Visions and Countervisions in Space

Aug. 1, 1999

A change to the Unified Command Plan will transfer the Computer Network Defense (CND) mission to US Space Command on Oct. 1. One year after that, Space Command will also pick up the Computer Network Attack (CNA) mission.

The implementing step is relatively small. The Joint Task Force for CND, created last December to coordinate the protection of the defense information infrastructure, will move from the Defense Information Systems Agency to Space Command.

No comparable organization exists for the highly classified Computer Network Attack mission. Even those with the appropriate clearances are uncertain of what CNA portends.

The significance of the changes may become clearer as a series of developments plays out over the next year, defining more precisely the military role in space and the relationship between space and Information Operations.

In May, the defense authorization bills from both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees asked for a fundamental review of how the Department of Defense is conducting the space mission.

Both raised questions about creating a new military service for space or appointing an assistant secretary of defense for space. The House bill called for a report by the Secretary of Defense. The Senate prescribed a study by an independent commission.

The Senate bill was critical of the Department of Defense for treating space operations as a subset of information superiority rather than “the strategic high ground from which to project power.” It urged “the full range of power applications, from missile defense and space control to force application.” Congress may be about to weigh in heavily on organizational and mission issues.

Meanwhile the Air Force, which supplies about 90 percent of the people, systems, and money for the military space program, is coming to grips with several issues of its own.

Its forthcoming white paper on aerospace integration is expected to emphasize that air and space are inextricably linked and complementary, not competitive. This will aggravate those who want space power to strike out on its own, separate from airpower.

The Air Force is also thinking about moving the Air Intelligence Agency–now a field unit of Headquarters USAF–to Air Force Space Command. This would put AIA’s formidable capabilities for Information Operations into a major command and take advantage of the similarities between the space and intelligence missions.

The decision will depend on, among other things, where the joint service community decides to go with CND/CNA and with Information Operations. More about that may be revealed when the Office of the Secretary of Defense produces its strategic plan on Information Operations this fall.

It will be a while before we can see these developments in full context, but several conclusions are possible.

  • The Congressional activity is well-meant but is not headed in a productive direction. The arguments about missile defense and force application from space are well-founded. However, they are matters of national policy, needing to be settled between the Administration and Congress rather than by organizational and management changes to the armed forces.

If emphasis on space is insufficient, that is a budgetary issue. The Air Force continues to provide most of the space support for all of the services without any compensating increase to its budget. Congress can and should help with this.

  • This change to the Unified Command Plan solves a problem that popped up in Joint Exercise Eligible Receiver in 1997, an element of which was an attack on the defense computer network. In the simulation, the Joint Staff took charge by default–which it could not legally do in actual conflict–because such an attack was not covered by the missions of any of the unified combat commands, in which the nation’s powers to fight are vested by law.
  • The CND/CNA mission is in its infancy. There is no doubt about the seriousness of the problem. Defense officials say the military information networks are under constant assault. The emphasis so far has been on detection and warning of attack, firewalls, and various emergency response measures. Most of the work has concentrated on the force in home garrison. Protecting the networks of deployed forces is more difficult. Defense of the nation’s non-military infrastructures is not an assigned mission and still lies far beyond the horizon.
  • The assignment of the CND/CNA mission to Space Command confirms that information is a weapon and that Space Command is a combat command. That does not diminish or conflict with the responsibility to provide intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and other support for the theater commands. In addition to its long-familiar role of enhancing force, Space Command may also apply force.

It will be some years yet before the capability is mature to employ directed laser energy from space, assuming that national policy permits it. At the same time, space will become increasingly important to the projection of power by the use of information, in support of conventional military operations as well as in the emerging domain of information warfare, in which information itself is a target and a weapon.

The Information Operations mission is moving inexorably toward space, and the linkage between space and information superiority is growing steadily closer. For the near-term future at least, the military space program will be defined, in one way or another, by information.