U.S. Complacency in Space?

Right before we left for our holiday break, we read a powerful article in Air Force magazine titled “Breaking the Space Status Quo.” The magazine article focused on the observations of several senior Air Force and satellite industry leaders discussed during the Air Force Association’s Global War Symposium.

The first paragraph tells the story plainly and forcefully:

“The United States has become complacent about military space, depending heavily on a few small satellite constellations that are increasingly vulnerable to attack or accidental loss but for which there are no backups. The nation must build some resiliency into its space systems, even as it searches for innovative and affordable ways to lower costs while expanding its overall space capabilities.”

As an example, Kay Sears, President of Intelsat General spoke about possible satellite capacity shortages in the Pacific should the DoD focus shift to that region.  She said “Intelsat provides the lion’s share, by far, of the satellite communications that allow the Global Hawk to fly and gather information. A step up in use of Global Hawk in the Pacific theater will require a commensurate increase in satellite coverage of the area, she said.
Jamie Morin, acting undersecretary of the Air Force and Air Force Space Command chief General William Shelton are quoted at length about our increased vulnerability in space. The Air Force invests 20 percent of its annual funding in space, but unlike aircraft and other equipment the concept of “battlefield attrition” is not addressed.

As the title of the piece suggests, the answer is in re-evaluating the status quo of satellite procurement. Some of the most interesting ideas suggested in the piece are:

  • Disaggregation of satellite systems via hosted payloads;
  • Leveraging more allied dollars, such as Australia paying for WGS satellite six;
  • Hosted payloads as part of multi-government consortium satellites;
  • Putting replacement satellite in orbit before a crisis situation presents itself.

Morin is quoted as reminding the audience that U.S. superiority in space is “not a birthright, … not a guarantee.” Space is a much more crowded and dangerous place today. The military needs to plan now how to work with industry to protect and preserve our advantage moving forward.