Military commanders are sometimes reluctant to request data from intelligence satellites due to a lack of comfort with space systems, according to Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, commander of U.S. Strategic Command.
During a speech at the Strategic Space and Defense Conference in Omaha, Cartwright noted that commanders will often respond to an offer of help from Strategic Command by requesting use of aerial intelligence systems. When those systems are unavailable, those commanders often decline further assistance, rather than opt to use satellite data, as they would rather “own” a system than rely on data from space, Cartwright said.
In a brief discussion with reporters following the speech, Cartwright said that the key towards improving commanders’ comfort level with satellites is improving the flow of data to users on the ground. Satellite data is often passed first to analysts for processing before it reaches users, and this process takes too long today, he said.
Introduction of small satellites that can be tasked directly by commanders in the field may help in this area, Cartwright said. However, the military will need to prove that these systems can work reliably before some users are willing to accept them, he said.
During his speech, Cartwright noted that commanders often opt for aerial capabilities, even when satellites offer a better option to meet their needs. In a clear jab at the U.S. Air Force, he said that given a choice between buying a squadron of airplanes and a satellite “my favorite light blue service would rather buy planes.”
This bias towards aircraft can hamper speed and agility in military operations, Cartwright said. “Moving a squadron of airplanes from Central Command to Pacific Command takes about 30 days,” Cartwright said. “Moving a satellite takes about 30 minutes.”