Space Force Looks at Readiness Through Fresh Eyes

What makes satellites ready for war? Is it their health while on orbit? Is it how their operators prepare? Is it the ability to recover if something goes wrong?

The Space Force is thinking through these questions and more as it figures out how to measure military space readiness, an analysis that will affect how the service trains its members and upgrades its technology.

“A lot of times, readiness is described as preparing to deploy or preparing to accomplish your mission at some point in the future,” Lt. Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, the Space Force’s chief operations officer, told Air Force Magazine on Sept. 11. “You do training, you perform maintenance activities, … so that, if called upon, you can do your mission at a high level. But if you think about it, our space assets are largely doing their wartime mission on a day-to-day basis, and so we have to perpetually be ready.” 

Being able to assess, describe, and report readiness levels will show the Space Force where its resources are falling short, so that it can see where operators need to improve or what new capabilities it should pursue.

Saltzman, who transferred into the Space Force on Aug. 14 after a year as deputy commander of Air Forces Central Command, said identifying the service’s operational struggles will shape the fiscal 2022 budget request.

How exactly to achieve readiness is often discussed in the Pentagon as the military takes its forces, stretched thin by two decades of counter-terrorism war in the Middle East, and tries to bolster them to outpace Russia and China.

Aerospace readiness typically relies on how well aircraft are maintained—a measure that doesn’t translate as well to satellites that are sitting out of reach in orbit.

Col. Clifford Theony, chief of the Space Force’s civil engineer division, argued in a recent piece for the online journal Over the Horizon that as a service that relies on digital networks and software, staying connected is directly tied to readiness.

That means information technology and other kinds of infrastructure must be a higher priority for the Space Force than it has been elsewhere in the Pentagon. Those systems need an uninterrupted power supply, backup generators, and routine maintenance to work as well as possible.

“Infrastructure must be able to adapt and overcome natural and human-made threats and mitigate potential interruptions—the same way the banking and cyber industry build their critical facilities,” he wrote. “For several space mission systems, a one-second disruption of power (or for intense computing environments, a brief cooling interruption) can cause extended mission outages that compromise mission-assurance demands.”

Space Force engineers have started running tests of mission-essential tasks to ensure the service’s infrastructure holds up. For the first time, they are judging the results against a set of performance standards so commanders can tell how prepared their systems are for operations.

“Achieving readiness requires investment in infrastructure that may, on the surface, appear to have no issues,” Theony wrote. “The reality is the current support infrastructure may not meet the mission assurance requirements because there was never a distinct and clear standard.”