Profile: Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command

James Cartwright entered uncharted waters in the summer of 2004 when he took command of U.S. Strategic Command, or Stratcom. That organization, historically focused on the ICBM mission, had seen its portfolio expand significantly in the pre| ceding years to include space support , missile defense and cyber warfare.

Cartwright’s first order of business was to review Stratcom’s organization. That exercise led to changes that included shifting some of the operational functions traditionally associated with U.S. Space Command — which had been folded into Stratcom — to other facilities such as Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

But Stratcom retained broad oversight and long-term planning responsibilities for space at its headquarters near Omaha, Neb. And when it comes to that planning, whether for satellite architectures or computer software, Cartwright makes clear he will not be bound by the practices of the past.

A former Marine aviator with flight experience in F-4 and F/A-18 combat aircraft, Cartwright spoke recently with Space News editor Lon Rains and staff writer Jeremy Singer .

What are your main concerns today with military space programs?

Our analysis indicates that the problems lie not with the technical sophistication of the programs, but with the level of effort that goes on.

Space programs take five or more years in systems engineering whether they are a new start with high technical risk or a recapitalization of an old capability.

If that’s true, or if it is true even on the margins, it tells you that you’ve got to figure out how to go in and re-engineer the process in a way that goes back to the core values — what is it that we want to accomplish, and is space the right domain?

There needs to be more integration between space, air, land and sea. For instance, you might want to do global surveillance from space, so you examine issues like how many orbits you need per day, etc.

And when you have surge needs, you may be able to bolster your coverage through air, terrestrial or maritime assets.

How do you get to more integrated architectures ?

Right now, we have space architects, we have air architects, we have intelligence architects. How you start to cross pollinate really is at the heart of the need for the new Strategic Command. It’s to put these missions in a place where — and I don’t want say this pejoratively — you’re not necessarily carrying the baggage of how the domain grew up. And so you can look at it in a way that says, “I could get great leverage if I could just connect these two dots.”

Do you embrace the idea of getting away from multimission platforms and returning to single-sensor satellites?

What you’d like to have is the flexibility for the mission to grow with the changes in the world. We have talked for a long time, let’s just take air as an example, about multimission platforms.

Well, if I’m going to do that in space then the sophistication goes up. I need to make that platform last longer. I need to have more people associated with the platform to make the systems work, and you start to build yourself to a spiral where you no longer can afford the platforms.

If you were to lose one, the loss — the significance, the regret factor, however you want to term it — becomes very difficult. And because of the capital investment it has to almost be perfect. You can’t assume any risk in the normal operations. In space you can’t assume risk in the launch that you would not get to orbit for some reason.

And so, have we gone too far in multimission? I think so. Do we want to go to single mission? Case is still out. I think you can get down to where a couple of missions give you the breadth and flexibility, and are compatible.

Usually in space what you worry about is sensors that have some vibration or movement in pointing that disrupts other sensors on the spacecraft. So you find those synergies and try to get there, rather than trying to build an overly complicated spacecraft.

Does the separation of the Air Force undersecretary and National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) director positions concern you?

There has to be some sort of relationship between the departments and the NRO because we have missions that are integrated. Almost all of our missions today are integrated.

You’d have to flesh out the relationship between the secretary of defense and the NRO director. There has to be a way for military and intelligence issues to be brought to the table.

The chairman of the joint chiefs has a legal requirement to be able to advise the secretary and the president, and that includes matters associated with space. So he has to have some relationship with the NRO.

The next level would be Stratcom. And because of the operational missions that we’ve been given and the integration, there has to be an articulation of that relationship, particularly on the operational side where our responsibilities and those of the NRO’s may need to be de-conflicted on issues ranging from communications to space situational awareness.

Are you nervous about how this relationship is going to work out?

No. These are reasonable people. They’re all Type A , but they’re reasonable people. At the end of the day, they want this nation to succeed.

Where are you in the process of getting the national missile defense system declared operational?

If you need the system, it’s ready. It’s not heavily redundant, but we’re working to add redundancy and improve our command and control work.

We’re going through several software upgrades that are a result of Pfc. Cartwright sitting at a console for multiple hours and then coming back and saying “you know if that were red instead of blue I might see this or I might catch this.”

The major issue right now is to integrate that redundancy, get a confidence in the operators that that redundancy in fact is there and will serve us well.

The flight test program also has to prove out, as all test programs must. But I would say of all of the programs, that’s the one I’ll watch most carefully.

What are some of the changes that you would like to make in the way Stratcom buys software?

Today, as is the case with satellites, we try to buy one software package that serves all functions. And so it takes us forever to build it; when it gets fielded it can be labeled legacy; it costs us a fortune; and for an individual, again Pfc. Cartwright sitting at a desk, probably only uses 30, 40 or 50 percent of the functionality.

The question is can we — particularly in the command-and-control and the user-defined functions — can we do that in a simple architecture? There are several commercial alternatives out there that are very simple, and we can teach Lance Cpl. Cartwright to actually do this in school and write applications, so that I can find a need, put you at a desk and say “this is going to be your function,” and give you an update every week until you have about the 90-percent solution or 80-percent solution of your function.

It’s tailored to you. When I’m done with it, I can toss it for no little or no loss and I can change my applications as fast as the threat changes. And that’s where I want to be. I don’t want to be building too many overly complex software packages that, because of the investment, I’ve got to keep whether it fits the problem or not.