WASHINGTON — The United States cannot fall behind other nations in satellite innovation, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. intelligence community said Tuesday.

“We cannot afford to be behind the curve in terms of development of both the offensive and defensive capacities that we put up into space,” said former U.S. Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Coats is Trump’s nominee to be the director of national intelligence, the point person in charge of overseeing the nation’s various intelligence-gathering agencies.

At his confirmation hearing, Coats lauded “the geospatial mastery demonstrated by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency” and “the acquisition proficiency of our satellite specialists at the National Reconnaissance Office.”

But he expressed concern that the process for acquiring and launching space capabilities is currently too slow.

“Agility is critical in this time of rapid technological change,” Coats said. “Streamlining that acquisition process is not something that ‘yeah, should be done.’ It’s of the utmost necessity that it has to be done.”

Pointing to India’s launch Feb. 14 of a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle that deployed 104 satellites from a single rocket, Coats said the U.S. needs to remain on the cutting edge of what’s possible in space while keeping an eye on what other countries are doing.

“I was shocked the other day to read that the nation of India, on one rocket launch, deposited more than a hundred satellites in space,” he said. “They may be small in size with different functions and so forth, but one rocket can send up [more than 100] platforms…We’ve seen now 11 nations that have the capacity to launch instruments into space.”

Phillip Swarts is the military space reporter for SpaceNews. He previously covered space and advanced technology for Air Force Times, the Justice Department for The Washington Times, and investigative journalism for the Washington Guardian;...