SAN FRANCISCO — The strategic guidance intended to reshape U.S. force structure as troops withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan and policymakers gird for a prolonged era of reduced federal spending holds the promise of increased funding for military space programs, according to defense analysts.

“It’s a good time to be in the national security space business,” said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., think tank.

The plan, “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” released Jan. 5, highlights the need for advanced technology to make “smaller and leaner” U.S. forces increasingly agile and flexible. It also lists the goal of “operating effectively in space and cyberspace” as one of 10 mission areas ripe for “selective additional investments.”

Those investments are likely to include funding for advanced communications and imaging satellites, analysts said. They noted, however, that U.S. President Barack Obama has yet to release the details of his 2013 budget request to Congress, an event now scheduled for mid-February.

“The real proof in the pudding will be when we see the budget,” said Brendan Curry, vice president for Washington operations at the National Space Foundation, an education and advocacy group based on Colorado Springs, Colo.

As part of the Budget Control Act signed into law in August, Pentagon leaders must slash $487 billion from the Defense Department’s 10-year spending plan, starting in 2013. Another $1.2 trillion in so-called sequestration budget cuts during that 10-year period, split equally between national defense and nondefense spending, is looming unless Congress amends the Budget Control Act before the end of 2012.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters during briefings Jan. 5 and Jan. 26 at the Pentagon that the new strategy is designed to prepare the military for the $487 billion in cuts already mandated. It does not contemplate the impact of an additional $500 billion in sequestration cuts, which Panetta and other senior defense officials have said would eviscerate the U.S. military.

In spite of the constrained budgets, the new strategic guidance clearly signals a commitment by senior military officials to protecting and enhancing space-based capabilities, analysts said.

“Sometimes I worry that people take for granted all the benefits they accrue from satellites and assume that those benefits don’t need to be protected because they will always be there,” Curry said. “The new strategic plan makes it clear that defense leaders understand and value the benefits the warfighter derives from space assets.”

In fact, the strategic plan states, “Modern armed forces cannot conduct high-tempo, effective operations without reliable information and communication networks and assured access to cyberspace and space.”

Satellites that provide U.S. forces with navigation, intelligence and communications links will continue to be in high demand, analysts said. Demand for satellites also may grow as a result of the Pentagon’s plan to focus resources on addressing threats and enhancing stability in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East.

“It’s not just that the vast distances in the Pacific favor heavier reliance on space for communications and reconnaissance, but also that the U.S. will need to depend more on overhead assets to monitor developments in regions where it is drawing down — such as the Persian Gulf,” Thompson said Jan. 10 during a speech to TechAmerica’s Space Enterprise Council.

“Technology offers an alternative to boots on the ground,” Thompson added in a Jan. 10 interview. “That alternative is a combination of airborne and orbital assets to track events with high fidelity.”

The new strategic plan, like the U.S. National Security Space Strategy published in February, also warns that U.S. space-based operations face new threats as a result of the growing number of countries that have succeeded in launching spacecraft. “Growth in the number of space-faring nations is also leading to an increasingly congested and contested space environment, threatening safety and security,” the strategic plan says. It goes on to warn of a range of threats designed to “degrade, disrupt or destroy” space systems and the ground networks that support them.

To counter those threats, the Defense Department will work with “domestic and international allies and partners and invest in advanced capabilities to defend its networks, operational capability, and resiliency in cyberspace and space,” the February strategic plan says.

That element of the plan shows the priority many Defense Department officials place on efforts to protect satellites from direct attack, jamming or any action designed to compromise their performance, including cyber attack of terrestrial networks, analysts said.

“The military will need to invest a good deal of money on improving its ability to monitor developments in space, fielding active and passive defenses of spacecraft, and enhancing the security of space-related networks,” Thompson told the Space Enterprise Council.



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Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...