U.S. Space Command official calls for public-private effort to avert war in space

by
Maj. Gen. David Miller: The U.S. needs more advanced technologies to track space activities and provide indicators of future actions

BOSTON — The United States needs better capabilities to monitor adversaries’ activities in space and to quickly deploy satellite constellations that can survive in an armed conflict, said Maj. Gen. David Miller. director of operations, training and force development at U.S. Space Command.

The military is counting on the space industry to deliver these capabilities fast, Miller said Sept. 29 at the Space Sector Market Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

A stronger U.S. posture in space will help deter adversaries from attacking U.S. satellites, he said.

“As you start to think about developing and investing in capabilities for what we need to be focused on in the future … it can’t be 15 years from design to first thing on orbit. You’ve got about a two-year window from flash to bang. And that’s being generous,” he told the audience of private sector executives and entrepreneurs. 

One of the problems facing U.S. Space Command — the organization responsible for military operations in space — is that it’s dependent on an infrastructure of satellites and ground systems designed decades ago, he said. 

Identifying benign from hostile activities in space and ensuring satellites are resilient to attacks “were not priorities over the past 20 years,” Miller said. 

To deter conflict, he said, “the first thing you got to be able to do is understand what’s going on, attribute that action, you must know that action is true, and then have a posture which provides resilience and response.”

U.S. Space Command needs more advanced technologies to track activities, provide indicators of future actions, and needs better ways to integrate military and commercial networks so systems are more resilient. 

Being able to identify who did what is critical “to minimize the potential for escalation and prepare for a transition to crisis if needed,” Miller said. “And we’re not persistently engaged at a proximity to be able to do that.”

“The infrastructure we built to see shoot, move and communicate over the horizon was not built for conflict,” he added.

Miller previously commanded the wing that operates the military’s missile-warning satellites at Buckley Space Force Base, Colorado. The space based infrared system satellites known as SBIRS are the primary sensors used to detect missile launches. The Space Force earlier this year launched SBIRS 5, the fifth satellite of the constellation. 

“When you’re counting your assets in single digits, you are not ready for conflict,” Miller said. “That capability was not built to operate through a conflict.”

It’s no secret that China would take aim at those satellites if there was an armed conflict, he said. “Their doctrine and the capabilities that they’re developing say that they’re going to target those kinds of things.”

The U.S. architecture in the future “has to be proliferated and in multiple orbits,” said Miller. 

Norms of behavior in space

U.S. Space Command is drafting a set of proposed norms of responsible behavior in space in response to a July memo from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. 

“We want norms, and we want to embrace safe and responsible behavior so as not to confuse or lead to miscalculation,” Miller said. “We will respond shortly back to Secretary Austin with ideas on how to do this.”

He suggested one approach would be to “identify what reliable, responsible and peaceful behavior is, so that we can quickly attribute and identify what deviations from that look like.”

But Miller said that for space to remain peaceful there has to be a closer partnership between the government and the commercial industry that is building a space economy. 

“We have typically focused on alliances and partnerships almost exclusively to be government to government,” he said. “That’s valuable, and we still need to do that. But our level of partnerships is going to have to have an unprecedented level of commercial support.”

The military’s reliance on commercial space networks, for example, requires a higher level partnership “so that when we talk resilience, each of us knows what the other person’s talking about and what the expectations are. And when we talk about a hybrid architecture, you understand what defense in depth means … and you understand what level of degradation can be absorbed.”

Some of the capabilities that U.S. Space Command needs from the private sector “can’t just be to provide a service,” Miller said. “It has to be part of a web of capabilities that has a level of resilience built into it, that is part of a larger mesh framework where we will be able to detect and attribute adversary action and at the same time provide critical options to respond.”