The US Space Force and saying the quiet parts out loud

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command established the U.S. Space Forces, Indo-Pacific, the USSF’s first overseas component to a combatant command. (DVDS)

By Sarah Mneiro,
Published by Breaking Defense, 30 October 2023

The Space Force is coming up on its fourth birthday, and has made significant progress in establishing itself as part of the national security community. But there is always more to be done. In this new op-ed, former House Armed Services Committee staffer Sarah Mineiro lays out three areas the Space Force needs to be more explicit in supporting.

In early September the Chief of Space Operations, Gen. Chance Saltzman, changed the mission statement of the Space Force to “Secure our Nation’s Interests In, From, and To Space.” While there has been some debate about the comprehensiveness of the statement, its nine-words reflect the mindset of an operator — not a policy wonk.

The tidy brevity of the statement allows for Guardians to be able to internalize and perpetuate the cultural orientation of a future looking joint warfighter. It also subtly addresses some of the most persistent intangible aspects that justified the establishment of a Space Force in the first place — the unique culture, opportunities, and challenges of the space cadre.

But nine words can only contain so much, and there is more to be done for America’s youngest military service to achieve what it needs to achieve. Here are some of the quiet parts that need to be said out loud by Space Force leaders as they move into 2024 and beyond.

SpaceCyber — Cyber-attacks remain the most frequently employed counterspace weapon by our strategic adversaries. With the rise of megaconstellations and architectural concepts that are (rightfully) integrating commercial and government capabilities, securing spacecyber is an operational near-term requirement. The Space Development Agency is doing an admirable job of addressing this consistently through integrating cyber requirements into its solicitations and remaining committed to leveraging commercial innovation, but there is more to be done.

Industry is presenting solutions that allow users to implement flexible role-based controls to manage data across these hybrid architectures even over previously untrusted networks. The optimization of network topologies can now be done completely on-orbit. How you move data across the space system is more dynamic than ever before. These sorts of fundamental spacecyber capabilities can help ensure that the entire space system stay secure while delivering mission capability. While SDA continues to do an admirable job to address this threat, the rest of the Space Force needs catch up — especially those organizations charged with the integration of commercial space capabilities to military missions.

Spacecyber is a predicate for secure space operations in, from and to space. Space Force would do well to acknowledge this, develop comprehensive spacecyber requirements for their entire portfolio of programs, and ensure that spacecyber requirements enable commercial integration while avoiding vendor lock.

Protection — Over the past few months there has been much said about space protection, the classification of space as critical infrastructure and the obligation of the government to defend commercial satellites that sell services to the military. The problem is, it’s all a red herring.

There is no consensus among the policymaking community, commercial industry and the operators that extending space protection to commercial industry is necessary, prudent or at this point, operationally viable.  And even if there was such a consensus, actual systems to provide protection at the necessary scale to be operationally relevant do not exist at this time. With neither the policy framework nor the actual technological capability manifest, this argument remains a fool’s errand.

The real work for the government, and specifically the Space Force, is to foster discussion, fund demonstrations and shape a permissive regulatory environment with innovative US companies investing in downstream value creation leading to upstream space protection capabilities. Space domain awareness, multidomain interoperability, and space mobility all seem like prudent investments for both commercial and government investment. The Space Force is starting to do this through its support of commercial space domain awareness data buys, coupled with the invigorated direction from STARCOM to get “reps and sets” in the development of new operational concepts and training. But it needs to commit to seeing its early ideas through and keep this focus going.

Ground — With all the excitement about the potential for Space Force to propel us into the future and the solar system, it is sometimes easy to forget that, for the time being at least, humans only exist on earth.  Those yottabytes of data that are derived from satellites all come back down to earth to support policymakers, acquisition professionals and operators here on the ground.

Hence, for the foreseeable future, the ground segment, networks and terminals are essential for any of the space-derived data to reach its intended users. The Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisitions and Integration, Frank Calvelli, addressed this is the call for action in his 9 acquisition tenets.  Ground programs have historically been the most challenged space-related acquisition programs. The root cause of such acquisition failure can be traced to several factors that are not unique to space systems — the challenges of software acquisition, requirement creep and funding instability. Nonetheless, the most challenged programs remain inextricably associated with ground, software and terminals.

In the race to build hybrid space architectures the Space Force cannot continue to fail in these acquisition programs; continued emphasis and accountability must be placed on the ground segment of space systems. Space Force’s most recent attempt at placing emphasis on this resulted in the creation of a new combined program office under Space Rapid Capabilities Office, called the Rapid Resilient Command and Control program (R2C2), with the hope of both focusing and speeding up system delivery. Once more, it’s a good start, but the service needs to keep its focus up and not get distracted.

At almost four years old, the Space Force is still the youngest and smallest military service. Nonetheless, the service enjoys asymmetric advantages that allow it to make outsized contributions to our national security in an increasingly difficult time. With a reinvigorated mission statement and several commercial strategies currently in formulation, now is the time to resource innovation and lean forward to solve previously intractable challenges that commercial companies can help with and government customers must prioritize.

See: Original Article