U.S. Spending on Space Protection Could Hit $8 Billion through 2020

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WASHINGTON — Emerging threats from Russia and China and an eye-opening government study known as the Space Portfolio Review have led the White House to add as much as $8 billion to intelligence and defense budgets over the next five years for activities to improve the resiliency of U.S. national security space capabilities, sources told SpaceNews.

Previously, Defense Department officials said they had budgeted $5 billion in fiscal years 2016-2020 for what they describe as space protection activities, a broad category that includes space surveillance. The funding is contained in both classified and unclassified budget projections, these officials have said.

But industry officials said the White House plan also calls for additional spending for intelligence agencies including the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and operates the nation’s spy satellites. That figure is at least $1 billion and could be as much as $3 billion, sources said.

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, acknowledged “important new investments in space protection for the intelligence community” in a June 24 email to SpaceNews. He declined to discuss specific budget figures.

“I will say that I share the concerns of both the Intelligence Community and DoD over emerging threats to our space systems,” Schiff said. “These threats must be addressed, and there is a strong level of coordination between the IC and DoD. In this regard, I applaud the Administration’s thorough approach to our architectural needs and the commitment they have shown to meeting this critical challenge.”

Schiff’s comments build upon a theme Air Force officials have been hinting at, and which intelligence officials mentioned several times here during the Geoint 2015 Symposium.

Defense and intelligence agency officials have been largely mum about how the money will be spent.

Schiff and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the intelligence panel, said during a June 25 session at the conference that lawmakers are currently studying concepts that include using different orbits for intelligence satellites and weighing the merits of using smaller, less-exquisite satellites.

Betty Sapp, director of the NRO, said one of the agency’s top priorities is architectural resilience.

During a June 23 speech here, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said $5 billion “doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a big, big muscle movement.”

At a breakfast earlier this year, Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, said some of the space protection-related funds will go toward three unclassified Air Force programs: the Space Fence, a next-generation space surveillance system; the Space Based Space Surveillance satellite follow-on; and the Joint Space Operations Center Mission System, a three-phase hardware and software upgrade intended to improve the precision and timeliness of space situational awareness information.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Roger W. Teague. Credit: U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Roger W. Teague. Credit: U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation

The congressional defense oversight committees, whose members have been briefed on the Space Portfolio Review findings, have left the Air Force budget requests for those three programs largely untouched.

Broad sketches about how the government plans to use the rest of the money emerged during government panels and in conversations with industry officials here at the conference, an annual event that typically attracts providers and users of national security space systems and geospatial data.

Maj. Gen. Roger Teague, director of space programs in the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, said during a panel on space resiliency that the Space Portfolio Review’s results can be boiled down to three key findings:

  • It is critical for the Air Force to be able to identify a threat in space.
  • The service must assure that its space capabilities can withstand aggressive counterspace programs.
  • The Air Force must be able to counter the space capabilities of adversaries that target U.S. forces.

Industry sources said the planned spending boost on space protection and resiliency will also go toward  an initiative known as “Space and Cyberspace Superiority 2030.” To help map out that vision, the Air Force is planning a series of meetings with industry and academia this summer to discuss new ideas and emerging capabilities.

In early July, Space Command hopes “to lay out, define, and generate thought-provoking innovations” to meet its long-term needs, according to a June 15 posting to the Federal Business Opportunities website. Then, in September, the service wants to hear presentations from industry, academia and research organizations on how to meet those needs with specific capabilities, the notice says.

Last year, Hyten ordered an update to the service’s long-term science and technology challenges for space. In a Feb. 17, 2015, memo, he laid out a new list of top priorities, which break down in four broad categories:

  • Enhanced battle management command and control.
  • Improving space capabilities at a faster pace.
  • Real-time domain awareness.
  • Resilient technologies that can differentiate between threats and natural phenomena in the space domain and respond appropriately.

Defense Department officials have not yet determined if they will publicly release the Space Portfolio Review, in whole or in part.