Director, National Security Space Office
Borrowing from a well-known corporate slogan, Joe Rouge describes the role of the National Security Space Office (NSSO) this way: It doesn’t make decisions about space, it makes those decisions better.
The office, established in 2004 by a merger of three Pentagon offices, develops architectures for military space capabilities and provides fact-based analyses designed to inform a host of military leaders about space issues. Those leaders include the Pentagon’s executive agent for space and the director of the National Reconnaissance Office, as well as the leaders of civilian federal agencies such as the Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration and NASA. Rouge was tapped to lead NSSO in 2007, having served as associate director since the office was created.
In the past year, NSSO has completed long-term architectures for both military communications and precision navigation and timing, which are intended to serve as roadmaps for the government to follow for the next 20 years. NSSO also negotiated a deal to have
buy one of the satellites for the U.S. Defense Department’s Wideband Global Satcom system.
Protecting American space assets now is one of the biggest issues the NSSO faces. Rouge says the key to protecting those assets is having a better understanding of the operational environment near those assets, a concept known as space situational awareness.
With a new Air Force secretary taking the reins and a new presidential administration only months away, Rouge knows it will take a lot of work to keep making progress on military space issues. He spoke recently with Space News staff writer Turner Brinton.
What are the
‘ highest priorities in new or improved space situational awareness (SSA) capabilities?
The most important thing is to obtain all the data that could be available to us and fuse that data together. We think we can increase SSA by a factor of maybe two by just using data that is already out there, such as data from commercial satellite operators. We are in the middle of supporting some architectural studies being conducted by Air Force Space Command that will determine what new sensors we should buy and how we will fuse that data with the other sources of data we have.
Is the Air Force investing enough in SSA?
The president’s budget has a very healthy increase in areas like data fusion and command and control of the SSA systems. We think that’s going to be a major step. There’s more work to be done, but until we have an architecture, for me to say we are or are not spending enough on SSA would be irrational.
We’ve made a substantial increase in investment that will make for a substantial improvement, but we are a ways from being able to define fully what the right answers are. The Air Force has submitted the first draft of a roadmap, and it is about to deliver the first draft of an architecture. We’re within months of having a really good way forward.
A sensor can tell you what has happened, but not what is about to happen. So getting information beforehand, like a satellite operator telling me about a move they plan to make in space 12 hours from now, is more valuable than what I can get from a sensor. If all we try to do is solve the problem with more sensors, we’re back to a space surveillance network. But that’s not what SSA is about; it’s about awareness of the environment, which includes much more than we can sense externally.
With the recent demise of the Space-Based Visible sensor on the MSX satellite, are you now more concerned about losing the capability it provided until the Space-Based Surveillance System satellite goes up next year?
I am concerned, but we are looking at alternatives. The Operationally Responsive Space office was asked specifically to come up with a solution in the interim. But even after the Space-Based Surveillance System (SBSS) is launched, we still won’t have as much capability as we’d like to have because the first block is an interim capability. Some type of a follow-on will be needed.
It is too sensitive to get into the specifics of which sensors we can use as a stopgap, but one option is to use U.S. Missile Defense Agency sensors, and those discussions are under way. We’ve already got a lot of information sources out there, and the key is just using them more effectively.
Air Force Lt. Gen. William Shelton, commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space, recently said there needs to be an organization charged with monitoring spacecraft on orbit the way the Federal Aviation Administration monitors planes in the sky. Should the Air Force be in charge of this?
The Air Force is the lead systems integrator for space situational awareness. That’s different than doing airspace control for satellites. In space, it’s not exactly the same as it is for planes in the sky, because you’re not able to maneuver like planes. These are robotic objects, and at least 99 percent of the ones we are worried about up there don’t have the capability to maneuver. Space is analogous to the sea: if you know where you are, and if you have good maps that show you where the shoals and atolls are, you have an ability to avoid those things.
So again, space situational awareness is the key. Once you’ve got that, then you can start thinking about what you can do with it. You can maneuver to avoid those objects, and you might over time be able to remediate space by going up and collecting some of the things that are up there.
The Air Force is probably the right organization to do this, but it would probably best be done with international cooperation.
You have said problems with the Air Force’s space acquisition process are now “fixed.” Is there anything else that can be done to improve cost estimates, decrease delays, etc.?
First, we need to give the changes we’ve put into effect time to show us if they’re going to work or not. That is the most important thing.
Our first reaction is always “let’s go change something.” Well, we’ve changed a lot. Former Undersecretary of the Air Force Ron Sega’s block approach to acquisition is one example of that, and we need to give it some time and make sure it works because we may not have changed all the right things in the right ways.
Right now we are trying to set up acquisition plans with 80 percent confidence, meaning at the very beginning we are 80 percent sure a program will be able to meet all of its cost and capability requirements. In past practice, we only did it to about 50 percent certainty. Now this was cheaper up front, but I would argue this new practice ends up costing less overall. If you start by underfunding programs, you will be able to have more programs, but none will be adequately funded.
Let’s say you have a choice between 10 properly funded space programs, or 15 underfunded space programs. When those underfunded programs need money, it’s coming out of the other programs’ budgets. Those 10 properly funded programs will end up costing less than any 10 of the underfunded programs. Those 15 programs all will be in trouble; they will have what we call “born-in birth defects.”
Are we funding major programs – GPS 3 for example – to that high level of confidence?
We’re doing exactly the right thing on GPS 3. We are funding it to what we think is a high level of confidence. GPS 3 is my model for the right way to do it. We bit the bullet and we’re going to do it right. Will we have the fortitude over the next five years to stick with it? That’s going to be a challenge.
It seems as if Mike Wynne, the recently ousted Air Force secretary, was pretty highly regarded for his understanding of and emphasis on space issues. Are there any areas of NSSO responsibilities that may be stalled with this change in leadership, which shortly will be followed by a new administration?
That’s the $64 million question. Personally, I’m going to miss Secretary Wynne tremendously. He is one of the few people in this building that had been a space industrialist and understood space and the ramifications of decisions about space programs. I think Secretary Donley will be wonderful. But there will be a transition time. And that time will be exacerbated with the next presidential administration. But something has changed about space. Most people now understand the value of and the threats to our capabilities in that domain. So I don’t expect major changes.