MAUI, Hawaii – As threats to national security satellites evolve, the Defense Department needs to focus on space control programs and a battle management command and control system to prepare for a fight in space, the U.S. Air Force’s top space official told a Senate committee Sept. 20.
The Defense Department has become increasingly concerned about technologies from China and Russia that would destroy, or limit the use of, U.S. military and spy satellites in recent years. In response, the Pentagon has shifted about $6 billion over six years for space protection efforts.
At a hearing Sept. 20, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said China and Russia are building systems “specifically designed to cripple U.S. (space) systems.” McCain said such information was “deeply disturbing” and that following a classified meeting earlier this week, he only recently understood the full ramifications of an attack on national security satellites.
Gen. John Hyten, the head of Air Force Space Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in written testimony that as a result space control programs and a battle management command and control system should be among the Defense Department’s top space priorities.
President Barack Obama nominated Hyten to lead U.S. Strategic Command and Hyten testified before the SASC for his nomination hearing. At STRATCOM, Hyten will oversee space operations, missile defense, cyber warfare, the nuclear arsenal and combatting weapons of mass destruction. If confirmed, he will replace Navy Adm. Cecil Haney. Obama has nominated Lt. Gen. Jay Raymond, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for operations, to replace Hyten at Space Command.
In March, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the Pentagon would spend $2 billion this year on space control, which often implies offensive space capabilities.
The Pentagon rarely discusses its own offensive space capabilities or the operational details, which are classified. However, the Air Force’s 2017 budget request included funding for several space control programs for the next five years. Among those programs are $144 million for the Counter Communications System, which is used to deny adversaries the use of military communications satellites in conflict and $158 million for the Space Security and Defense Program, which is thought to include some work on offensive space capabilities. Hyten told McCain the Air Force was not developing systems with the intention of limiting specific Chinese or Russian capabilities.
“We are not going down that path,” he said.
In addition, a battle management command and control system has been planned for the Air Force’s space operations nerve center at the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. However, with the advent of the experimental Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC), a joint project between the intelligence community and the Defense Department at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, it is unclear exactly where or how such a command and control system would work.
Hyten said the JICSpOC will “change the warfighting culture of our space cadre as well as ensuring we have the ability to fully plan and employ our space control capabilities.”
In written testimony, he also seemed to answer the long-standing question of how the Defense Department views the future of both centers. Many members of the national security space community believe the Pentagon has been unclear in describing the future mission of the two centers. But Hyten said the JSpOC will concentrate on battles on earth and the JICSpOC will assist with fights in space.
“The JSPOC will be focused on the support to the terrestrial fight – but it is envisioned that the two centers will be able to integrate effectively along with the rest of the National Security Space Community,” Hyten said. “The JSpOC is fully occupied today with the terrestrial fight – space is critical to every military operation around the world…and many civilian activates as well. They must retain that focus. The JICSpOC is fully occupied figuring out how to prepare to effectively fight conflict that extends into the space domain. If we tried to integrate either with the other, both would be at significant risk of failure. For the foreseeable future, they need to focus on their unique, full time requirements.”
Hyten also discussed a series of other national security space issues during the hearing. They include:
– The Air Force’s next-generation ground control system for its new GPS satellites. The program, known as the Operational Control Segment, or OCX, is five years and $1 billion over budget. “It’s horrible. It’s embarrassing to me we find ourselves in that position,” he said. The Air Force declared a Nunn-McCready breach on the OCX program in June, setting the stage for the cancellation of the program unless the Secretary of Defense determines the program is vital to national security, no reasonable alternatives exist, and that the Air Force has a solid plan to put the project back on track. Hyten said he would support the continuation or the termination of the OCX program, but that the current GPS ground control system has information assurance security gaps.
– On the future of the Operationally Responsive Space Office, which is used to develop space capabilities to plug gaps or address emerging military needs: “While the Operationally Responsive Space program has been a successful pathfinder to responsiveness – and it will continue this superb service in the future – we must also infuse this thinking across our entire enterprise and into the broader space industry.”
– On the pending retirement of United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4 rocket: “Given the lack of the price competitiveness of the Delta 4 vehicle and anticipated fielding of several new launch vehicle families, I support the eventual phase out of the Delta 4 launch vehicle family – but only when other capabilities are reliably available that can provide the assured access.”
– On whether the new leadership structure for the Defense Department’s space enterprise, which is headed by the Principal Defense Space Adviser, has been successful: “It is working so far, but the real test will be how it continues over the change of administration.”
– On the need for the Missile Defense Agency to use space-based sensors to discriminate ballistic missile warheads from decoys: “Discrimination (coupled with associated Battle Space Awareness) is the critical component to improving the effectiveness of our deployed interceptors as well as providing multiple response options especially as potential adversaries embark on improving countermeasures against our systems. In addition, I believe a space-based element will be critical to this future.”