General: Space Capability Integral to All Military Operations

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2012 — Space capa­bil­i­ties have become inte­gral to all mil­i­tary oper­a­tions, the com­man­der of Air Force Space Com­mand told reporters here dur­ing a Defense Writ­ers Group break­fast yes­ter­day.

“It’s hard to imag­ine what life was like before we had … GPS pro­vid­ing very accu­rate tar­get­ing capa­bil­i­ty, mil­i­tary satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­vid­ing all the reach-back that’s need­ed, [and] mis­sile warn­ing pro­vid­ing cov­er for our deployed forces,” Air Force Gen. William L. Shel­ton said.

The Air Force launched and main­tains the 24 satel­lites that make up the GPS nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem. The all-weath­er, 24-hour sys­tem was intend­ed for mil­i­tary use, but in 1983 Pres­i­dent Ronald Rea­gan made it freely avail­able to civil­ians, for the pub­lic good, after a Kore­an Air Lines flight car­ry­ing 269 peo­ple was shot down for stray­ing into Sovi­et air­space.

The first GPS satel­lite was launched in 1989, and the 24th in 1994. In 2000, Con­gress autho­rized a mod­ern­iza­tion effort called GPS-III that will improve posi­tion, nav­i­ga­tion and tim­ing ser­vices and add advanced anti-jam capa­bil­i­ties to the con­stel­la­tion.

“The biggest con­cern is that GPS’s sig­nal is a very weak [one],” Shel­ton said. “It’s a spread-spec­trum sig­nal, and it is not dif­fi­cult to jam. … In fact, you can buy [a GPS jam­mer] online, and we’re start­ing to see even crim­i­nal ele­ments use GPS jam­ming to cov­er their tracks. The game afoot here is to con­tin­ue to dri­ve a no-kid­ding adver­sary to high­er pow­ers of their jam­mers. Once you get to a sig­nif­i­cant pow­er lev­el, those are called tar­gets.”

The Air Force is crank­ing up pow­er on the satel­lites to force adver­saries to use high­er-pow­er jam­mers that can then be found and tar­get­ed, Shel­ton said.

“One of the design fea­tures of GPS-III is high­er pow­er,” Shel­ton said, “and we also can do some things with anten­na tech­nol­o­gy and the way we oper­ate our plat­forms to pro­tect our­selves from jam­ming.”

For the Air Force satel­lite effort, space launch — get­ting satel­lites from Earth to orbit — is tru­ly foun­da­tion­al, Shel­ton said. In 2011, the Defense Depart­ment and intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty suc­ceed­ed in all 49 attempts to launch evolved expend­able launch vehi­cles, or EELVs, that car­ried satel­lites into orbit.

The Air Force EELV pro­gram, replac­ing the exist­ing launch fleet with two fam­i­lies of vehi­cles that use com­mon com­po­nents and infra­struc­ture, seeks to make space launch more reli­able and afford­able, the gen­er­al explained.

Unit­ed Launch Alliance, which Shel­ton called “the only sup­pli­er of the full gamut of launch capa­bil­i­ties,” now han­dles space launch­es for the Defense Depart­ment, NASA, and the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty — includ­ing the Nation­al Recon­nais­sance Office, the gov­ern­ment agency that designs, builds, launch­es and main­tains U.S. intel­li­gence satel­lites.

ULA, formed in 2006, is a joint ven­ture by Lock­heed Mar­tin and the Boe­ing Co. that uses Atlas V and Delta II and Delta IV launch vehi­cles to sup­port strate­gic U.S. space ini­tia­tives.

“We are very proud of our suc­cess record in the launch busi­ness, unprece­dent­ed in the his­to­ry of space flight, … but at the same time, with costs spi­ral­ing like they are, we have to take action to reduce the cost,” Shel­ton said.

One action, he said, is to ask ULA to come in with priced options for boost­er cores, or rock­et stages, over three to five years. “Some­where in there,” the gen­er­al added, “we believe there will be a sweet spot for us.”

The oth­er action, Shel­ton said, is to use com­mer­cial ser­vices when­ev­er pos­si­ble, cit­ing mil­i­tary use of wide­band com­mu­ni­ca­tions as an exam­ple.

“If all I’m con­cerned about is vol­umes of data mov­ing around in space and ulti­mate­ly down on the ground, com­mer­cial space knows how to do that very well and very eco­nom­i­cal­ly,” he explained. “If you look at the band­width com­ing back from Afghanistan, some­where in the 70 per­cent to 80 per­cent range is com­mer­cial satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tions. We’ve already proven in war­fare that we can rely on com­mer­cial satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

But the ser­vices must be assured of world­wide capa­bil­i­ty, the gen­er­al said.

“If you tell me where I’m going to fight, it’s easy,” Shel­ton said. “But if I have to pro­tect the capa­bil­i­ty to fight any­where, any time, can I do it com­mer­cial­ly, or do I have to have a ded­i­cat­ed mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ty to do that? Those are all the kinds of things we are explor­ing with the com­mer­cial com­mu­ni­ty.”

Using com­mer­cial space launch ser­vices for nation­al secu­ri­ty satel­lite launch­es is not an option today, he said, because the capa­bil­i­ty doesn’t yet exist in the com­mer­cial world.

“A nation­al secu­ri­ty pay­load on top of a com­mer­cial asset has to be a proven capa­bil­i­ty,” Shel­ton said. “When you’re talk­ing $1 bil­lion for a satel­lite, as well as the nation­al secu­ri­ty capa­bil­i­ty that satel­lite rep­re­sents, as well as how long it would take you to get replace­ment capa­bil­i­ty for that, you just don’t want to take the risk.”

Two U.S. com­mer­cial space com­pa­nies, Orbital Sci­ences Corp. and Space Explo­ration Tech­nolo­gies Corp., have the poten­tial to launch nation­al secu­ri­ty assets.

Orbital, based in Vir­ginia, has deliv­ered or had under con­tract 1,000 satel­lites, launch vehi­cles and oth­er space-relat­ed sys­tems since 1982. The com­pa­ny says it pro­vides full-ser­vice engi­neer­ing, pro­duc­tion and tech­ni­cal ser­vices for NASA, DOD and com­mer­cial and aca­d­e­m­ic space pro­grams, and is sup­ply­ing com­mer­cial car­go resup­ply ser­vices for the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion.

SpaceX, estab­lished in 2002, reports that it has devel­oped two new launch vehi­cles; has a man­i­fest for light, medi­um and heavy-lift space launch­es into 2017; and has received com­mer­cial off-the-shelf fund­ing from NASA to demon­strate deliv­ery and return of car­go to the space sta­tion.

Shel­ton said the Air Force dis­trib­uted a step-by-step guide to cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for nation­al secu­ri­ty launch­es in Octo­ber. Com­mer­cial com­pa­nies, he said, “just need to give us ade­quate insight to [their his­to­ry of] com­mer­cial mis­sions so we can assure our­selves that no cor­ners were cut, that we under­stand their process, the reli­a­bil­i­ty of the com­po­nents [and] their capa­bil­i­ties.”

“Once they’ve proven that with a num­ber of mis­sions,” he added, “they’ll be ready to go.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)