AFSPC Mulls Intel, Personnel Questions of the New Space Age

Maj. Gen. John Shaw, deputy commander of Air Force Space Command, speaks about intelligence for the space domain at an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association/Intelligence and National Security Alliance conference Sept. 5, 2019. National Reconnaissance Office photo via Twitter.

Figuring out how to keep a closer eye on what’s happening in outer space—rather than using space to peer down at the Earth—is among the uncharted capability and personnel issues the Air Force must navigate as a possible Space Force comes to fruition, according to the deputy commander of Air Force Space Command.

“When you think of space and intelligence together, you might be like me,” Maj. Gen. John Shaw said at a Sept. 5 conference hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and the Intelligence and National Security Alliance in National Harbor, Md. “In my career, I think about intelligence collection in space, coming down to the Earth—intelligence from space. We need to think really, really hard now about intelligence for space. Where is that intelligence expertise, the processes, the capabilities we have to understand what’s actually happening in the space environment.”

Traditional defense contractors, industry, and allies all have a role in helping the military figure out how to build space situational awareness, Shaw said. To get there, the Pentagon and the intelligence community must also keep its ground systems modernized so they can continue “talking” to systems in space, and those systems must be able to communicate with each other, no matter which organization owns them.

“It’s a ‘big data’ problem to understand what is going on within the space domain,” Shaw said. “Space is pretty big It’s only getting bigger, in many senses, from a cosmological as well as a policy scope. How do we make sure that we’re harnessing all of the capabilities to understand and attack that problem”

Shaw said the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, should “scale up” to offer more operational intelligence support. A Space Force would probably leverage what NASIC already offers for the foreseeable future, but a separate national space intelligence center may be needed later.

Boosting the military’s space domain awareness will shape how people command and control assets like satellites, as the Air Force works toward a more overarching, integrated approach to operating and defending those systems.

If Congress approves a new military service for space in its 2020 defense policy bill, the organization could face the same hiring and retention challenges that the broader Air Force sees for pilots and cyber forces see for experienced employees who might rather work in private industry. That service will have to consider creative ways of letting space personnel move between government and industry along with sharing them between organizations, Shaw said.

He’s started crunching the details of how Space Force recruitment might work, both in and out of the intel field. Those efforts could piggyback on the brick-and-mortar recruitment shops of the other services nationwide, or the potential service could turn to recruitment online.

“We could probably follow the models from our sister space agencies (at the National Reconnaissance Office and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency) that are represented here as well as NASA in that regard,” Shaw said.

In the event that Congress allows for a Space National Guard, Shaw said it would serve as the “perfect vehicle” to draw on the private sector’s experience to bolster what a Space Force can do.

He expects space ISR training, which changed from a two-week, missile-focused course to a five-week, space-focused course over the past couple of years in the Air Force, will grow increasingly specialized under a Space Force. The Space Force would have its own intel officers and enlisted airmen, he said.

“We are starting to grow that and the ramp-up has been huge,” Shaw said.

Another area the Defense Department is still fleshing out is which cyber personnel should work with a new Space Force. There’s no firm answer yet, Shaw said, but the military’s priority is defending the networks that enable space systems to do their jobs. Supply chain cybersecurity is also a growing issue across the Pentagon.

“We won’t be able to do things in the vast reaches of space with mostly autonomous vehicles being operated remotely without the cutting-edge cyber capabilities that we need to bring to bear,” Shaw said.

Adding artificial intelligence and machine learning into those protected systems will be key to the Space Force’s long-term capabilities as the Pentagon’s reach in the domain expands.

“When the Space Force stands up, it’s going to be around for a long time, and its ultimate destiny is going to be providing security and projecting power for increasingly vast distances—from geosynchronous (orbit) to cislunar to beyond,” Shaw said. “We’re not doing that, probably, with humans in space anytime soon.”