The Space Force’s vision for a proliferated, resilient “space order of battle” has begun to take shape.
After a year of inventing the new service and another of figuring out where it fits within the wider Department of Defense, the Space Force plans to make the more resilient combination of satellites and external data sources its “No. 1 priority” in Year 3, said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond.
A number of Space Force leaders, including Raymond, commented on the reason behind designing the new so-called “space order of battle” and on progress to date during the AFA Warfare Symposium.
The world is experiencing a uniquely complex security situation at the same time countries such as China, in particular, and Russia mature technology that could pose a risk to the U.S. vulnerable satellite fleet, Raymond said.
“The constellations that we have in space today … were designed for a peaceful, benign environment without a threat,” Raymond said. “They’re exquisite capabilities. They’re the world’s best capabilities, but again, they’re designed for a different environment—and they’re hard to defend.”
Space Force leaders have also referred to the resilient space order of battle as a “resilient space architecture.” The Space Force hadn’t responded by press time to a request for clarification of why its leaders have made this change.
Raymond said USSF’s Space Warfighting Analysis Center (SWAC) has completed its force design for one segment of the architecture, that of missile warning and tracking. Next it will move on to ground moving target indication and a constellation, or “layer,” of satellites to transport data around space and back and forth to Earth.
Meanwhile, the DOD has already awarded $1.8 billion to three companies that will build the first 126 satellites in a data-transport layer being planned by the Space Development Agency (SDA).
GLOBAL INSTABILITY AND VULNERABLE SATS
The U.S. military’s large, “exquisite” satellites have become susceptible to the likes of electromagnetic spectrum warfare, cyberattacks, ground-launched anti-satellite weapons, and other satellites—an altogether different set of circumstances from even just a few years ago, Raymond said.
Meanwhile, the world has entered “probably the most dynamic and complex security environment in three generations,” Raymond discussed in a talk in which he appeared jointly with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr.
“And I will tell you, on the space side of the house, the Air Force built the world’s best Space Force,” Raymond continued. “We’ve had the best capabilities. The best people. We’ve integrated most effectively into the fight, starting with Desert Storm. But I will tell you, it’s a service that was built for a different domain than we’re operating in today.”
In the past three years alone, the total number of objects the Space Force tracks, including debris, has doubled to close to 50,000, while the number of satellites has tripled to about 5,000.
“Then if you look at those capabilities”—and how China, in particular, has “integrated those capabilities into a warfighting architecture,” Raymond said:
“If deterrence were to fail, we are now going to be up against an adversary that has the same advantages that we’ve enjoyed. And they’ve built it over the last 30 years, and they’ve built it for a purpose. That, coupled with the spectrum of threats that we’re seeing—from low-end reversible jamming to high-end kinetic disruption—it’s a different domain.”
RESILIENCY AND FORCE DESIGN
Researchers at the SWAC have already cleared their first hurdle, the force design for the missile warning and defense segment of the more resilient space architecture. The Space Force hadn’t responded to a request for more details about the force design by press time.
With the overarching plan for missile warning and defense out of the way, SWAC’s experts will focus on ground moving target indication and the data transport “layer” of satellites in the coming year, Raymond told reporters attending the symposium.
David Voss, director of the SWAC’s Spectrum Warfare Center of Excellence, will be focusing on the force design for data transport, he told Air Force Magazine in an interview ahead of the conference.
The work will entail thinking about, “how do we make things interconnected and interoperable across the breadth of the role that space could potentially play” throughout DOD, Voss said, for example:
“Does it make sense to continue to acquire kind of along certain phenomenologies and certain users, or does it make sense to look at it more as [part of] a larger transport architecture?”
Voss characterized the Space Development Agency’s transport layer, for which it awarded contracts for 126 satellites in February, as “a really exciting component to an integrated transport community.”
On the other hand, “the SWAC’s goal is to really look at comprehensive [needs] across the space community, really anchored in the intelligence and the complexity of the threat,” Voss said.
The war in Ukraine provided a backdrop for the symposium.
The involvement of U.S. space companies such as Starlink, prominently supplying internet service, and Maxar, publicly circulating surveillance images, demonstrates the potential “dual use” of space equipment and how commercial services could form a part of the resilient architecture, Raymond told reporters.
With access to space becoming widely available, it’s no longer the domain of great powers. Instead, “we now have students putting satellites in orbit,” Raymond said. “So as the barriers to entry are reduced, and as technology allows smaller satellites to be more capable, you’re going to see a number of mission areas that are now commercially viable.”
With the force designs complete, the service will shift into “turning those into requirements,” Raymond said.
AN ORBITAL TRAINING RANGE
The resilient architecture will spread out the ways the Space Force does its core activities in space—tracking space objects; position, navigation, and timing; missile warning; weather; and communications—but the Space Training and Readiness Command is creating a part of the architecture that will be a first of its kind for DOD.
The service has decided it wants training satellites in orbit to form a range there, said STARCOM’s Commander Brig. Gen. Shawn N. Bratton during a press briefing.
Bratton said carving out a part of Earth’s orbit for a range and “aggressor portfolio”—like USAF training ranges on Earth—isn’t feasible. He mentioned the idea of a range being activated or deactivated accordingly, with a system to inform the space community when that’s happening.
STARCOM is approaching its plans for the range, or National Space Test and Training Complex, in terms of “what are the capabilities that we need to have,” he said—not just “physical things” but also, “how do we think about the digital aspect of that?”
Bratton said a program office has stood up within Space Systems Command and that staff have started to arrive in Colorado Springs, Colo.—STARCOM’s temporary headquarters—to “do the procurement actions for the range.”
So far, the design of the range has amounted to “a lot of discussions with SWAC and SCC” on “what things do we need to do live and actually fly a spacecraft on orbit, to be able to instrument it—gather data for test or training activities; and what things can we do purely in the digital space,” according to Bratton. “There’s certainly things that, whether for expense or security, that we will do in the digital space. But we feel, particularly on the training side but probably equally true for test, that there are some things that we’ll need to do live on orbit
“And then how do we think about the on-orbit range—very different, I believe, than a physical range that you might see in a place like the Nevada Test and Training Range,” Bratton said.
He hopes the range will afford trainees “some realistic activities” such as “what does it look like when one spacecraft approaches you—what indications do you get of that? What do the sensors see? If someone’s trying to conduct rendezvous operations with your spacecraft, how do you know in a domain where you can’t look out the window and see another ship or Soldier or aircraft.”
SUSTAINING THE INDUSTRIAL BASE
The SDA plans to launch the first 126 satellites in its data-transport layer by 2024 after awarding the contracts in February. The expectation of that kind of turnaround time—fast by satellite standards—could present a challenge to the industrial base that the Space Force relies on, which Raymond characterized as “fragile.”
Raymond cited a report by the Air Force Research Laboratory and Defense Innovation Unit that called the industrial base “tactically strong but strategically fragile.”
The report “State of the Space Industrial Base 2021: Infrastructure and Services for Economic Growth and National Security,” published in November 2021, suggests that increasing Pentagon spending on commercial space technology would prompt private investors to invest even more. Its authors deemed that sustaining investors’ confidence was a “major concern” requiring “urgent action.
Raymond told the crowd at AWS22 that the Space Force perceives “opportunities for a national-level vision on the industrial base.” He said in the past, proposed activity in the space sector has fizzled out.
“We need this to materialize,” Raymond said.