Op-ed | Recent policies, position statements bring promise of new era of “space superiority”

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The space domain is recognized now as an increasingly important area for the U.S. military and its allies. In fact, space is a warfighting domain. In the modern age of global conflicts and ever-changing threats, Department of Defense (DoD) users need immediate and assured access to resilient, robust and secure satellite communications (SATCOM) around the globe, across the full spectrum of engagement. To ensure this, it has become abundantly clear that the commercial sector and government leaders must work together to create a more protected space environment.

Many in the commercial satellite sector are pleased to see the U.S. government ushering an era of an enhanced partnership with the satellite industry. This includes industry participation as the government is exploring new business models for commercial SATCOM to break down long-held siloed practices and cultural inhibitions in order to provide robust and complementary SATCOM capabilities.

As the administration, DoD and other government leaders have unveiled several recent policy shifts while making bold position statements, I can say with confidence that we are making meaningful progress toward this goal. Defense leadership’s words and deeds underscore the urgency for a new, cohesive organizational structure to, among other outcomes; expedite the adoption of an enterprise-level, completely integrated satellite architecture and new acquisition methods and deployment processes. Below are selected highlights of recent news that signify the building of a positive momentum:

  • In June, U.S. Air Force Secretary (SECAF) Heather Wilson approved an order to establish a new deputy chief of staff for space operations position on the Air Staff of the Air Force. The three-star position will oversee space operations and requirements for warfighters and serve as a space advocate at the Pentagon. It is a move intended to help “integrate, normalize and elevate space” within the service, Wilson said, and the unification of command-and-control systems for satellites and other space assets via an “integrated command center” has emerged as a key point of interest – replacing siloed, “one-of-a-kind” operating systems. The naming of a deputy chief of staff for space will add much-needed space-focused leadership and advocacy within the Air Force and the Pentagon. This move is more than mere window dressing as it elevates Space visibility and accountability within the Air Force, clearly signalling it’s criticality for the joint fight.  The new SECAF’s actions emphasize the Secretary’s intent to keep the leadership role in Space for the Department of Defense.  
  • Speaking during a June breakfast at the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, Air Force, Gen. John Hyten, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) noted that in order to meet his three priorities of strategic deterrence, descive response, and a combat-ready force that the DoD must go fast and take risk.  The DoD must innovate and respond faster than the adversaries.  He emphasized that industry develops and tests innovative technology faster and for a lower cost than the DOD.  General Hyten turned to the commercial industry to illustrate this point, and said that if a commercial company was unable to build and deliver a large wideband commercial satellite in less than three years, they would be “out of business.” Hyten queried, “with the wideband commercial side, why are we [DoD] even buying wideband satellites? Why don’t we have the commercial side that already built them in 3 years go ahead and buy them for us, and we’ll just lease it back or come up with some other arrangement in order to do that.”  It is encouraging to witness such thoughtful and strategic leaders challenge the status quo, stressing the imperative to look at commercial SATCOM as the essential basis for the future architecture.
  • General Hyten has also asked Congress to better support the integration of the commercial space sector into space situational awareness efforts. Inmarsat and five other private satellite companies take part in the Commercial Integration Cell (CIC) at the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) “on their own dime,” Gen. Hyten commented at the 33rd Space Symposium. “Each of those companies has a need for more situational awareness of what is going on. They have a need, just like our allies do, to understand what’s going on in space because we don’t want bad things to happen.”

Specifically, he called for the greater sharing of classified information between the government and industry partners who are not under contract. Current law does not allow government sponsorship of security clearances, badging and accesses unless under contract (CIC participants are not under contract). “When we don’t have a contractual relationship, that makes security classification information sharing very, very difficult,” Gen. Hyten further noted at the 33rd Space Symposium. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that a uniformed, combatant commander has vigorously advocated for change which would increase the effectiveness and continued growth of an organization such as the CIC.

