— Differences between the
intelligence community and the Defense Department on space matters are highlighted in a newly released report criticizing the absence of a unified national security space strategy.
“Until a national security space strategy is issued, the defense and intelligence communities may continue to make independent decisions and use resources that are not necessarily based on national priorities, which could lead to gaps in some areas of space operations and redundancies in others,” said the March 27 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an investigative arm of the U.S. Congress. The report, “Defense Space Activities: National Security Space Strategy Needed to Guide Future DoD Space Efforts,” focused on Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) programs.
The Pentagon office that oversees ORS activities is run by an executive committee led by the executive agent for space, currently U.S. Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne, and the head of Strategic Command, Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton. It includes representatives from the four military services, the director of national intelligence and the main Pentagon and intelligence acquisition organizations.
The report says the director of national intelligence and defense secretary should be required by Congress “to identify and resolve remaining differences of opinion” and settle on a national security space strategy. This would help “overcome cultural differences that have hindered collaboration and development in the field of national security space,” the report says.
A national security space source dismissed as “just plain wrong” the report’s conclusion that a unified military-intelligence space strategy would make a major difference in determining what types of space systems to buy and how to use them. This source nonetheless said Congress should mandate that the two sides draft such a strategy just so that everyone would see what effect it would have. “This is more a reflection of a problem than the cause of the problem,” this source said.
In its official response to the GAO report, the Defense Department agreed that a national security space strategy approved by both the defense secretary and director of national intelligence would help sharpen national goals and priorities. But the Pentagon disagreed with the GAO’s contention that the lack of such a strategy has led to decisions that are not driven by national priorities.
The report noted that Strategic Command is drafting a “National Military Strategy for Space Operations,” which it said “is exclusively a military document that does not flow from a finalized national security space strategy between DoD and the intelligence community.” This constitutes recognition by the defense community, the report says, of “a gap in higher strategic guidance in space that needs to be filled and revised to counter emerging threats.”
The national security space source pointed out that there are other studies under way on the future direction of the
national security space program and that any effort to draft a unified military-intelligence space strategy should await the findings of these reviews. These include one mandated by the 2006 Defense Authorization Act and led by former Martin Marietta chief A. Thomas Young. Young led the 2003 “Report of the Defense Science Board/Air Force Scientific Advisory Board Joint Task Force on Acquisition of National Security Space Programs.”
Meanwhile, Josh Hartman, senior advisor to John Young, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, heads another panel working on national security space issues, including the role of the National Security Space Office with the Defense Science Board. Neither panel has completed its work.
Finally, one important question that needs to be answered is whether the executive agent for space or the director of national intelligence and defense secretary would approve a unified national security space strategy. If the latter two must approve it, “it’s going to take a lot more time and effort,” the source said. Getting two senior officials to sign a document is rarely quick or easy.