ith the departure of U.S. Air Force Undersecretary Ron Sega from the Pentagon, it is time to start thinking about the best way
the nation can
the next phase of military space acquisition.
Sega focused on a “back-to-basics” approach to return military space acquisition from a
financial and technological abyss. The system was out of whack with spiral development leading to spiraling costs and non-existent space platforms. His emphasis was on putting platforms into space rather than crafting transformational briefing slides. He focused on more realistic program cost estimates
and block upgrades of existing platforms.
With Sega out of the way, the temptation will be to push forward breakthrough programs
that are big on promise, but
likely to deliver
capability to orbit very quickly. Leveraging current platforms to create capabilities is considerably better than crafting comprehensive systems that are unaffordable and beyond the technological grasp of the current generations of engineers and manufacturers.
back to basics
was putting military space back on more solid financial and technological footing, several strategic developments occurred that
should shape a new military space approach.
These developments should lead to an emphasis on a systems approach, rather than on advancing a purely proprietary military space sector.
First, the military deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan have underscored the need for
a new approach to the use of command and control (C2) and
intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).
These operations have relied on air-breathing and ground-based platforms to provide significant C2 and ISR. The U.S. Marine Corps
is relying on what it
calls “non-traditional” ISR for its
operations. By non-traditional, t
Marine Corps means
“on-demand” ISR for
ground- and sea-based decision makers.
Air-breathing platforms, whether manned or unmanned, are increasingly central to their
ISR and C2 operations.
and U.S. Army have worked closely to share data across ground-based systems as well.
With the dramatically enhanced
role of C2 and ISR generated by the ground-air partnership, the role of space has
changed. Space becomes a significant layer within the communications and data spheres, not simply
the repository of the network. Space systems become relay elements, coordinating nodes
of a collaborative system, not the dominant layer shaping the network. This means that the U.S. military can shift from building complete military communications and ISR networks in space to leveraging the evolution of air-breathing and ground systems as well as global commercial systems
in shaping its future military space system.
Second, the operations associated with the global war on terrorism
have underscored the changing nature of the balance between kinetic and non-kinetic systems. For example,
the U.S. Air Force’s primary operational missions now are largely non-kinetic.
Kinetic strike is a core capability to be exercised as appropriate.
Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne refers to this new state of affairs as the role of the
Air Force in the “global security enterprise.” The classic role of military space has been to provide C4ISR for kinetic strike against moving or static tactical or strategic targets. With the global
war on terrorism, there are fewer targets and significantly more events that need to be shaped on the ground or at sea. Data and communications need to be provided close to the point of decision
making, not stored in Washington data vaults. As such, the military and security players in the global security enterprise are relying more on a collaborative and
networks than on the data provided from distant
Third, the global security enterprise rests in the words Wynne wrote in a Jan. 16 op-ed for Aviation Week:
The thoughtful shaping of coalition capabilities that will provide the authority within which power may be exercised in the turbulent years ahead.”
This means that a premium is placed from the outset on shared capabilities, not proprietary data provided by U.S. military systems, which then is laundered through a tortured intelligence sharing process with allies. By then events are beyond the point where there is any relevance to
Proprietary U.S. military systems are at the core of shaping kinetic capabilities for the joint U.S. forces, but
they are not at the heart of the shared data and communications capability that are central to
the global security enterprise and needed for an effective
global war on terrorism.
This means that relying on shared systems with allies and the commercial sector should be a core consideration for a significant part of the U.S. military space system. On the one hand, data can be purchased from partners and allies. For example, leased communications from the United Kingdom’s
system would be part of the U.S. overall capability.
On the other hand,
the Defense Department needs to rely
on commercial networks and systems for capabilities and those needs should
be prioritized. This could be done by leasing services directly, by relying on hosted payloads (
U.S. Federal Aviation Administration does currently), or by leveraging networks like to support GPS. Rather than viewing the commercial networks as a leper colony
, the Pentagon should
view the commercial sector as a core element of the overall military space system.
A final key consideration is the impact of the Chinese anti
test. The Chinese have demonstrated the vulnerability of space. By relying on commercial systems that the Chinese would be loath to degrade and by building capabilities that leverage the collaborative capabilities of a redundant data and communications global network deployed locally, the Pentagon would get the redundancy that
In other words, the Sega pause has allowed the Pentagon to begin thinking realistically about a military space system, not a military space sector. A systems approach recognizes the role of the various contributors to overall capabilities providing for the effects necessary to shape and execute a global security enterprise. It would be a shame if
back to basics
will now be replaced by
back to business
as usual with Sega out of the picture.
Laird is a Washington- and Paris-based defense aerospace consulta