Military commanders could use more satellites for tactical surveillance
WASHINGTON — Pacific theater Air Force commander Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach said one of the items on his wish list are low-orbiting surveillance satellites to help track targets on the ground, at sea and in the air.
“Yes, I am absolutely in favor of more space-based ISR,” said Wilsbach, the commander of Pacific Air Forces at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. ISR is the military abbreviation for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Speaking with reporters Sept. 16 from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Wilsbach said he has had frequent conversations with the head of the U.S. Space Force Gen. John “Jay” Raymond on the growing needs for space-based capabilities in support of military operations.
Satellites are essential to almost every activity, he said. “We can’t do much of anything without the U.S. Space Force.”
The Indo-Pacific Command has more ISR needs than other commands because it covers half the globe, said Wilsbach. “We do already get quite a bit of intelligence collection from space.” But with such a large area of operations, more satellites in low orbits could be helpful, he added. “They can cover it a lot faster at 17,500 miles an hour versus what we can cover in the air at best case at 500 miles an hour.”
The four-star chiefs of U.S. combatant commands are hugely influential in determining what the Pentagon buys.
Raymond “doesn’t decide what things he puts into orbit,” said Wilsbach. “What goes into orbit is based on the needs of our country.”
Each combatant commander every year submits a list of “requirements” to the Pentagon that shapes budget requests. Indo-Pacific Command has included space-based ISR in that list, he said.
Raymond in a keynote speech on Tuesday at the Air Force Association’s Virtual Air Space Cyber Conference mentioned space-based ISR as a priority for the Space Force.
“We must identify new missions that should be conducted from space,” said Raymond. “Tactical level ISR is the perfect example.”
The idea that more tactical ISR could be done from space was discussed recently by Col. Eric Felt, head of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate
The data collection and processing now done aboard Air Force AWACS and JSTARS command-and-control airplanes could be done from space, Felt said during a SpaceNews webinar in June.
“Those are ideal missions to also move to low Earth orbit and leverage some of the commercial capabilities that are up there,” said Felt.