August 10, 2020

Next Generation Defense Strategy: Space

By Sarah Mineiro

The Bottom Line

The next defense strategy should leverage the establishment of the Space Force and the reestablishment of U.S. Space Command to:

  • Reformulate U.S. defense space policy to reflect the recognition of space as a warfighting domain.
  • Reform the existing requirements and acquisition models for space.
  • Consolidate authorities and responsibilities for space policy and acquisition within the Department of Defense.
  • Foster a culture of innovation, personal accountability, and career viability for the national security space workforce.

Introduction

Competing Star Wars and Star Trek tropes aside, space remains the final frontier. The newest recognized warfighting domain has been endowed with a reestablished combatant command and the first new armed force in the United States since 1947. While all this portends tremendous institutional change, the most needed changes for the Department of Defense (DoD) will be in the defense requirements and acquisition processes, and in promotion of the right kind of people. In this way, space is as mundane as any other domain—success is founded upon well thought-out policy, rigorous programmatic oversight, and empowered personnel.

Civil society is dependent on space—the Global Positioning System gets your DoorDash meals delivered, its timing signals facilitate automated teller machine transactions, and digital communication services enable remote working calls. All of these capabilities depend on space infrastructure. Similarly, joint and combined military operations rely on space. Ground operations benefit from updated weather predictions. Maritime operations rely on satellite navigation and the Automatic Identification System while conducting blue water operations. And pilots benefit from a satellite-enabled air traffic picture such as that provided by Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS-B).

Without significant changes in defense policy, programs, and staffing, U.S. strategic competitors will transform the nation’s asymmetric advantage into an asymmetric vulnerability and will lay the foundations to disrupt civil society throughout all phases of conflict.

Recently, Russia and China have conducted dangerous and provocative on-orbit maneuvers with satellites and testing anti-satellite weapons. Within the past five years, both actors have reorganized their military organizations responsible for space. Both write about the asymmetric advantages the United States is granted by achieving and maintaining space dominance. And both continue to invest in, develop, and deploy systems intended to erode that asymmetric advantage.

Without significant changes in defense policy, programs, and staffing, U.S. strategic competitors will transform the nation’s asymmetric advantage into an asymmetric vulnerability and will lay the foundations to disrupt civil society throughout all phases of conflict.

Policy

While national security space policy has remained remarkably consistent over multiple administrations, ongoing efforts at reform in this area require a reexamination of the underlying assumptions regarding operational definitions, classification, international participation, and commercial contributions. The DoD needs to redefine what space operations are and place them in the emerging operational context of joint all domain command and control. The current paradigm of space control, space support, and space launch fails to reflect the complex fabric of space dependencies that the joint force relies on throughout the spectrum of conflict. Space operations should not be theorized as only offensive and defensive, but should be explored in the broader context of offensive/defensive integration that other capabilities such as missile defense are now predicated upon.

The current paradigm of space control, space support, and space launch fails to reflect the complex fabric of space dependencies that the joint force relies on throughout the spectrum of conflict.

One challenge in the space community is that many capabilities are over-classified. The DoD must continue the work started by some of its current space leaders, notably General John W. “Jay” Raymond, in declassifying and calling out irresponsible actions in space. To reinforce the contribution of space capabilities to the United States’ broader strategic deterrent, DoD need to revisit how programs are classified. Deterrence is not possible with an unacknowledged capability that adversaries do not even know exists and that the department refuses to acknowledge.

The department must also broaden and deepen space cooperation with allies and partners. The nation’s core space-domain alliance is with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom—the 5-Five Eyes partnership. Yet the United States still has a way to go in fully integrating these partners into its space operations centers and in standardizing their access to both intelligence and operational data derived from space.

Beyond the Five Eyes, a wealth of other countries and organizations currently building space capability are eager to help in the domain, both technically and politically. Aside from NATO, New Norway, France, Germany, Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, and South Africa all contribute to the current space ecosystem. Many have unique capability contributions that should be explored and leveraged for increasing defense space cooperative efforts. Additionally, these space-faring partners can help to reinforce shared values in promoting a rules-based international order through organizations that already exist, for example the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. The next administration needs to foster the strong relationships it shares with its closest partners, but also needs to substantially increase and deepen cooperative efforts with emerging space powers.

The next administration needs to foster the strong relationships it shares with its closest partners, but also needs to substantially increase and deepen cooperative efforts with emerging space powers.

In addition, the department must redefine the commercial sector’s contribution to national security space. While this has been most commonly understood as leasing bandwidth for increased satellite communications or buying specific images, these are the least innovative ways to leverage commercial industries’ contributions. DoD should look to expand the breadth of space services it is willing to acquire through leasing, services contracts, and other contracting mechanisms. The department should explore different architectural approaches to provide required capability, including extending mission areas to space that hitherto have been carried out only through air or ground. DoD should look closely at missions that have been the clear reserve of space—such as assured precision, navigation, and timing—to consider whether they can be met with other platforms including high-altitude aerostats, long-dwell unmanned aerial systems, or other distributed sensors.

