HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The National Academies said there is an “urgent need” for the U.S. government to write new policies that shape how the Defense Department should respond to threats to American satellites.
The report, which was released Aug. 16, came in response to a request from Congress in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act to study the protection of national security satellites.
“There is an urgent need to create relevant national policies to guide the creation of responses to these threats; this includes educating the public so that it can understand and participate in potential solutions in whatever capacity makes sense,” the report said. Retired Navy Adm. James Ellis, the former head of U.S. Strategic Command, and Martin Faga, the former president and chief executive of the Mitre Corp., led the committee which wrote the paper.
Pentagon and intelligence community officials have grown increasingly concerned in recent years about other nations’ abilities to attack satellites on-orbit. This includes military and spy satellites as well as commercial satellites working with the Defense Department.
But during a panel discussion here at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium, Chris Crawford, a former director of space policy implementation at the Pentagon, said the discussion about space protection is fairly new. When he arrived at the Pentagon in 2013, there was a debate within the Defense Department about whether to protect satellites or whether such an effort would prove too expensive, he said.
In the past two years, however, space protection has become one of the driving forces in almost every national security space decision. As a result, the Air Force has vowed to invest $6.6 billion for space protection efforts over six years.
Still, the importance of space raises “major policy issues,” the National Academies report said.
“The demonstrated development of means to attack space systems by other nations—and the obvious potential for still more nations and perhaps non-state actors to develop such means in the future—raise practical problems that demand solutions,” the report said. “Moreover, there is an urgent need to address the increasing threat to vital U.S. space systems, a need that cannot wait until broader policy considerations have been fully developed.”
Today, the Defense Department follows the National Space Policy of 2010 and the National Security Space Strategy of 2011, but there has not been “a focus on achieving the stated policy goals, with resources, programs, and people devoted to the task of improving space system protection and defense,” the report said.
Crawford, who is now an executive for Lockheed Martin, also made the case for updated policies in a panel discussion here, calling for a new National Security Space Strategy, which guides the Defense Department and the intelligence community, and a new DoD space policy.
“DoD desperately needs a new space policy that gives us the right structure and the right terms, because the old mission areas, and all the language we used historically, is a force enhancement kind of approach,” he said. Instead, the Pentagon needs policies that allow for the DoD to “defend assets against multiple and diverse attacks in space.”
In April, Doug Loverro, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said the Pentagon was in the early stages of revising the DoD space policy for the first time in more than three years.