Proposed JSpOC Backup Could Get Top Billing

by

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — A proposed new military space traffic-management and operations center that the U.S. Defense Department originally touted as a backup to its existing facility could eventually take over the primary role, senior military officials said here.

As envisioned, the Joint Interagency Coalition Space Operations Center would be more capable than the Pentagon’s existing Joint Space Operations Center, or JSpOC, in part because it will draw more heavily on intelligence community and allied surveillance assets, these officials said. The new center could be up and running by the end of this year, Pentagon officials have previously said.

U.S. Navy Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the JSpOC, described that facility as “very clunky” in its ability to deal with what military officials routinely characterize as an increasingly threatened space environment. Without being too specific, these officials have cited recent activities by China and Russia as cause for alarm.

The JSpOC, located at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, supports the full range of U.S. military space activities including launch, satellite maneuvers and collision avoidance, drawing on data from sources including the Pentagon’s world-class Space Surveillance Network. The facility is in the midst of a major hardware and software overhaul known as the JSpOC Mission System that is expected to cost around $900 million, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Speaking at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium here, Army Lt. Gen. David Mann, head of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command, described the proposed new site as a “JSpOC on steroids” that could eventually relegate the Vandenberg site to a backup role. The new site, which industry sources have said likely would be located at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado, would be more responsive and agile in the face of threats including satellite jamming and spoofing, he said.

Pentagon officials disclosed in June that the Defense Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence were planning a second space traffic management center to better address the rapidly evolving threat environment.

The current JSpOC could handle these threats, but wouldn’t fully take advantage of capabilities from international partners or other government agencies, Mann said during a press briefing here Aug. 11.

Haney said the JSpOC, which relies in some instances on outdated equipment and software, was developed in a different, safer era. “It was a time period when we had more assurance about our capabilities in space,” he said during a press briefing here.

In recent years, Defense Department officials have become increasingly concerned about the threats to military satellites from China and Russia. The concerns prompted in a White House directive last year for a government-wide study known as the Space Portfolio Review.

The idea for a new space traffic management center has its origins in that study, which also led to recently disclosed plans by the Defense Department to spend $5 billion to $8 billion over the next five years on space protection activities. Much if not most of that spending is expected to be classified.

Haney said the Joint Interagency Coalition Space Operations Center would “enhance” the JSpoC.

“We have to be able to experiment and work our way through various vignettes to understand the problem better,” Haney said of the emerging threats.  The Defense Department must “be able to deal with the complexities that we’re seeing that our adversaries or our potential adversaries are working on such as Object E. … I’m talking about better capability than what we have today at the JSpOC,” he said.

Object E, formally known as Kosmos 2499, is a Russian satellite launched last year along with three communications satellites. The object’s movements have been concerning enough that they were described in a broader classified briefing on space threats to congressional defense committees earlier this year, a Capitol Hill source said.