USAF Sets Cyber Standards for Commercial SATCOM Vendors
By Shaun Waterman
May 31, 2022
The U.S. Space Force finally rolled out new cybersecurity standards for its commercial satellite vendors on May 28, saying those who could meet them might be able to charge more.
“We expect that cost [of security] to be reflected in the services that we’re buying,” Space Force official Jared Reece told Air Force Magazine. “If we’re going to want a more secure solution, we’re going to have to be willing to pay for that capability.”
The Commercial Satellite Communications Office, or CSCO, the office in Space Systems Command where Reece works, buys private sector satellite bandwidth for the U.S. military services. CSCO will begin third party cybersecurity assessments in September, Reece explained, piloting the process with a handful of volunteer vendors.
“Based on our conversations with industry, there’s a number of companies itching to go,” he said.
The Infrastructure Asset Pre-Assessment program, or IA-Pre, that Reece manages at CSCO, is designed to pre-qualify particular commercial assets, like a satellite constellation and its ground system, as meeting federal cybersecurity standards.
IA-Pre grew out of concerns about the ability of peer and near-peer adversaries to use cyber weapons to cripple commercial satellite networks on which the U.S. military increasingly relies. These fears were dramatically realized by the Russian malware hack that knocked thousands of users of Viasat’s KA-SAT European network—including large swathes of the Ukrainian military—offline, just as the tanks rolled across the border.
Viasat executives told Air Force Magazine in March that the hackers would not have been able to execute their attack on any of the networks the company operates for the U.S. military.
IA-Pre replaces the current questionnaire-based process, where vendors self-attest to meeting cyber standards every time they submit a bid. Instead, they undergo a one-off third-party assessment, plus mandatory follow-up reporting on a monthly basis. Once a system passes the assessment and is compliant, it can be added to the Approved Platforms List (APL), Reece said.
Having an APL of pre-certified cybersecure assets will speed up procurement of commercial services and avoid unnecessary duplication of cybersecurity acquisition requirements, Reece noted last year. Vendors will be incentivized to comply with IA-Pre because of changes in the acquisition rules that govern the way CSCO buys commercial services.
“I don’t have any misconceptions that everyone is going to be ready to go on Day One,” he said. As IA-Pre requirements are phased in, Reece said, the incentive to comply will grow, even if costs may be higher.
Reece said CSCO has replaced the Lowest Price Technically Acceptable standard, which drove military acquisition officials to choose the lowest bidder who promised to meet the requirement, with a new Best Value Tradeoff, so higher-priced bids can be accepted if they offer greater value.
“As we implement this into our contracts, and it becomes a preference, and that’s the focus of the trade-off criteria, hopefully that will incentivize industry to get their assessment scheduled and get their assets on the APL,” Reece said.
But by September 2023 the process will no longer be voluntary. Only those on the APL will be able to compete.
Alexander Purves, chief commercial officer with the Providence Access Company, a satellite consultancy, said the extended timeline was understandable in view of the pandemic and the fact that the functions and personnel of CSCO had moved twice as IA-Pre was being developed—from the Defense Information Systems Agency to the Air Force in 2018 and then to Space Force in 2020—all the while developing and managing over 100 major satellite procurements every year.
“I do not see this as a delay in IA-Pre, I see this as a competing number of pressures on the Space Force to do many things with a small team,” he said.
“The third party infrastructure will lag behind and I’m not saying that as a negative. As a practicality, it’s not on the top of their to-do list when the program has not yet been released and when they may not have any direction from their prime contractors or others further up the [supply] chain,” he said.
What Happens If GPS Goes Dark?
By Greg Hadley
What’s in store for an F-35 flying above the Indian Ocean at 35,000 feet if the GPS satellite constellation suddenly goes dark? asked Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) of Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David D. Thompson at a May Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee hearing.
Thompson said pilots are trained to operate in GPS-denied airspace and while there would be certain “mission impact,” those Airmen find their way home. But, Thompson added, “It is perhaps fair to say that we’ve come to rely on [GPS] solely and exclusively and too heavily.”
Just 33 satellites make up the GPS constellation and there is no present plan to replace GPS with an entirely new program.
The Department of the Air Force is working on projects “to augment [GPS], to supplement it, to provide additional means of being able to navigate and position and conduct missions,” Thompson said. Indeed, the entire Pentagon has come to see preserving space-based navigation as essential. “Inside all of the services—especially the Army—they’re looking at a host of technologies and methodologies for positioning and navigation,” Thompson said. “I would say probably inside the Department of Defense, I think we finally have enough people who have woken up to the fact that GPS is the world standard, will remain the world standard for a long time, but we have to be prepared for those who wish to deny us GPS and … be able to fight through that and be effective.”
Several years ago, the Navy made headlines when it brought back “celestial navigation” at the U.S. Naval Academy—navigating by the stars.
But while media coverage of that change mainly focused on the idea of returning to centuries-old navigation methods such as the sextant, Thompson indicated that new methods to complement GPS would still be high-tech.
“They’re developing techniques for celestial navigation automatically without a navigator, a human navigator, required—and frankly, to be able to do it in daylight, when the human eye can’t see stars. There’s technology in that regard,” Thompson said.
“Many years ago, onboard navigation, inertial navigation systems, were the way we conducted business in the ’50s and ’60s before GPS was rampant. It’s time to reinvest in those technologies and those capabilities, I think, to advance them. There’s even techniques that allow systems to measure the magnetic field of the Earth and based on the variations in the Earth’s magnetic field, figure out where you are. … There are a lot of ways to solve this problem.”
In 2020, the Army launched a new office and laboratory dedicated to the modernization of position, navigation, and timing [PNT]. And in 2021, the Air Force’s Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office, alongside the Naval Surface Warfare Center, flight-tested new PNT technologies from open software architectures fused together.
