U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. David D. Thompson became Air Force Space Command vice commander April 5. Credit: DoD

You’re reading the SN Military.Space newsletter we publish Tuesdays. If you would like to get our news and insights for military space professionals before everyone else, sign up here for your free subscription.

HOT TOPIC: Thompson begins duties as vice space commander. Air Force looks for path to faster innovation, NRO leads the way

“Corporate advocacy and stewardship for Air Force space missions and capabilities.” That, in a nutshell, is the job description for Lt. Gen. David D. Thompson, who last Thursday became Air Force Space Command vice commander.

While based at the Pentagon, Thompson will report directly to the commander of Air Force Space Command Gen. Jay Raymond in Colorado Springs. There is still some confusion about how this new organization will work, according to sources. Thompson also will coordinate and work directly with the Air Force staff and other national security agencies in the Washington area. This change will take some adjustment.

In an Air Force statement, Thompson said he was “humbled” to be taking over these responsibilities. “Space is absolutely critical to the joint fight and to our daily lives; I will be just one of thousands of Airmen working relentlessly to ensure our nation has the space capabilities we need to win any fight.”

Thompson previously served as the command’s two-star vice commander (a job renamed Air Force Space Command deputy commander in July 2017) and had been Raymond’s special assistant since July.

Raymond called it a “well-deserved promotion.”

Space Security and Defense Program in the spotlight

Unlike more glamorous military space projects such as satellites and rockets, the Space Security and Defense Program is largely unknown outside the Pentagon inner circles. But it will be talked about next week when it receives the Space Foundation’s annual Space Achievement Award at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.

The SSDP is a joint Department of Defense and Office of the Director of National Intelligence organization that functions as the “center of excellence” for strategies and plans related to national security space.

The office has a $45 million annual budget and provides recommendations into existing requirements, budgeting, acquisitions and operations. The SSDP also works with civil, commercial, and international space organizations that support national security space missions.

Past recipients of the Space Achievement Award include Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko for their year-long spaceflight, SpaceX, the X-37B spaceplane, the U.S. Air Force GPS team and NOAA.

NRO leading the way in ‘leveraging commercial’ space technology. Air Force is trying to keep pace

The U.S. Air Force, which controls 90 percent of the military’s space programs, insists it wants to move faster. It has laid out ambitious plans to replace legacy constellations with modern, more resilient systems, and to increase the use of commercial launch services to reduce costs and shorten schedules.

But compared to the more nimble intelligence community, the Air Force has to contend with a wide cultural gulf between “legacy” and “new space.”

Changing the military acquisition culture “has been a journey,” said Bill Gattle, president of Harris Corporation’s Space and Intelligence Systems.

Randy Kendall, vice president of launch program operations at The Aerospace Corporation, said today “feels like 1998, that was the last time we had the same level of enthusiasm with startups.” The late 1990s hype about commercial space didn’t materialize as everyone had hoped, said Kendall. “The question I get a lot is ‘What’s different today?’”


Space wars: Satellites could be used as infowar weapons

In the age of propaganda warfare and of weaponizing information, the United States also has to worry about defending space-based communications from bad actors who might hijack U.S. networks to spread false information, cautioned a senior U.S. military official.

Satellites that are “defendable” are critical to having a resilient network to pass relevant information, said Gen. Stephen Wilson, vice chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force.

The U.S. military will need “resilient information networks” — not only for the obvious reason that forces in the field must have communications — but also to ensure enemies are not able to steer satellite signals for nefarious purposes. “The enemy will try to deny us,” Wilson said of satellite-based communications. One of their tactics would be to cast a fog so people will start “doubting the truthfulness of the information,” said Wilson. “They will weaponize the information.”

“Knowing what truth is will be important in the future,” Wilson said.

Debates about the future of war are not just about next-generation lethal weapons. The world is undergoing a “period of disruption,” said Wilson, “politically, economically, socially and technologically. That’s happening globally. Any single one of those areas alone is tough, but when you combine them it makes for exponential disruption.” The mindset now in the Air Force is that, regardless how events unfold in the coming years, it has to be ready to move fast. “Speed wins,” said Wilson. That rule applies to training, development of new systems and “owning the high ground in space.”

‘Sources sought’ to help maintain deep space telescopes

Air Force Space Command is looking for contractors interested in the operations and maintenance of a network of space staring telescopes known as the Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System. Responses are due April 23.

The notice came from the 21st Contracting Squadron at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. The squadron is looking for help providing 16-hour-a-day, seven-day a week operations of GEODSS sites at Socorro, New Mexico; Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory; and Maui, Hawaii. The sites provide nearly complete coverage of the Earth’s geosynchronous orbital belt and deliver nearly 80 percent of all geosynchronous observations.

Harris Corp. currently does contractor support work at all three GOEDSS sites. A one-year, $8.5 million contract modification awarded to the company last May and runs through April 14. An industry consultant who is familiar with the GEODSS said the maintenance and operation of these sites is labor intensive and “cumbersome logistically,” with facilities located in remote areas. “In my opinion, the Air Force ought to put all the GEODSS sites into a museum and just outsource the collection of ground based space situational awareness data to companies that are already doing this job well,” he said. “There is no reason why the collection of SSA data has to be done by the military.”

DNI Coats: Intelligence community ‘fully aware’ of space threats

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said there is no question that foreign adversaries have the technology to take down U.S. satellites. If a future conflict were to occur involving Russia or China, either country would justify attacks against U.S. and allied satellites as necessary to offset U.S. military advantages derived from space systems.

“There are a lot of efforts out there by more than one country relative to gaining space capabilities,” Coats said. “That includes anti-satellite capabilities. We track that very, very carefully. We are fully aware of it.” The U.S. intelligence community believes Russia and China are launching experimental satellites ostensibly for peaceful missions but in reality are being used to advance their counter-space capabilities.

Coats would not discuss specifics counter-space weapons that might be aimed at U.S. satellites. Broadly speaking, “space is becoming an ever more important domain,” he said. He compared satellites in space to “troops on the ground” performing vital duties.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Email Format

View previous campaigns.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...