BOSTON — The Pentagon is considering partnerships with some allies to operate small military satellites and conduct other joint space projects, according to U.S. military officials.
However, while an early concept for such cooperation involved the U.S. Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program, the officials said any initial effort is most likely to take place outside that program.
Air Force Col. Thomas Doyne, who wrote a Commentary in the Jan. 29, 2007, issue of Space News about the concept he calls “Coalition ORS,” said he still is hopeful that his idea of countries joining together to purchase small satellites and share the data still will come to fruition at some point in the next decade.
Over the past year, Doyne, who serves as deputy for space programs and policy in the office of the assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration, has been discussing the Coalition ORS concept with officials at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, U.S. Strategic Command and Air Force Space Command. He has been invited to present the concept at conferences both in Washington and outside the United States.
However, Doyne said in an April 15 interview that the Coalition ORS concept has become a subset of a larger idea called “Combined Space Operations” that has been the subject of discussions recently within the U.S. defense establishment.
Even if the Coalition ORS is viewed as just one option for work under Combined Space Operations, Doyne said he is not disappointed because the intent of his commentary piece and subsequent briefings has been to stimulate discussion within the international space community and generate ideas that can help both the United States and its allies.
Some of that discussion will take place in June at an event in Brussels, Belgium, co-hosted by the Air Force Academy’s Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies and the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank focused on international relations. The purpose of that meeting is to foster discussion on international partnerships in space, according to Roger Harrison, director of the Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies.
The relatively low cost of the ORS approach to space missions could make such cooperation ideal for allies with tight budgets, Harrison said in an April 15 interview.
While the Air Force’s Wideband Global Satcom program does not reflect the cost goals of the ORS effort, the agreement formed between the service and the Australian government in October 2007, where Australia agreed to pay for the sixth spacecraft in the constellation and will have access to bandwidth on the other five satellites, could help point the way for other avenues of cooperation, according to a senior Air Force official.
Lt. Gen. Mike Hamel, commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, said the arrangement with the Australians on the Wideband Global program “could be a model for the future.”
During a question and answer period following an April 30 luncheon speech at the 6th Responsive Space Conference in Los Angeles, Hamel said international partnerships should be explored in a variety of areas from surveillance to weather prediction both inside and outside ORS.
“I think not only is there an opportunity, there is a real imperative to strengthen this kind of cooperation,” Hamel said.
Hamel noted that as space plays an increasingly important role to U.S. forces, it is in the Pentagon’s best interest to have allies who are capable of using those systems as well.
James Lewis, director of technology and public policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, agrees that it will be “harder and harder” for the U.S. military and its allies to operate together on the battlefield without more joint space efforts.
However, tension over the war in Iraq could complicate getting allies on board for space work, at least possibly until the next administration, Lewis said.
While joint efforts can help to build trust, Lewis said that basic ties between the United States and its allies may need to be strengthened before other countries are ready to engage in much new joint work with the Pentagon.