WASHINGTON – The Space Force, the military branch responsible for providing satellite-based services to the U.S. armed forces, was also recently assigned the role of “integrator for joint space requirements,” which means the Space Force will have to coordinate the wish lists of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, and recommend how to meet future needs.
The bulk of those needs will come from the U.S. Army’s land forces, which are large consumers of satellite services for global navigation and communications. Army forces also have a growing appetite for new space services that provide alternatives to GPS navigation and imagery from low orbiting satellites that revisit the same spot multiple times a day.
The Army and the Navy last year agreed to hand over their communications satellites and ground systems to the Space Force. At the same time, Army leaders revealed plans to deploy a “tactical space layer” program to address emerging needs for satellite-based capabilities. Doug Bush, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, said the Army will rely on the Space Force to help figure out a plan for how these space services should be procured.
“The Army still has needs that have to be addressed from space-based platforms,” Bush told reporters July 27 at the Pentagon. These requirements are being looked at and the Space Force will recommend a plan forward, he said. “I think that’s already underway.”
“Our approach will be in line with the department’s policy, making sure, for example, that payloads that launch on platforms include Army payloads to make sure our needs are met,” Bush said.
Bush said Army forces have “unique requirements” specially for secure navigation and timing, and intelligence over the battlefield. “We’re seeking to develop sensors and payloads to meet our needs.” But how those payloads will be deployed is still under discussion, he added. “I can’t speak to platforms.”
One of those unique requirements is ensuring that data from space can be accessed and analyzed by a new Army ground system known as the Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node. These TITAN ground stations are being designed to ingest data from satellites, and high-altitude aerial and terrestrial sensors.
The Space Force, meanwhile, still has work to do figuring out a process for coordinating and de-conflicting space requirements from multiple services and getting them validated through the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, a group of four-star generals who vet military wish lists.
In congressional testimony in May, the vice chief of the Space Force Gen. David Thompson said the service is in discussions with agencies across DoD and military commands “to understand, document and inform requirements satisfaction.”
The Space Force will work on a plan to “facilitate consolidation of space requirements from across the Joint Force, identify capability gaps, advocate for DoD space requirements at joint forums and inform budget decisions,” Thompson said in a prepared statement.
Significant space-based support for the Army and the other services will come from the Space Development Agency, a Pentagon organization building a large mesh network of small satellites in low Earth orbit for communications and missile defense.
When SDA’s constellation is fully deployed over the next couple of years, DoD for the first time will have a global communications backbone so the military services can talk to one another, share data and intelligence. SDA later this year will be realigned from under the Office of the Secretary of Defense to the Space Force.