WASHINGTON — U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has directed the Space Force to identify technologies and strategies to defend the military’s satellite-based networks during a conflict. 

In response to that directive, the Space Systems Command last week issued a request for information on industry capabilities to combat cyber attacks and protect critical networks during wartime. Companies are asked to submit by March 3 what technologies and capabilities they can offer to defend space-based networks, ground stations and infrastructure the Space Force relies on to send and receive data. 

Kendall has made cybersecurity of space systems a top priority because of the military’s increasing reliance on satellites for intelligence, navigation, communications, weather data and other essential services. DoD and the intelligence community have warned that satellites in space are likely to be targets for adversaries in a future conflict. Satellite-based communications systems, Kendall said, must be more resilient and better protected from cyber and electronic disruptions. 

Space Systems Command in the RFI said the market research will be used to draft funding requirements for the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2024 budget request. 

Kendall’s directive for all Air Force and Space Force systems is that they have to be prepared to operate in “contested environments” where enemies would attempt to jam or hack information systems. The Space Force is especially interested in technologies to autonomously defend network such as artificial intelligence systems that can detect and identify intruders. It’s also looking for solutions to deal with both intentional and unintentional radio frequency interference on ground-to-satellite communications.

Proposed solutions ideally should “guarantee protection of government data flowing through commercial systems,” said the RFI. 

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...