On National Security | Reality doesn’t match rhetoric on space, cyber


“On National Security” appears in every issue of SpaceNews magazine. This column ran in the Jan. 29, 2018 issue.

The Pentagon’s new national defense strategy puts space and cyberspace in the category of “warfighting domains” alongside air, sea and land. It calls for investments in capabilities to increase the resilience and security of space systems. And it advocates for a similar commitment in the cyber domain.

This language should be music to the ears of the military’s space and cyber warriors. It also should be encouraging to lawmakers on Capitol Hill who for years have chastised the Pentagon for continuing to spend the bulk of its weapons budget on traditional hardware when all evidence points to cyber and space as being glaring vulnerabilities.

Defense industry analyst and former Pentagon official Andrew Hunter, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, put his finger on it. He categorized space and cyber as “new investment” areas that will struggle for resources unless they can “displace” existing force structure. Let’s face it, Hunter said. “In order to dramatically increase investment in space, the Air Force will probably be required to reduce the size of its tactical fighter fleet.”

That’s hard to do, Hunter noted. Unless there are marching orders from the secretary of defense, the military services left to their own devices are not going to make that trade-off.

When the subject of investing in modern technology comes up, Pentagon officials will blame Congress for not passing full-year budgets for most of the past decade. The unstable budget climate means existing programs continue on autopilot and bold changes get deferred into the future.

But the Pentagon does bear some responsibility for investment inertia that goes back decades. In a scathing new assessment, the Defense Department’s director of operational testing and evaluation wonders how in the world the military can develop capabilities in the space and cyber domains when it doesn’t even have the infrastructure to develop and test these technologies.

“Much of our test range infrastructure is over 50 years old, with some assets built prior to World War II,” wrote Robert Behler, the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation, DOT&E, in his first annual report.

The DOT&E office was created to provide independent assessments to the secretary of defense. Behler comes to the job with a strong technology and military background. He was chief operating officer and deputy director of the Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute. He retired from the U.S. Air Force as a major general after serving as commanding general of the Air Force Command and Control & Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center, and deputy commander at NATO’s joint headquarters.

Behler said the majority of simulated threats the military uses on training ranges “do not represent the modern capabilities of our potential future adversaries.

“Test infrastructure for cyber is just now beginning to be realized, while the space domain remains in its infancy,” he wrote.

He called it an “alarming trend” that over the past 10 years, U.S. rivals are beefing up their technology arsenals faster than the Defense Department’s test infrastructure can adapt and realistically represent them. Modern infrastructure — like digital 3D simulations and virtual testing environments — is especially needed in the cyber and space domains, he said. The military has to be able to test space systems against offensive space threats. That will require spending money on cutting-edge modeling and simulation tools.

A leaked pre-decisional draft copy of the Defense Department’s nuclear posture review specifically mentions “expanding threats in space and cyberspace” as an issue of concern. It echoes some of the language from the Trump administration’s national security strategy, which predicts enemies will seek to disrupt, by electronic means, critical infrastructure and command-and-control systems on the ground, as well as space-based networks.

The nuclear posture review endorses massive investments in missiles, submarines and bombers, but appears to give short shrift to the cyber and space threats, said Jon Wolfsthal, a former director for arms control and nonproliferation at the National Security Council under President Obama.

“If we’re going to threaten the use of nuclear weapons in response to a cyber attack, why aren’t we investing more money in our own cyber capability?”

Sandra Erwin


Sandra Erwin covers military space for SpaceNews. She is a veteran national security journalist and former editor of National Defense magazine.