Space Force should heed Ukraine lessons as it revamps structure: CSO nominee Saltzman

By Theresa Hitchens,
Published by Breaking Defense, 13 September 2022

U.S. Space Force Lt. Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, Deputy Chief of Space Operations for Operations, Cyber, and Nuclear, provides an update on force generation to senior leaders at Headquarters, Space Operations Command on April 26, 2022. (U.S. Space Force photo by Dave Grim)

The Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing for Gen. Chance Saltzman as the next, and second, Space Force chief was free of major fireworks — suggesting an easy ‘yea’ vote.

WASHINGTON — As the Space Force works to revamp today’s force structure to meet future challenges, the Biden administration’s nominee to lead the newest service pointed to Ukraine’s use of satellites in the ongoing war with Russia for some examples worth emulating.

“[W]hen I look across what we’re seeing in that Ukrainian theater, I see some important lessons that we should take to heart in terms of building our Space Force design,” Gen. Chance Saltzman told the Senate Armed Services Committee today during a hearing on his nomination for chief of space operations (CSO).

If confirmed, Saltzman would become the second chief of the Space Force, taking the place of Gen. Jay Raymond.

The Space Force, as Raymond told the Hill in May, is engaged in an effort to “pivot” to a more resilient force design by 2027. This new posture will include more satellites in more orbits, and increased reliance on commercial systems, to complicate the ability of adversaries to seriously degrade or destroy critical US space capabilities.

Ukraine does not itself own or directly operate any satellites, but it has leveraged help from friendly satellite-operating governments as well as the commercial sector to inform its actions on the ground. Saltzman, whose call sign is predictably “Salty,” said that while it “may be a little early to say complete lessons learned,” it is clear that, for one, the Ukrainians successfully made widespread use of commercial capabilities.

“[T]he use of commercial space capabilities to augment military and national decision-making capabilities has proved to be effective for the Ukrainians,” he said.

This includes using commercial satellite communications systems, such as SpaceX’s Starlink, to ensure the ability of leaders to maintain command and control capabilities. It also includes Kyiv’s acquisition of massive amounts of commercial remote sensing imagery to help it keep tabs on Russian troop movements and the disposition of its own fighters. Indeed, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., noted that Ukraine’s acquisition of commercial remote sensing was heavily assisted by the US Intelligence Community (IC).

“In the run up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, our IC doubled its procurement of commercial satellite imagery to help prepare and provide Intel to our Ukrainian allies,” he said, adding that the spy agencies also leveraged the radio frequency geolocation satellites operated by Hawkeye360, based in Virginia, to detect Russian jamming.

“This isn’t the first time where commercial technologies have been leveraged in effective ways, but I think it’s really hitting a warp speed,” Kaine added.

In response to Kaine’s query about the importance of commercial to future Space Force operation, Saltzman replied: “It’s critically important.”

Saltzman said another consideration is that many of the satellite constellations supporting Ukraine are comprised of many small satellites — rather than like the current US force structure, which is made up of constellations of few high-end satellites.

“The disaggregated, proliferated nature of some of the constellations that they’re using, has shown a level of resilience to degradation attempts that I think is noteworthy,” he said, explaining Ukraine has hammered home that “big single satellites” are easier to attack than a “distributed architecture.”

Finally, Saltzman said, cybersecurity and protection for satellite networks also proved key in Ukraine.

“I think we see how important it is to defend our cyber networks, because those cyber networks create vulnerabilities, if attacked, to actual space capabilities,” he said.

While Saltzman declined to comment directly on Russia’s “operational shortfalls,” it has been clear that up to now that, despite sophisticated jamming and hacking chops, Moscow has been unable to significantly impact Kyiv’s ability to utilize commercial space systems to its benefit.

Asked by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., about the US military’s ability to withstand attacks against satellite systems from Russian and China, Saltzman stressed that right now neither country could cripple operations — a situation that he repeatedly pledged during the hearing to maintain if confirmed.

“I think the best way to state that,” he responded, “is the current attacks that we are seeing are not sufficient to take out our capabilities. We are resilient [as of] today.”

However, Saltzman fretted that today’s force structure may not be up to the job in an all-out future conflict.

“As soon as we go into a crisis contingency, I do not believe we designed our system to operate in that level of a contested environment. And so we need to change … [the] architecture to account for the fact that space has shifted form a benign environment to a more contested warfighting domain.”

Pressed by Hawley, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and other senators about whether the Space Force has sufficient offensive capabilities, including anti-satellite weapons, Saltzman waltzed around any specifics, noting the public nature of the hearing, but expressed willingness to discuss the situation in a classified setting.

“When I think about space superiority, which is kind of the phrase we use to mean that we are going to contest that

domain to make sure that we have access to the capabilities, part of that also means that we’re going to protect the joint force from an adversaries ability to use space to target them,” he said.

“I think the best way to achieve this is through deterrence, to prevent a war from extending into space denying us those capabilities. But the best way to deter is to have a resilient capability, and to have offensive and defensive capabilities that creates a credible force. That’s where you really get your true deterrence,” he said.

As far as generic hardware and software challenges to the Space Force as it attempts to revamp force structure, Saltzman said resiliency of ground systems against “malicious cyber actors” is something the service is working to figure out. Another challenge being evaluated, he said, is how to deal with the “gaps” in the number of space monitoring sensors needed to provide global space domain awareness, and what ground-based software tools are needed to turn information gathered from space surveillance sensors into “decision quality information.”

Predictably, Saltzman faced a barrage of questions about the hot-button political issue of the need for a Space National Guard from a number of senators who represent states with large Guard populations, such as Hawaii, Florida, Colorado and Alabama. And just as predictably, he closely followed the Defense Department’s talking points, only highlighting the service’s ongoing review.

All in all, the hearing was free of major fireworks — despite (also predictable) sniping by a number of hawkish Republicans, such as Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, about what they say are too soft Biden administration space policies. And the SASC members largely seemed well disposed toward Saltman’s nomination.

“We look forward to your confirmation … as soon as possible,” said SASC Chair Jack Reed, D-R.I.

See: Original Article