— Getting the military’s Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) communications system off of the drawing board and into the battlespace is among the long list of challenges ahead for the U.S. Air Force as it transitions to a new leadership, former Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne said in a June 25 interview.
The T-Sat system, which incorporates satellite-to-satellite laser links and Internet routing technology, is designed to provide the military with an unprecedented level of protected communications capacity. The system until recently was expected to begin launching in 2016, but the Air Force is reassessing the program’s direction and currently does not have a specific target launch date.
Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael “Buzz” Moseley, the top Air Force official in uniform, resigned June 5 under pressure from U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The pair took the brunt for two separate Air Force follies: the accidental shipment of sensitive nuclear missile components to in 2006, and the accidental transport of missiles armed with nuclear warheads inside the continental in August 2007.
Gates has nominated Michael B. Donley to succeed Wynne, who still must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Donley became acting secretary June 23.
Wynne said T-Sat must be done because it is the linchpin for the U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS), which will be a primary user of the system.
“Congress is now realizing T- Sat is the key to the Army’s FCS, and the Army’s not backing off of their requirements,” Wynne said. “The technologies are available. The question is will and intent. If the combatant commander continues to put it high on his list, then you’re going to see the technologies come together and work.”
Needing a Higher Authority
His experience in the meetings of an unofficial space council that have been held by the National Security Space Office highlight in Wynne’s mind the need for a higher government authority on space programs. The current group’s periodic meetings are attended by about 65 military and civilian government officials. The authority to make decisions has become muddled with too many managers, Wynne said.
He recalled one meeting in which the group was discussing an unspecified space need that would cost $100,000. No one in the room volunteered to fund it, and even as co-chairman of the group, Wynne could not force anyone to fund it. This underscored in his mind the need for a bona fide authority.
Because there currently is no Air Force undersecretary, some of the responsibilities of the executive agent for space effectively are being shared among the Air Force secretary, National Reconnaissance Office Director Scott Large, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher and NASA Administrator Mike Griffin.
“We’re not being run at a high enough level,” Wynne said. “Space [needs] to be at a better level than it was because of the parsing of executive agent for space, where I and Scott and Mike Griffin and Conrad Lautenbacher have to do things together or it doesn’t get done. Usually they all can’t make a meeting at the same time, so you don’t get a decision rendered.”
Wynne suggested moving the true authority of executive agent for space up to the office of the vice president, while still keeping a Defense Department executive agent for space to be the principle conduit to the decision maker. That model would be similar to the function of the White House National Space Council from 1989 to 1992, which was in the office of then-Vice President Dan Quayle.
Investing Wisely in Space
In Wynne’s view one of the problems the Air Force has is that it remains out of the public consciousness until major problems develop. That same problem is magnified for space, in that space capabilities work so well they typically remain off the front page and even further from the public consciousness. This makes developing new complex satellite systems harder to justify and their funds more likely to be plundered when other government programs need more money, Wynne said.
“Getting the Australians to buy a [Wideband Global Satcom] satellite was really neat,” Wynne said. “But isn’t there a big arrow here?” The fact that was brought in to the program raises questions about whether can afford the defense it needs, Wynne said.
“Now we are actually in a mode where we can’t afford the satellites we need, and we’re relying on our coalition partners to buy and operate satellites. Where is this leading?”
Wynne proposed a handful of changes that he said could help the nation invest more wisely in space and maintain the asymmetrical advantage space capabilities provide to the American military. Moving to a universal ground station for government space systems is one possibility.
“We need to get away from these custom ground stations and back into consolidated and simple ground stations,” Wynne said. “I can’t afford anymore when somebody comes off of [the Space- Based Infrared System] and goes to [a National Reconnaissance Office] satellite and they have to have to take a six-month training course in the new space control. This is ridiculous.”
Staying Ahead of New Threats
In combating the relatively new cyberspace threat, the United States should be developing not only defensive but offensive capabilities, Wynne said. This is another area where he believes government-industry collaboration is essential.
“We are now in second grade in terms of cyber. We don’t know what cyber can do for us as a weapons platform. Getting [enemy] missiles to actually fire at areas they didn’t plan on, that’s cool. Can we do that? Not yet. We’ve got to figure out how to do that. I think we ought to work on it, because if we can figure out how to do it, we will be able to figure out how to block it.
“I had one young man stand up and say ‘why don’t we just stop our technology from leaking to the bad guys instead of investing in new technology?’ I said that’s a great idea, but how do you know? If you don’t know until the enemy whups up on you, that’s pretty bad, and it means we as the Defense Department just fell down on