Budget Cuts, Growing Threats
Affect Space Operations
By Cheryl Pellerin, DoD News,
Defense Media Activity.
Washington D.C. – (DOD
News) – July 23, 2014 – Until recently, space was a peaceful domain where
orbital and flying craft were unprotected, but adversaries now are developing
systems designed to counter advantages gained by those using such space
capabilities, the commander of Air Force Space Command said here yesterday.
Air Force Gen. William L. Shelton spoke at the Atlantic
Council on the U.S. future in space. “Our satellites were not built with such
threats in mind,” Shelton said. There hasn’t been a launch failure in 72
consecutive national security launches, he added, and satellites have lasted so
much longer than their designed lifespan that the nation accidentally gained
overlap between “father and daughter” satellites.
“Space largely has been a peaceful sanctuary up to this
point,” the general said, “and due to the cost of each of these intricate
machines, we build just enough capability and build it just in time. … We don't
really plan for anything but success.” Now, he said, “we have a clear and
present danger to contend with that I believe must change our calculus on
Traffic is building in space, as many new entrants have
joined the ranks of spacefaring nations and counter-space capabilities are
becoming more concerning, Shelton explained. The Air Force must adapt its
satellite constellations in response to such growing threats and elevate its
game in space situational awareness, he said.
The Advanced Extremely High Frequency,
or AEHF, system is a joint service satellite communications system that provides
survivable, global, secure, protected and jam-resistant communications for
high-priority military ground, sea and air assets. Advanced EHF allows the
National Security Council and unified combatant commanders to control tactical
and strategic forces at all levels of conflict through general nuclear war and
supports the attainment of information superiority.
U.S. Air Force photo
And, the general said, Air Force Space Command is addressing
this challenging space environment in the midst of a decreasing budget outlook.
“Space forces are foundational to every military operation,
from humanitarian to major combat operations. It really doesn’t matter -- space
has to be there, … continuously deployed in place, providing communications,
missile warning, navigation, space surveillance and weather services,” Shelton
said. Still, he added, Space Command’s share of reductions as part of overall
Air Force reductions included a space surveillance asset that saved $6 million
per year, operationally useful sensor redundancy at launch bases that cut
another few million dollars per year, and drastic cuts in headquarters
contractor support that saved money but substantially reduced capability.
“All told, we cut close to $1 billion from our annual budget
in fiscal year 2013 and [fiscal] 2014 combined,” the general said. “The bottom
line on our budget situation is this: we made the needed adjustments in fiscal
years 2013 and 2014], and [fiscal] 2015 right now looks like it will be feasible,”
he added. “But the law of the land is still sequestration for [fiscal] 2016 and
beyond. Should Congress decide not to grant relief from [the severe budget cuts
of] sequestration, I don't know how my command can absorb the mandated
To elevate the Air Force’s game in space situational
awareness, Shelton explained his priorities for future satellite constellations
as a nexus, aiming for an overlap of required capability, resilience and
affordability. To illustrate the idea, he used the Air Force’s Advanced
Extremely High Frequency, or AEHF, satellite constellation as an example.
“This is the constellation the president would use in
existential circumstances for the United States to command and control nuclear
forces and to ensure continuity of the United States government,” Shelton said.
The required constellation consists of four satellites, just enough for
worldwide assured coverage, he added.
If an adversary took out one satellite in the constellation,
a geographic hole would open, potentially preventing the president from
communicating with forces in that part of the world, the general said.
“We’re looking at a range of options to make this scenario
much less probable -- for example, disaggregating our constellations for
increased flexibility and survivability.” The satellite carries strategic and
tactical communications packages, Shelton said, explaining disaggregation. If
the payloads were separated onto two or three satellites, he said, they would be
much more resilient to a single shot, and each satellite would be less complex,
would weigh less and would cost less to launch.
Air Force Space Command is also considering the following
possibilities, Shelton said:
-- Hosting payloads on commercial or other government satellites;.
