Situational Awareness for the Space Warfighting Age

Colorado Springs, Colo.—Developing situational awareness for a space warfighting era is “one of our top priorities,” Gen. Jay Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command, said at press briefing at the 33rd Space Symposium here on April 6. “Our space intel expertise has not kept pace with emerging threats, so we’re revamping our intelligence approach,” explained Lt. Gen. David Buck, 14th Air Force commander and commander of the Joint Functional Component for Space. “We’re finding that Russia and China particularly have the ability to perform complex on-orbit maneuvers,” Buck said. The problem is the US has been operating with a conceptual architecture developed for a previous space age. “If you are operating in a benign domain, knowing where something is in space is important, and that’s probably all you need,” Raymond said. “And so our SSA capabilities have really grown up around the space catalogue.”

With the reality of expanding adversary capabilities in space, however, “that’s probably not good enough,” Raymond added. Buck insisted that, in contrast to “space traffic management,” space situational awareness (SSA) “gives me attribution, it gives me intent, it gives me knowledge of who’s operating, it gives me knowledge of capabilities.” In this sense, Raymond said, “we do not have the level of SSA that we need today.” Buck said the fifth satellite in the Air Force’s experimental Operationally Responsive Space series, scheduled to launch in July, will provide “another tool in our toolkit” to address the need, but space commanders are actively developing other capabilities as well. “We are domain awareness vacuum cleaners right now,” Buck said. “As a warfighter, I can’t do what I want to do without domain awareness,” he said, and now that principle extends to the domain of space as well.