9 April 2019
STRATCOM’s Hyten Calls For Space Rules After India’s ASAT Test: Update
By Colin Clark and Theresa Hitchens
SPACE SYMPOSIUM: For the first time,
the United States is sharing its space war plans, known
as Olympic Defender, with a small number of allies, says
the head of Strategic Command.
CSpOC is the center where the US military gathers and analyzes Space Situational Awareness data from the vast array of mostly Cold War-era sensors around the world. It has been troubled for years by failed efforts to build newer systems, including the profoundly troubled JMS, an awful nested acronym for Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) Mission System.
Since Hyten is the commander of space operations — until the creation of Space Command — I asked him if he was comfortable with the Space Situational Awareness (SSA) he receives. His initial answer was clear and simple: “No.”
The JSpOC mission systems (JMS) started at Hanscom AFB, Hyten noted. “That program did not work and failed so the Air Force decided to move it… To be honest, I’ve been pushing for those programs to be successful in all iterations, and they haven’t been successful.” At the same time, he said he “completely understands” the decisions Gen. Jay Raymond, head of Air Force Space Command, has made to deal with JMS, the Space Fence and the Enterprise Space Battle Management Command & Control (ESBMC2), which will allow the National Space Defense Center to access SSA data and use it.
Bottom line: “We keep getting wrapped around the issues with the (space) catalog. I’m not happy that the programs we’ve built over the years have not been successful.”
But there is hopeful news. Hyten recently visited the new Space Fence, supposed to be operational this year: “I’ve been out there and the data is eye watering.It’s better than we even thought it would be.”
Hyten said he agrees with Gen. John Raymond, head
of Air Force Space Command, that the key issue is to
be ready to ingest the vast amounts of data the Space
Fence is expected to generate. But right now, he said,
there isn’t any way to judge whether the new plan will
work. “We won’t know until the Space Fence comes on
line,” he said. “That will be the big test.”
We asked Hyten, who was nominated to serve as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff this morning, about India’s anti-satellite (ASAT) test.
HIs response was much more detailed than those we’ve heard from the rest of President Trump’s executive branch. Hyten does appreciate the way that India structured its test “in very low earth orbit, and did not create significant debris that put things at risk,” he said. “Nonetheless, all debris is bad, and I hope for the day when we have norms of behavior, and I think the place to start is with debris-creating events. I think that’s the perfect place to start.” (Hear that, OSD Policy and State Department?)
“I wish that the world would come to some kind of agreements where we would understand the importance of space control, but we wouldn’t create (space) debris,” the general told Breaking Defense in an April 8 interview. “But today we have no rules.” (Space control is US military parlance for ensuring military freedom of action in space, including both defense against threats to friendly satellites and holding adversary space assets at risk.) ,
Hyten is the first high-ranking US military officer to comment on the need to find some sort of global accord to forgo debris creating weapons in the wake of the Indian test. His words, while measured, amounted to an implied criticism of Delhi’s move.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was highly critical of the move in a NASA town hall meeting April 1, but as colleague Jeff Foust of Space News reported on April 7, NASA reversed its initial move to suspend some cooperation with India’s space agency ISRO. Essentially, the Trump administration is leery of pressuring India too hard because of its perceived strategic importance in countering China.
Hyten explained that he gets India’s need to “defend itself” against increasing threats to its space systems, noting “we have to defend ourselves too.”
India’s Mission Shakrit used a Prithvi Defense Vehicle Mark II ballistic missile to destroy its MICROSAT-R satellite (actually the size of a small car, not particularly “micro”) at an altitude of about 300 kilometers. The Indian government said very little debris would be created and that what there was would de-orbit and burn up in the atmosphere within 45 days. However, Air Force Space Command has said that about 400 pieces of debris still being tracked. Outside experts have found that about 47 pieces have been flung into orbits above the International Space Station where a number of active commercial and military satellites are stationed, thus putting at risk much of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for at least a month.
While the US has been leery of directly criticizing
India for the ASAT test, the German delegation to the
Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS)
in Vienna on April 9 issued a statement clearly aimed
at doing just that despite not mentioning Delhi. “Due
to the energy concerted during the impact of
anti-satellite weapons even in low earth orbits any
resulting space debris is uncontrollable and increases
collision risks including in higher orbits.” The
German statement went on to call for a legally binding
ban on the “intentional destruction of space objects
resulting in the generation of long-lasting debris,”
including during warfare.