Such moves, Thompson and King agreed, are necessary to build on moving forward.
“Somebody’s got to be thinking about this,” King said. “Because in a conflict, if I’m the adversary, the first thing I’m going to do is try to knock out GPS in order to blind us.”
12 Senators Push to Launch New Space National Guard
By Greg Hadley
Twelve senators are backing legislation to create a Space National Guard, reigniting a debate over how the Space Force will organize its part-time components.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced the Space National Guard Establishment Act on May 10, with four Democrats and six Republicans joining them in co-sponsoring the legislation.
“Without a National Guard component for Space Force, we risk losing many talented individuals who want to keep serving their country and their states after they leave Active duty, and that is simply unacceptable,” Feinstein said in a statement. “Creating a Space Force National Guard would also save money and ensure a smoother process in the event we need to activate personnel. Not establishing a Space National Guard was a mistake when Space Force was created, and this bill will remedy that.”
The bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate Armed Services Committee, which proposed simply changing the name of the Air National Guard to the Air and Space National Guard a year ago.
Those advocating for a Space National Guard argue that Air National Guard units won’t have direct ties to the Space Force and have been “orphaned” as the Air Force got out of the space business.
Brig. Gen. Steven J. Butow, commander of the California Air National Guard, said during a recent virtual Schriever Spacepower Forum hosted by AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies that the SASC proposal to keep space in the Air Guard “fails to recognize the way that we operate.”
People, he said, “are creatures of doctrine, and doctrine comes from lessons learned in the battlespace. … Unity of command, unity of effort—these are very important concepts. … If you don’t own it, you don’t control it.”
Butow said it would be “unfair” to set the Space Force free while at the same time keep one arm tied “behind the Chief of Space Operations’ back because you gave him a less than full complement of capability.”
Whiting: USSF Plans to Add 3 New Intelligence Squadrons
By Amanda Miller
The Space Force plans to add three new intelligence squadrons in the next two years, doubling the number of squadrons in Space Delta 7, said Lt. Gen. Stephen N. Whiting, commander of the service’s Space Operations Command.
In an online discussion hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, Whiting described the advances the Space Force has made in intelligence since becoming an independent military service. The Space Operations Command sits “at the nexus” of the Space Force and the newly re-created U.S. Space Command, Whiting explained. Known as “SpOC,” the command possessses “all the operational capability in the Space Force.”
SpOC leads missions “like space domain awareness, electromagnetic warfare, missile warning, operational-level command and control, defensive cyber capabilities, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, satellite communications, precision, navigation, and timing, orbital warfare,” he said. Adding more intelligence activities would contribute to the command’s priority of being “ISR-led and cyber secure.”
Whiting said intelligence is the area in which the Space Force has made the most progress since its creation in December 2019. “When we stood up the Space Force, we went all around the U.S. Air Force to find all the places that intelligence was being done, either for space or from space, and we brought all of that in, in partnership with the Air Force, and it all transferred over to the Space Force,” Whiting said. The result was Space Delta 7, the command’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance delta, which has detachments that embed within each of the command’s other numbered deltas.
“So if you’re the Delta 4 commander at Buckley [Space Force Base] outside of Denver and you have the global missile warning responsibility, your S-2 function—your intel function—is actually a detachment of that Delta 7. And that major who runs that detachment? … They take their day-to-day direction from Delta 4,” Whiting said.
He said the plan to add three more intelligence squadrons is “all fully funded—all the billets are already in place.” The new squadrons will include a threat analysis squadron, a targeting squadron, and a PED squadron, short for processing, exploitation, and dissemination.
“So we are really getting after the intel requirements that our space warfighters need, and those intel Guardians are just leading the way for us, and we’re very, very proud of what they’ve done.”
Missile Defense Agency Wants Its Own Satellites
By Greg Hadley
May 11, 2022
The Space Development Agency is advancing its plans for missile tracking and warning satellites—and the Missile Defense Agency hopes to add its own satellites to that architecture, as well, the agency’s director told a congressional panel in May.
MDA Director Vice Adm. Jon A. Hill told lawmakers that his agency’s Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS) is intended to work with SDA’s satellites to help track hypersonic and ballistic missiles
HBTSS has “two major roles,” Hill told Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.): “The first is to pick up the dim targets that cannot be seen by the current architecture today. The second is the advanced hypersonic threat, which has a global maneuver capability, we need the ability to see it from space.”
Two prototypes of the HBTSS are scheduled to launch in March 2023, Hill said. “We’ll collect that data as a way to prove out that concept. We did a lot of work on the ground to show that we can extract those hot targets over a warm Earth. Now it’s about getting it into space and pulling that data down,” Hill said.
MDA’s plans for missile tracking are progressing alongside SDA’s work to develop and deploy a “Tracking Layer” as part of its planned multi-use satellite constellation. SDA has already awarded contracts for the initial tranche of satellites. The layer could go live in low-Earth orbit as soon as 2025.
Both the Tracking Layer and the HBTSS are intended for low-Earth orbit. And as SDA is scheduled to transition into the Space Force in October 2022, the three organizations are working together to advance the larger missile tracking mission.
“We’re staying very close to the Space Force as we make decisions on the overall architecture, and our vision is that the HBTSS will be a part of the overall constellation for dealing with that global maneuvering threat,” Hill said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Space Command is eager for all these systems to come onboard, its deputy commander, Lt. Gen. John E. Shaw, told Congress.
“We’re interested in any capabilities that are going to help us with any of these threats,” said Shaw. “And as MDA has pursued this particular program, HBTSS, the advantage of this is that we have a perspective from space that is invaluable and will allow us to get after a lot of these threats.”