Space Force has insatiable demand for geospatial intelligence

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DENVER – The U.S. Space Force plans to request funding in the 2024 budget for space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, Lt. Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, U.S. Space Force deputy chief of space operations, said April 27 at the 2022 GEOINT Symposium here.

After decades of focusing on gathering geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) from space, the U.S. military seeks GEOINT to track objects and activity in space.

“I imagine many of you would describe our appetite thus far as insatiable,” Saltzman said. “I can tell you, it’s only going to grow in the future. We will continue to be demanding customers and what we need from GEOINT is persistence both terrestrially and in space in order to posture for potential encounters or conflicts.”

During a keynote address near the conclusion of the GEOINT Symposium, Saltzman talked about the growing threat to U.S. spacecraft and the services they provide, like GPS.

Specifically, Saltzman cited the Russian antisatellite test, China’s test of a hypersonic glide vehicle, radio frequency interference, cyberattacks on terrestrial nodes and “and provocative on-orbit antisatellite demonstrations, such as firing projectiles.” In addition, potential adversaries “have developed advanced space-based targeting capabilities that put our joint force at risk,” he added.

To combat these threats, Saltzman called for training and equipping U.S. forces to attribute irresponsible or aggressive behavior in space and for improving space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).

“Protecting and defending our space-based capabilities and defending our joint force from irresponsible or hostile use of space-based capabilities is the reason that your Space Force was established,” Saltzman said. “Our guardians must be trained and equipped to operate and prevail in a contested space domain against a thinking adversary.  The failure to maintain our ability to attribute action and negate threats and protect interests diminishes our leadership, our ability to deter aggression, undermining norms of responsible behavior and increasing the likelihood of miscalculation and conflict.”

While serving as a U.S. Air Force officer in the Middle East, Saltzman recognized the importance of attribution.

“I’ve seen firsthand how the ability to attribute activities changes adversary behavior before the activities are even executed,” Salzman said. “In short, the ability to attribute deters adversaries or, at the very least, constrains their behavior.”

Saltzman described how “bad actors” in the Middle East would “dismantle their attack systems and disappear because they saw us watching, and they did not want to be connected with the attack.”

If the Space Force takes on attribution as a military mission, there would be budgetary and resource tradeoffs, “but I think it’s worthy of a community-wide discussion,” Saltzman said.

Whether or not the Space Force adopts attribution as a new mission, the service is intent on improving space-based ISR.

“We’re currently studying what our potential role in space-based ISR will look like,” Saltzman said.

Saltzman acknowledged the work of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and National Reconnaissance Office in working with commercial firms providing data and services in this area. “We want to be sure our efforts do not compete with but complement the work already being done to identify, integrate and make available commercial products and data to meet national security needs,” he said.

Before establishing requirements for space-based ISR, the Space Force will seek industry input.

Traditionally, military agencies examine mission needs and write requirements before issuing a request for proposals that says, “Please be creative and innovative inside of this container,” Saltzman said. “That is not unleashing the potential of what the industry can provide. That’s not helping us get in at the leading edge of technology.”

For space-based ISR, the Space Force will describe its operational challenges and the desired outcome.

“Some of the work that our Space Warfighting Analysis Center is doing is intended to … engage in a conversation with industry around the process,” Saltzman said. “So when we get requirements, we’ve already agreed on what the innovation solution is or what we’re going to do.”