-- Lowering the cost or complexity of getting capability and capacity into space;
-- Leveraging commercial capability such as satellite communications rather than
building dedicated military satellites; and
-- Exploring partnerships with other nations to share the responsibility of
sustaining critical space capabilities.
“We've already done this with our Wideband Global SATCOM
Satellite,” he added, “and partnered with Australia, the Netherlands, New
Zealand, Canada, Denmark and Luxembourg.”
Shelton said he believes the Air Force needs less complexity
and more flexibility in its constellations, and that it will have to make
decisions soon on its longer-term approaches. “Our need date is the mid-2020s
for replacements to the current satellite programs of record,” he said. “With
long budgeting and development timelines, we’re looking at decisions in the
[fiscal] 2017 program, which works through the Pentagon next year. “We're
watching carefully as other nations significantly increase their investment in
counter-space programs,” he continued. “We absolutely must adjust our approach
and response, and the time for those decisions is approaching very rapidly.”
Another way the Air Force Space Command is improving its
real-time space situational awareness, or SSA, is through a new architecture
approved for SSA, Shelton said. The first critical step, he added, is the Joint
Space Operations Center Mission System Program, or JMS.
“This open-architecture, high-performance computing
environment will be a several-orders-of-magnitude improvement over our current
system,” he said. “And by the way, the last major upgrade to our current system
was in 1994.”
JMS will give Air Force Space Command a modern sensor
data-processing capability plus a command-and-control environment for all space
forces. The command also is making sensor improvements, Shelton said.
“We just awarded the contract for the Space Fence that will
be built on Kwajalein Island in the Western Pacific,” he added. “This new radar
will produce thousands of observations every day, covering almost all orbital
The Space Fence will be much more sensitive and will be able
to track unscheduled events in space, such as threatening satellite maneuvers
and rocket body breakups that cause increased orbital debris traffic, Shelton
“We've shipped a converted space-launch tracking radar to
Western Australia to give us much better near-Earth space situational awareness
in the Southern Hemisphere,” the general added, “and we will send to Australia a
DARPA-developed telescope that is currently in New Mexico.” DARPA is the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency. Its C-Band mechanical tracking ground-based
radar can accurately track up to 200 objects a day and can help identify
satellites, their orbits and potential anomalies, according to a fact sheet
about the system.
When the radar is relocated to Australia, it will be the
first low-Earth-orbit space surveillance network sensor in the Southern
Hemisphere. The new location will give needed southern and eastern hemispheric
coverage that will lead to better positional accuracies and predictions. “This
very capable telescope will do a great job of deep-space surveillance from that
unique vantage point in Western Australia,” Shelton said.
Today the Air Force is scheduled to launch two operational
satellites into near-geosynchronous orbit, he added. The satellites are part of
the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program, or GSSAP. The GSSAP
satellites will give U.S. Strategic Command space situational awareness data
that allows for more accurate tracking and characterization of human-made
orbiting objects, according to the Air Force News Service. “This Neighborhood
Watch twosome will help protect our precious assets in geosynchronous orbit,”
Shelton said, “plus, they will be on the lookout for nefarious capabilities
other nations might try to place in that critical orbital regime.”
The general said the two satellites would provide a lot of
knowledge about geo-traffic through the images they produce. “GSSAP will also
demonstrate enhanced maneuverability activities that include rendezvous and
proximity operations during the developmental and operational test events
shortly after launch,” he added. The 1st Space Operations Squadron at Schriever
Air Force Base in Colorado Springs will then have rendezvous and proximity
operations in its toolkit to allow GSSAP to maneuver to get the best possible
vantage point for collecting images when required, the general added. GSSAP
represents a big leap forward in situational awareness at geosynchronous orbit,
“With new data sources and a new system to process the data,
later in this decade we will have truly enhanced our ability to monitor activity
in space,” Shelton said. “And the big payoff [is that] we can transition from a
reactive posture in space to becoming much more proactive, predicting space
activity and anticipating outcomes.”
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Air Force Space Command
Shelton Discusses Importance of Space Defense