, is even more harsh in his assessment. “The Air Force is to space as the air guard is to music,” he told a panel at the Satellite 2017 conference in Washington in March. “The core competency of the Air Force is air power; other contingencies, other priorities fall off the table . . . until the Army and Navy tell us to bring them back.”
The Air Force appears to be launching a fierce campaign to prove the skeptics wrong. In recent months, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has repeatedly stressed the service’s history of safeguarding space, which dates back to 1954. Thompson echoed Goldfein’s comments, saying the Air Force needs to take the lead in developing the new command-and-control constructs, tools and capabilities across the military that will ensure the U.S. maintains its edge in space.
That means “taking a lead role in the coordination and synchronization of all space activities that the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard bring,” says Thompson.
“We need to establish some kind of [space] organization with autonomy within the Air Force,” says Smith. There is an opportunity to create a Space Corps within the Air Force, he says, in the same way the Army Air Corps was formed within the Army as a precursor to an independent Air Force.
The proposal for a separate Space Guard differs in that, like the Coast Guard—which started life under the Treasury Department, is now part of the Homeland Security Department, but would operate under the Navy in wartime—it would “still be a military force, but not war-focused,” says Ziarnick. “It would focus on safety and security, which provide a benefit in peacetime.”
Thompson, meanwhile, detailed several initiatives the Air Force is already undertaking to bolster its space infrastructure. One effort is distributing the mission across a wider array of in-orbit systems—increasing redundancy and minimizing the damage caused by one individual attack, he says. This can also be applied to ground control stations: The more the U.S. can distribute its global satellite control network, the less devastating a cyberattack against a specific node will be.
“If in fact you distribute the systems and the functions and the tasks wide enough, it might mean that there is very little benefit in the adversary trying to attack you,” Thompson says. “For example, the GPS constellation has 30 satellites on orbit today, so if an adversary were to attack one or two, or perhaps even five, the overall effect on the GPS constellation would still be relatively minor.”
The Air Force is also looking at equipping spacecraft with both offensive and defensive capabilities. One idea is making sure vulnerable spacecraft can carry extra fuel onboard that they can use to outmaneuver an incoming threat. The Air Force is exploring ways to incorporate this into the Space Based Infrared System (for early missile warning) and Advanced Extremely High-Frequency satellites (for protected military communications), says Thompson.
There may be opportunities for the Air Force to take advantage of commercial advances in satellite technology, Thompson points out. The commercial and civil markets have a “tremendous” remote-sensing capability that the military could leverage for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, he says. The Pentagon can either buy these commercial capabilities directly, or let commercial operators operate on the government’s behalf.
Most important, the Pentagon needs to have integrated operations across the joint force equipped to detect threats and effectively counter them, Thompson says. To this end, the Air Force recently stood up the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center at Schriever AFB, Colorado Springs, to unify space defense efforts between the Defense Department and the intelligence community. It also serves as a hub for operational collaboration and experimentation on new space system tactics, techniques and procedures.
Congress, however, is looking at a command structure for an autonomous Space Corps, says Smith. He suggests that AFSPC be turned into a Space Corps within the Air Force by transferring people and coding assets. “The relationship of the Space Corps to the Air Force would be the same as the Marine Corps to the Navy,” he says. U.S. Space Command, merged with Strategic Command in 2020, would be reestablished as a functional command supported by the Space Corps.
“We are naturally the service that can and should lead the way in figuring out how to synchronize, integrate and put all those capabilities together,” argues Thompson. “If you have capabilities in air, space and cyber and integrate them effectively, the whole is absolutely greater than the sum of the parts in terms of the effect you can deliver for the security of the nation and the rest of the joint force.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated to include comments by Vice Adm. Charles Richard, Maj. Brent Ziarnick and Col. Michael Smith.
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