Gen. Hyten has led a successful effort to focus and rename the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC) as the National Space Defense Center (NSDC). This name change is an accurate representation of the center’s efforts to combine the best resources of the DoD, interagency and the intelligence community, while incorporating private-sector technology and innovation via contracted services, to counter threats while pursuing a fully integrated, highly capable space environment. Gen. Hyten recognizes that space is integral to all mission objectives, whether we seek to deter a nuclear attack or mitigate a cyber assault. This is the kind of understanding and commitment that is readily converting words into action.

  • The administration continues to affirm its intent to reestablish the National Space Council. The Council has been inactive for nearly a quarter century. But the administration plans to restore it to “reenergize the pioneering spirit of America in space, and (to) ensure that America never again loses (its) lead in space exploration, innovation and technology,” said Vice President Mike Pence, during a June address at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. While there are few specifics about the center’s role and intended impact, Pence has stressed the need for the nation to maintain a “constant presence” in low Earth orbit along with an “increased collaboration with commercial space industries.”  Given the significant economic imperatives for assured use of space, it would be reasonable to expect increased emphasis on commercial solutions and industrial innovations would be central to the efforts of this Council and the revisions in Space Policy from the current administration.
  • Gen. Jay Raymond, Commander, Air Force Space Command, has established of the Space Warfighting Construct, which will combine enhanced situational awareness and responsive command and control to support a vision of a space enterprise that can fight through conflict. In addition, he unveiled the development of a Battle Management Command and Control (BMC2) system that will enable commanders to simultaneously maneuver space assets and direct defensive operations against multiple threats while maintaining space capabilities for military users.

“When battlefield Airmen go into the fight today, they don’t go into the fight just working the air domain; they go into the fight with air, space, and cyber all integrated. That’s because space and cyber are the DNA of that multi-domain integration,” Gen. Raymond said at the 33rd Space Symposium in April. “Our joint warfighting partners need to have space all the time. It’s not a given anymore. We’re hard at work to make sure that that it is a given. We can’t lose sight of that. It’s going to take the support of government, it’s going to take the support of industry, it’s going to take the support of our allied partners…”

Taken as a whole, these efforts are shaping a new organizational structure designed to better serve the joint force, so that the U.S. government, its allies and commercial partners thrive via a diverse and resilient space architecture.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Service strategic forces subcommittee, said that an overhaul of satellite acquistion remains a key priority of his objectives. This includes the implementation of policies to make it easier for the satellite industry to meet the requirements of DoD users. “The commercial sector will tell us that if a commercial customer comes to them and says, ‘I need this capability in space within 18 to 36 months,’ they will get it; it’s up in space and it’s working,” he said. “It takes the Defense Department six to eight years. That’s just unacceptable, particularly given the threats that we currently face and the aggressive nature that our adversaries have taken in this area.”

Clearly, we have strong, forceful advocates across the Executive and Legislative branches in government senior leadership looking for a new, solid space acquisition and operational structure to support the missions effects required in today and tomorrow’s environment.  Acknowledging that there may be, and most likely will be, obstacles down the road that could impede this progress (not the least of which are budgetary and cultural challenges), it is crucial that we focus and succeed in these plans. Time is of the essence, so let’s march smartly toward a more cohesive, strategically planned and executed space architecture – peace-seeking nations are depending upon it.

This speaks to the urgency for greater resilience in space – something that commercial providers have worked on with the military for years. As a fully involved government partner, industry is now being recognized by the government leadership as a dedicated, critical supplier of robust, diverse space assets. Our broad portfolio of satellites and capabilities will continue to proudly contribute to the positive momentum in the interest of a fully protected and integrated space architecture, so that servicemen and women can pursue missions with absolute, operational assurance.

Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch, Inmarsat SVP, Government Strategy & Policy, U. S. Government Business Unit, on major policy developments that promise to create a more protected and integrated space environment while advancing a partnership between the satellite industry and government.