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HOT TOPIC: Mattis to Congress: Do your job; defense strategy, nuclear posture mean nothing if they’re not backed by resources
U.S. government funding again expires this week and the only budget proposal in sight is one on the House floor today to fund the military for the remainder of FY-18 but only extend funding for the rest of the government for six weeks. The Senate is not expected to go along.
The budget impasse has been beyond exasperating, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. “Our military has been operating under debilitating continuing resolutions for more than 1,000 days during the past decade,” he said. “I cannot overstate the impact to our troops morale over all of this uncertainty.”
As he has in past appearances on Capitol Hill, Mattis blamed Congress for the chaos. “We need Congress back in the driver’s seat,” he said.
Mattis was in front of the committee along with Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva to discuss the National Defense Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review. But the budget hovered like a dark cloud. What’s the point of testifying about strategy when there is no money to carry it out? Mattis told lawmakers point blank: “I regret that without sustained, predictable appropriations, my presence here today wastes your time because no strategy can survive without the funding necessary to resource it.”
The House plan would give DoD $700 billion for FY-18, which ends Sept. 30. Mattis said that would be “sufficient to begin down the trail to restore our competitive advantage that has been eroded.”
Mattis confirmed during a gaggle with reporters last week that the administration will seek $716 billion for FY-19. The request will go to Capitol Hill on Feb. 12. According to Bloomberg News, the bulk of the increase will be in the overseas contingency operations account, not in the base budget.
At the hearing, Mattis said the priority will be to replace “yesterday’s weapons and equipment.” He said next week “you will see in our FY19 budget investments in space and cyber, nuclear deterrent forces, missile defense, advanced autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, and professional military education.”
Deputy Secretary Shanahan briefed on space programs
Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan was at Shriever Air Force Base on Monday in his first visit to Colorado Springs since becoming deputy secretary — and most recently appointed principal space adviser to the secretary of defense.
He received classified briefings on threats in space and visited the recently created National Space Defense Center, Shanahan’s spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told SpaceNews. “This was a chance to learn more about how we will implement the National Defense Strategy — which specifically calls out space — recognizing that it is critical to all domains,” said Davis.
An Air Force Space Command news release said Shanahan discussed military space operations with DoD, National Reconnaissance Office and Space Command leaders and received “mission and training updates.” In addition to the NSDC, Shanahan toured the 1st and 2nd Space Operations Squadrons at Schriever. He then visited the 4th Space Control Squadron at Peterson Air Force Base.
“Today’s visit by Secretary Shanahan provided us a unique opportunity to showcase our airmen and their critical missions,” said Gen. Jay Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command and U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Force Space Component Command.
The NSDC recently transitioned to 24/7 operations, an event Raymond touted as a “significant step for the expanding, interagency team focused on protecting and defending the nation’s critical space assets.”
Military sees big future in Falcon Heavy
U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, commander of the 45th Space Wing, told SpaceNews last week that the service is excited about Falcon Heavy, the SpaceX heavy lifter currently set to lift off at 2:20 p.m. EST (follow my colleague @Jeff_Foust on Twitter for live updates from Cape Canaveral).
Once certified, the Falcon Heavy would be in a position to capture a lot of military work, he said. The demonstration flight Tuesday is a prelude to an anticipated launch in June, said Monteith. Its first payload will be an experimental mission called STP-2.
Falcon Heavy brings the space industry a capability that has not existed since NASA’s Saturn 5 moon rocket. With 27 main-stage engines, it generates 5.1 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, enough power to lift 26,700 kilograms of payload to geostationary transfer orbit. Monteith predicts it will “open up the aperture for potentially additional DoD launches.”
You can read more of my interview with Monteith in the Feb. 12 issue of SpaceNews magazine
SpaceX and archrival United Launch Alliance will be facing off in the next round of military competitions about to get under way. The Air Force has issued a new solicitation for five satellite launches that include some of the military’s most sensitive big-ticket payloads. The competition comes less than two years since SpaceX became a legitimate competitor in a market that used to be entirely owned by ULA.
If SpaceX is able to win at least one or two launches in this next round of contracts, it would set the stage for the company to win even more military work when the larger Falcon Heavy rocket gets certified to fly government payloads. Proposals for the five launches are due April 16 and contracts are expected to be awarded in late 2018. Senior space industry analyst Carolyn Belle, of Northern Sky Research, said the Falcon Heavy will be a game changer as it could lower the market price of launching big-ticket satellites, she said. “There may be more interest in larger satellites when there’s an availability to actually launch them.”
IN OTHER NEWS ….
Nuclear posture review calls attention to space, cyber threats
The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review warns that command and control networks that were on the cutting edge in the 1970s are now “subject to challenges from both aging system components and new, growing 21st century threats.” The NPR strikes an alarming tone on the state of the technology that makes up the nuclear command, control and communications system, known as NC3.
The NC3 is a hodgepodge of hardware and software — warning satellites and radars; communications satellites, aircraft, and ground stations; fixed and mobile command posts; and the control centers for nuclear systems. The NPR says many of these systems use antiquated technology that has not been modernized in almost three decades. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that modernizing the NC3 will cost $58 billion over 10 years.
Any future actions to update the NC3 likely will have major implications for DoD satellite programs such as the Space Based Infrared System used for missile warning and communications systems such as the legacy Milstar satellites and its replacement, the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites.
ICYMI: Air Force ‘space enterprise’ begins to take shape
SSL, a Palo Alto, California-based spacecraft manufacturer owned by Maxar Technologies, received a contract to help the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center figure out how to build a space architecture. An idea for a space architecture, for example, might involve a combination of small and large satellites in both low Earth orbit and geostationary orbit. Other innovations that could be brought into the space enterprise are technologies to modernize the infrastructure, affordable access to space, commercial data processing, small satellites that could support future U.S. Air Force missions, and cyber-protected interfaces for hosting government payloads on commercial satellites.
Commercial satellites and space electronics could be tested for their “resilience capacity” — or how well they can be defended against the full range of known threats. These efforts to bring commercial technology into military space programs is good news for the growing population of startups and other businesses that are investing in this sector. In space, as in other areas of national security investments, the government has to figure out, quickly, how to take advantage of the innovation that is coming out of the private sector and academia, said Chris Taylor, CEO of the big data analytics firm Govini.