Op-ed | Defending against near-peer adversaries requires a shift in collaboration between forces

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Enhancing and protecting our military superiority from the ground to space is a collective effort. I know firsthand the power of collaboration from my 27 years in the U.S. Air Force. With our peer and near-peer adversaries accelerating their warfighting capabilities and becoming more aggressive, we need to reevaluate and rethink how to bring the capabilities of the intelligence community and the Department of Defense together to keep them at bay.

The need for persistent, responsive and resilient sensing from space has never been greater. This is a crucial capability needed to deter and defeat our adversaries. Our commanders have no chance of winning if they cannot establish domain awareness and do not have the timely, precise geolocation and identification needed to hold potential threats at risk.

In the U.S. Code, Title 10 and Title 50 embody the legislative foundation of our national security apparatus and its related agencies and departments. Both Title 10 – military operations and Title 50 – intelligence operations, are necessary for the security of our nation but are complex in their legislative and actionable structures. 

In contrast, our peer and near-peer adversaries are not bound by these considerations; the challenge for us is keeping the safety concerns of Titles 10 and 50 while also integrating a new standard collaboration that expedites mission execution and improves data sharing.

Historically, space-based sensing of relevant targets has fallen under the function of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance and, therefore, under the authority of the intelligence community and, more specifically, its tasking national Overhead Intelligence Systems developed and operated by the National Reconnaissance Office. However, a military commander’s actions are governed by Title 10 authorities and follow the National Command Authority chain of command.

Thanks to heroic levels of collaboration between intelligence and military personnel, we have proven that combining resources across these authorities results in war-winning capabilities. However, while successful, past approaches do not scale to what we will need to defend against peer and near-peer adversaries. The expected scale and speed of operations demand more autonomy, faster timelines and simpler policy frameworks than those available today.

Currently, the adjudication for using Title 50 resources to meet Title 10 needs requires a slow and onerous process, often leading to suboptimal allocation of sensor tasking. Even when these processes are executed, the resulting data is rightly protected under intelligence authorities, which impedes use in many battle-management missions unless data is “minimized.”

Additionally, intelligence tasking is typically done through siloed functional managers such as GEOINT and SIGINT, each of which optimizes and prioritizes information needs according to their intelligence domain. This process often precludes optimization of multi-sensor and multi-modality collection, such as combining passive radio frequency, radar and infrared sensing. This scenario is particularly problematic when considering the real-time orchestration of sensors needed for large-scale moving-target engagement.

Any debate about Titles 10 and 50 and the proper roles and missions of U.S. military forces and intelligence agencies need to include innovative technology to reduce decision-making time. A broad-based end-to-end solution to streamline intelligence efforts must be nimble and quick to detect and neutralize threats before they strike.

Fortunately, the intelligence community has made significant advances in automated multi-intelligence orchestration of overhead systems in support of Activity-Based Intelligence. These advances have “wired” the tasking systems to rapidly decide collection needs based on dynamic events. The resulting event-driven architecture is more nimble, timely and tuned to sense where it is most needed, significantly improving the efficient use of overhead capacity.

That said, more digital technologies are needed to integrate Title 10 and Title 50 in support of large-scale moving target engagement via space-based architectures. Custody of hundreds of targets in a large area of interest can be achieved through automated logic or artificial intelligence technology designed to detect target state-changes using a variety of sensor modalities and without having to always maintain continuous tracks. 

Additionally, a capacity model should be developed to create a flexible framework for allocating sensor capacity to battle management authorities without requiring adjudication through intelligence priorities. 

Such a model would protect the minimum capacity required to meet critical intelligence and battle management requirements but fluctuate dynamically between these limits in response to world events. This permits rapid execution of missions within the confines of allocated capacity without the strain of navigating complex policy questions in a highly dynamic and fast-changing environment. Thus, the approach makes policy decisions more tractable as they are anchored on strategic considerations rather than tactical and highly fluid decisions. 

Once the data is collected, scalable track-and-track-fusion software will be needed to bring together massive amounts of data from multiple sources across different domains in real time to maintain the operational picture and inform battle management decisions. These solutions can be deployed rapidly and affordably to the emerging Joint All Domain Command and Control, or JADC2, infrastructure.

The alternative would be to create independent architectures for each mission. Such an approach would be unaffordable and likely to suffer the same fate Space-Based Radar did in 2000. That would likely set back space-enabled moving-target engagement another 20 years. Instead, leveraging industry’s latest digital technologies could avoid long, risky acquisitions and then meet near-term challenges affordably. Doing so will require less money but more collaboration.

I’ve personally seen what collaboration can do in the service of our nation. In every case, it took courageous people transcending bureaucratic prerogatives to deliver game-changing mission capabilities. Against near-peer adversaries, we will need to double down on this collaboration, but we should do so now, not while in the fight. 

Making the right investments in predictive technology, AI and smart policy today will help us deter aggressive action and, if needed, secure a path to victory in a conflict tomorrow.


Erich Hernandez-Baquero is the executive director of Advanced Ground Systems for Department 22 at Raytheon Intelligence & Space. Before joining Raytheon, he was the principal deputy director of the Ground Enterprise Directorate at the National Reconnaissance Office. Hernandez-Baquero served 27 years in the U.S. Air Force, retiring as a colonel, and holds a Ph.D. in Imaging Science from the Rochester Institute of Technology.