If there were any doubts that the U.S. Air Force’s TacSat-2 demonstration satellite had become a new front in the turf war between the U.S. military and the intelligence community, they were erased by a March 26 memo on the subject from Thomas Behling, deputy undersecretary of defense for preparation and warning.
Intended for John Kubricky, deputy undersecretary of defense for advanced systems and concepts, the memo waves the white flag in the form of TacSat-2 operating guidelines clearly designed to placate the intelligence community. It dictates that TacSat-2 abide by National Security Agency technical standards and policies for data handling, and, most onerously, gives that secretive organization’s director control over tasking of the satellite’s experimental signals-intelligence payload.
Moreover, the memo dictates that the Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance oversee TacSat-2 to ensure compliance with the aforementioned rules. That senior-level officer will be responsible not only for identifying activities that can begin immediately and those requiring further review — thus casting doubt on an earlier Defense Department claim that policy concerns that had blocked some TacSat-2 operations were resolved — but also for developing processes to address similar issues on future TacSat or Operationally Responsive Space missions.
TacSat-2, launched in December, is of course the first satellite demonstration of Operationally Responsive Space, a term that connotes a new breed of relatively low-cost missions that can be launched quickly based on need and which are directly responsive to commanders in the field. That the term was invoked in the memo is a sad joke: under the constraints outlined by Mr. Behling, TacSat-2 and its successors will be anything but responsive.
Given the evolving nature of warfare, with no sign that U.S. global strategic responsibilities will abate anytime soon, the notion that some in the national security establishment are more concerned about protecting the bureaucratic status quo than improving the adaptability of American forces seems ludicrous. Yet, based on the available evidence, what else is a rational person supposed to conclude?