Unfunded National Security Space Strategy

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The U.S. Department of Defense recently released the groundbreaking National Security Space Strategy. The fact that the document is the first of its kind is significant.

More importantly, its attempt to move the United States into the next security era should be even more significant.

It recognizes that rather than a domain controlled solely by the U.S., the space environment is contested, congested and competitive and requires a new approach.

It encourages alternative architectures, responsive options, innovative solutions and new attributes to measure success. For example, the strategy suggests, “As we invest in next generation space capabilities and fill gaps in current capabilities, we will include resilience as a key criterion in evaluating alternative architectures. Resilience can be achieved in a variety of ways, to include cost-effective space system protection, cross-domain solutions, hosting payloads on a mix of platforms in various orbits, drawing on distributed international and commercial partner capabilities, and developing and maturing responsive space capabilities.”

With statements like this throughout, the document is a mandate for change.

On the heels of the strategy, President Barack Obama delivered the budget for fiscal 2012 to Congress and provided the first chance to look at the strategy’s implementation. Sadly, a comparison of the budget to the strategy shows glaring holes and leaves one to wonder if the authors ever considered a linkage. Rather than change, the budget fails to take advantage of recent opportunities, lacks much new thought, and confines national security space to the status quo for the foreseeable future.

Fortunately, Congress has an opportunity to address these discrepancies and should take action to do so in the 2012 Authorization and Appropriations Acts.

First, the president’s budget creates no new commercial partnership opportunities. Three years ago the Department of Defense (DoD) pursued the Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload demonstration, which will launch later this year, but the budget provides no follow-on and fails to create a funding line to further explore the hosted payload concept. Moreover, despite a decade of satisfaction of 80 percent of theater requirements by commercial communication satellites, the budget fails to recognize the foundational contribution of these systems and dedicate long-term investment to their continued use. Congress should require the DoD to pursue dedicated budgets for the pursuit and inclusion of hosted payloads and commercial services into national security space architectures.

Second, the budget does not capitalize on emerging international opportunities. For example, the Australian Defence Force has expressed interest in being a long-term partner on U.S. military satellite communications systems. Yet the budget does not continue Wideband Global System acquisition with the Australians in mind, beyond one previously agreed-to satellite. Additionally, the first Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) will fly with its main payload turned off, forcing the Australian Defence Force to buy a hosted UHF payload elsewhere, rather than bringing them into the MUOS concept. These activities are not conducive to building lasting and productive international partnerships. Congress should require the DoD to develop and report on specific international cooperative opportunities for the future.

Third, the president’s budget does not sufficiently promote alternative architectures. The budget fails inclusion of any constellation augmentation concepts or movement toward more distributed architectures. It adds no investment for new responsive space options or innovations mentioned in the National Security Space Strategy. Unfortunately, with the application of Evolutionary Acquisition for Space Efficiency (EASE) initiative, while a sound and noble concept, is the most devastating part of the budget: The DoD openly defies its own strategy and locks the U.S. into an unaffordable status quo well beyond 2025.

Because of its significance and limited exposure, it is important to examine EASE more closely. It attempts to increase stability and efficiency in the space industrial base and enables several tenets of sound acquisition: evolutionary acquisition, planning for parts obsolescence activity, continued research and development, and opportunities for low-risk off/on ramps for technology drivers. However, the initiative has two oversights yet to be worked: It does not address the potential for disruptive technology innovations, and it does not address the inevitable need to transition to a new start program, whether for poor contractor performance or otherwise. More time is needed to understand how to implement EASE.

To allow maturity of the concept, incorporation of EASE should occur on new programs, developed with EASE in mind, and at program start — not late in life. Unfortunately, in the president’s budget, EASE targets the Space Based Infrared System and Advanced Extremely High Frequency system, programs with congenital flaws, employing expensive systems and regressive architectures derived from the Cold War era.

Rather than “energizing” industry, as the strategy calls for, this budget would stagnate industry, stifle innovation and force centralization of skills and knowledge by mission area into single industry partners. Congress should require the DoD to incorporate new architectural approaches, redirect the misapplication of EASE, and force a more extensive discussion to address the gaps in this initiative.

The DoD’s own strategy has called for the national security space community to transition into a new era. This new era offers the potential for better approaches and novel partners to ensure affordable and resilient capability well into the future. Unfortunately, the president’s budget fails implementation, propagating old practices, megalith systems and unsustainable architectures. Congress has a chance to help this transition and should take action in the next budget bills.

 

Josh Hartman is a principal at the Center for Strategic Space Studies, former director of the Pentagon’s Space and Intelligence Capabilities Office and a former congressional staffer.