The existence of the plan is not classified but many of its working elements are.
The SEV is “an all-encompassing look at all the things we need to do to create more resilience in our space forces, enhance them, and respond to threats,” Air Force Space Command spokesman Col. John Dorrian says.
It includes current weapon systems and those planned for the near future, as well as changes to training and organization. It isn’t a direct result of the government-wide Space Portfolio Review, according to Dorrian, but it is “related.” A large part of the reason for that distinction, I think, is because the SPR dealt in great detail with US spy satellites, which Space Command does not control.
The general thrust of the vision earned positive reviews from a top space expert. “It is good that the US government is finally getting serious about national security space. For a long time, there has been a lot of talk and not a lot of walk,” says Theresa Hitchens, a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies.
But it is long overdue. “Space assets have for too long been allowed to be near ‘single point failures,’” she said, where a single accident — or attack — could cripple a key capability. “This is not good, neither for the United States nor for international security, because it creates incentives for others to target those assets.”
Gen. John Hyten, head of Air Force Space Command, admitted as much in an official Air Force story released April 11.
“Most U.S. military space systems were not designed with threats in mind, and were built for long-term functionality and efficiency, with systems operating for decades in some cases,” Hyten is quoted as saying. “Without the need to factor in threats, longevity and cost were the critical factors to design and these factors were applied in a mission stovepipe. This is no longer an adequate methodology to equip space forces.”
There are many positive developments, Hitchens said:
- “better Space Situational Awareness,
- “efforts to bridge the divide between the IC (Intelligence Community) and the military regarding space assets (a problem that is deep and cultural, but must be overcome),
- “distribution of assets for mission assurance,
- “cooperation with allies to help with redundancy,
- “and disaggregation (separating strategic assets from those used in tactical warfighting).”
But, she added, “these are all things that should have been happening for the past 20 years but have not.”
The Intelligence Community will play a role in helping develop some of the new techniques and technologies in the vision because the war games being performed at the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSPOC) will help shape robust command and control procedures and systems. In the official story, Hyten noted the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), builder and operator of the nation’s spy satellites, was working with the Air Force to coordinate implementing the SEV.
The official Air Force story says the SEV includes a new concept called “resilience capacity,” designed to “measure how well space enterprise forces can respond to the full range of known threats, and how quickly they can adapt to counter future threats, while continuing to deliver space effects to joint and coalition warfighter.” This will replace the “functional availability” metric that’s been used to plan and manage satellite architectures. The old standard, the story says, “does not account for emerging threats.”
One of the foundations of the effort to build a more resilient space force is the development of satellite ground stations that can handle a wide range of satellites, using automation to cue them and redirect them. That would free personnel from doing jobs such as telemetry, tracking and communications.
In addition to bolstering the effectiveness and speed of response of the ground portions, Space Command is working diligently to ensure potential adversaries understand that we have redundant systems, alternative systems, and the ability to use all elements of American power — economic, diplomatic and military — to impose costs should they attack our space assets.
Indeed, a highly sensitive part of the Space Enterprise Vision’s cost imposition is the development and fielding of counterspace and offensive weapons.
That worries Hitchens.
“Moving too aggressively to develop such US capabilities, when diplomatic efforts to set norms and TCBMs are already foundering, is not a good idea,” she argued. She’s referring to the parallel pushes for an international code of conduct for space and the use of Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures.
Why? “Especially because it is very clear that the big three space players (much less the smaller and emerging ones) do not understand each other’s ‘bright lines’, what might cause crisis escalation and worse yet conflict escalation,” she said. “Posturing, poking and aggressive rhetoric only elevate the risks.”
“There is still time to try to work out some understandings before people rush out and arm themselves to the teeth,“ she argues.
Dorrian, beyond acknowledging the importance of deterrence, would not be drawn on any increase in development or fielding of counterspace or offensive weapons. Most of the spending on those programs is classified. However, Breaking D readers will remember our coverage of the tripling of unclassifed counterspace spending in the 2017 budget.