U.S. Military, Intelligence Community Planning Backup JSpOC

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Defense Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence are planning a second space traffic management center to serve as a backup to the existing facility in light of what government officials say are rising threats from China and Russia.

The Joint Space Operations Center, known as the JSpOC and headquartered at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, currently is the nerve center of U.S. military space operations, with responsibility for space surveillance, collision avoidance and launch support.

The proposed backup center was disclosed by Bob Work, deputy secretary of defense, during a June 23 speech at the Geoint 2015 Symposium here and confirmed by other government officials throughout the week.

“We are working closely with the Intelligence Community [IC] to establish a back-up to the Joint Space Operations Center that is located at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California,” U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hillson, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said in a June 23 email.

Details about the planned center, including its location, remained fuzzy at press time June 26. Several sites in Virginia and Colorado have been mentioned as possibilities, industry officials said.

The new center could be up and running as early as the end of the year, Work said.

“We know that our Nation’s space architecture faces increasing threats,” Hillson said. “It’s important that the DoD and the IC work together to address those threats and better integrate space capabilities. Together, we will think through innovative approaches to space control — which includes a back-up to JSPOC — to ensure we can respond in an integrated and coordinated fashion.”

Work specifically mentioned emerging Chinese and Russian technologies in his speech.

The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which is responsible for creating and delivering geospatial information, much of it derived from satellite imagery, to the military and intelligence community, has been involved in discussions about the center, Robert Cardillo, the agency’s director, said in a June 23 press conference. The NGA would be involved in the mapping of space and “at the center of that contextualization just as we are on the ground.”

Bolstering the JSpOC has been one of the Air Force’s top priorities in recent years. The service is implementing a three-phase hardware and software upgrade project known as the JSpOC Mission System to improve the precision and timeliness of information managed by the center. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that the upgrade ultimately will cost about $950 million.

The Air Force in June began a pilot project in which representatives of commercial satellite operators were co-located with military personnel in the JSpOC. The idea is to give the Air Force a better sense of how commercial satellites are operated and how they could more closely coordinate with military space capabilities.

Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced June 23 that President Barack Obama had nominated the current head of the JSpOC, Lt. Gen. Jay Raymond, as deputy chief of staff for operations for the Air Force at the Pentagon. Raymond is widely viewed among industry as a potential future commander of Air Force Space Command.

Obama nominated Maj. Gen. David Buck, currently vice commander at Air Force Space Command, for promotion to the rank of lieutenant general and to become the commander of the 14th Air Force and commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for space at Vandenberg.