Requirements and Acquisition

National security space reform was predicated on improving the requirements and acquisition processes for space systems. The next administration should improve these processes, leverage lessons learned from intelligence community partners, and provide increased flexibility in contracting for a broader set of space capabilities. DoD should rethink the requirements generation process to address the domain of space more appropriately. Currently, every player has different reactions based on individual challenges with the process. The combatant commands (COCOMs) seem increasingly frustrated with the services’ inability to present forces and capabilities that meet their needs. The services counter that the COCOMs should not dictate the fit, form, and function of a particular solution. Industry is pulled in different directions, and nobody wants to deal with software. The only real sense of agreement is that the process is inadequate for the primary drivers of future space systems—disruptive, innovative, software-enabled, cross-domain solutions.

One key tenet of space acquisition reform, dating from at least the 1990s, has been trying to define the relationship between the intelligence community, notably the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and the DoD. While the NRO has remained untouched with the national security space enterprise reorganization, there is still room for improvement in coordinating intelligence community and DoD requirements and pursuing joint programs where this would be efficient. The White House should encourage the intelligence community and DoD to regularly discuss their emerging requirements and how they can be met in a cost-efficient manner.

DoD should also decompose huge programs of record into smaller manageable pieces and serve as a system integrator. For instance, DoD could take an overwhelming program that is supposed to do all things missile defense and decompose it into its constituent parts—space sensors, ground stations, terminals, communication paths, and battle management software platforms—and compete them separately. Breaking the program into its constituent elements could drive competition further into the program, create cross-platform efficiencies for both the hardware and software elements across multiple space programs, and increase interoperability. Additionally, the defense-oriented space industrial base would expand to encompass not only the companies that produce shiny new satellites, but also those that support the development and acquisition of the entire space system.

People

Lastly, and perhaps most important, the department will need to get the right people in the right seats and empower them to drive change. Policies and programs are nothing without the right personnel empowered to do the job. One of the thrusts for the establishment of the Space Force was creating a culture that valued space’s contributions to joint operations. It will be the department’s burden, duty, and honor to ensure that the highest-caliber people make it into the Space Force and have a viable meaningful career path to incentivize them to stay.

It will be the department’s burden, duty, and honor to ensure that the highest-caliber people make it into the Space Force and have a viable meaningful career path to incentivize them to stay.

Equally important will be DoD’s work to align the responsibility and authority for space policy and programmatic decisions within the civilian structure so that these conform with the department’s needs. This has been identified as a consistent challenge for the DoD ever since the 2001 “Report of the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization,” known as the Rumsfeld Commission Report. The fragmented decisionmaking process within the DoD was a fundamental driver for the establishment of the Space Force. A consolidation of decisionmaking authority on national security space must replace the existing dispersed authorities scattered throughout the DoD bureaucracy.

Recommendations

The next administration should leverage the current appetite for national security space reform to update the policy considerations, requirements and acquisition processes, and human capital investment plans for space.

Policy

  • Update policy and doctrine to reflect space as a warfighting domain.
  • Place the discussion about classification of space programs and capabilities within the broader strategic context of strategic deterrence.
  • Increase investment into developing partner and allied contributions.
  • Fully leverage U.S. commercial capabilities in support of the entire space system.

Requirements and Acquisition

  • Reform the requirements and acquisition processes to support disruptive technologies, software, and space.
  • Bring the intelligence community and DoD into closer coordination to harmonize requirements and explore joint programs where appropriate.
  • Review how the United States structures space programs to ensure synchronization between the ground and space segments, terminals, communications paths, and software-enabled artificial intelligence/machine learning solutions.

People

  • Ensure that the Space Force grows into a culture that uniquely prioritizes space contributions to the joint warfighter.
  • Consolidate authorities and responsibilities of empowered Office of the Secretary of Defense–level space policy and acquisition decisionmakers.

Conclusion

This paper is disappointingly shallow on Congress’s role in this process. Congress plays an essential part in authorizing and appropriating the defense budget, and in this way it is directly responsible for the sustainability and executability of defense programs. A glimmer of hope should be found (and built upon by whoever inhabits the White House next) in the bipartisan and bicameral support for national security space reform.

The department needs to seize this moment and continue innovating beyond the current organizational reforms within the DoD. Failure to do so will result in disjointed military operations that increase U.S. strategic vulnerabilities. This kind of failure will inevitably erode the U.S. ability to compete globally against strategic opponents across the spectrum of conflict. Not to mention that it would be a tremendous disservice to Netflix, which on May 29 released Space Force, a blockbuster comedy series born of this very real struggle to acknowledge just how dependent its streaming service is on good satellite bandwidth.

About the Author

Sarah Mineiro is an Adjunct Senior Fellow with the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). She currently works at Anduril Industries, where she is responsible for developing business growth strategy for space and missiles. Sarah enjoyed a 15-year career in the intelligence community, Department of Defense, and on the House Armed Services Committee working on space, missile defense, hypersonic, and nuclear policy and programmatic issues. On the House Armed Services Committee, she was responsible for drafting and negotiating language for the establishment of the Space Force and U.S. Space Command.

Learn More

From July to December 2020, CNAS will release new papers every week on the tough issues the next NDS should tackle. The goal of this project is to provide intellectual capital to the drafters of the 2022 NDS, focusing specifically on unfinished business from the past several defense strategies and areas where change is necessary but difficult.

Defense

The Next Defense Strategy

About this commentary series Regardless of who wins the next presidential election, by statute the DoD must deliver a new National Defense Strategy (NDS) to Congress in 2022. ...

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