Washington — Proponents of the traditional concept of Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) as a set of tools military commanders can use to quickly obtain their own intelligence data say a recent internal Defense Department memorandum illustrates the ways the intelligence community is trying to keep a lid on ORS.
The March 26 unclassified memo from Thomas G. Behling, the deputy undersecretary of Defense for preparation and warning, is addressed to the deputy under secretary of defense (advanced systems and concepts), which is currently John Kubricky, and deals with the TacSat-2 satellite that was launched in December.
While TacSat-2 is healthy, some of its sensors, particularly a signals intelligence payload, have yet to be used because of intelligence community concerns about how the data will be used, and how and where it will be distributed.
Behling’s office recently hosted a series of meetings with representatives of the Naval Research Laboratory and the Air Force Research Laboratory to discuss concerns that have been raised inside the Department of Defense about the TacSat-2 mission. In his memo, Behling cites five issues that emerged from those meetings:
Signals Intelligence (Sigint) data must be protected and handled via secure means.
The Target Indicator Experiment’s encryption package must meet National Security Agency standards.
Communications to, from or about U.S. persons must be retained in accordance with National Security Agency /Central Security Service policies and directives.
Tasking of TacSat-2 Sigint must be made under under Sigint Operational Tasking Authority granted by the National Security Agency director.
Imagery collection “decks and dissemination plans must be in compliance with extant policy and law.”
At a meeting March 20, Behling said the group identified “feasible options” for dealing with those issues and will incorporate those options into the TacSat-2 Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration documents.
The options include having the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (ISR) take the lead for oversight of TasSat 2 ISR operations. The deputy chief for ISR also will decide what TacSat-2 activities can take place immediately and which ones require further action before they will be permitted.
“Looking ahead to additional TACSAT and Operationally Responsive Space systems that provide ISR capabilities the A2 will establish processes to proactively address issues,” Behling wrote.
A congressional aide familiar with the memo said “the fact that this pops up a few months after launch is just outrageous.” How could the intelligence community overlook such basic issues? the aide asked, adding that the memo poses a threat to timely operational use of ORS except for communications.
A service official who has followed ORS for some time and had high hopes for the five planned TacSat missions said the intelligence community clearly wanted to nip the effort in the bud. “It isn’t the purpose of experimentation to stay inside the box, but this memo is clearly intended to keep the ORS effort inside the box,” this service source said.
One Pentagon source familiar with the Behling memo said it represents “a huge step backward and could well mark the death knell for ORS if allowed to stand. If [the National Security Agency] has to approve all taskings, etc. , it will be neither responsive nor tactical,” the source said.
Several sources interviewed for this story said the tasking process would be the biggest obstacle to ORS. “Unless you can streamline some of the approval processes it will have serious problems,” the service source said.
Currently, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency oversees the tasking process. A committee headed by Keith Masback, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s director for source operations group, meets regularly to decide who gets what coverage from which satellites.
The service source said they get regular promises of cooperation from the intelligence community, but that the only way to get a really quick response is to have a “flash” priority approved. That almost never happens for tactical operations, this source said: “It never gets down to the echelons where it could be that responsive.”