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Reports Examine U.S. Space-Faring Survival

A consensus is growing among national security experts that the U.S. government's security policies must make space a top priority. If it does not, a space-based Pearl Harbor could be around the corner.

Three commissions share findings about national security in space.

A consensus is growing among national security experts that the U.S. government’s security policies must make space a top priority. If it does not, a space-based Pearl Harbor could be around the corner.

Addressing this challenge may require instilling commercial business practices in military intelligence organizations, consolidating space system activities under a single Defense Department umbrella, and increasing funding to provide the necessary resources for keeping pace with new technologies. At the core of these recommendations is the need for greater national emphasis on space to meet a growing international threat.

The United States’ increasing dependence on space technologies makes its systems attractive targets. Countries and organizations worldwide are pursuing space-related activities that would give adversaries a means to disrupt U.S. space systems by conducting assaults in space and on the ground. The Commission to Assess U.S. National Security Space Management and Organization, also called the space commission, contends that the United States must develop and maintain intelligence collection capabilities and an analysis approach that will enable it to better understand the intentions and motivations, as well as the capabilities, of potentially hostile states and entities.

Intelligence collected from space is essential to U.S. national security. While the U.S. Defense Department and the intelligence community are undertaking programs to replace virtually their entire inventory of satellites over the next decade—a $60 billion endeavor—the space commission believes that organizational and modernization efforts should be stepped up. This effort would include fielding systems that make use of commercial technology, reorganizing the way space assets are managed and giving space capabilities priority in the competition for collection and analytic resources.

The space commission was established by Congress and was chaired by Donald H. Rumsfeld, now the Secretary of Defense. It supports strengthening the country’s ability to collect information about the activities and capabilities of potential adversaries. The commission emphasizes that since the end of the Cold War, the intelligence community increasingly has been facing more complex, large-scope high-priority tasks with fewer human resources and technical advantages. This situation has reduced its ability to provide timely and accurate threat estimates and has increased the possibility of surprise—creating the potential for another Pearl Harbor.

To meet these challenges, the nation must review its approach to intelligence collection from space. Current platforms may not be sufficiently adaptable to meet the quantity and variety of assignments. A more thorough use of commercial technologies is necessary to eliminate vulnerabilities. “To the extent that commercial products, particularly imagery from U.S. commercial remote sensing companies, can meet intelligence needs, these should be incorporated into an overall collection architecture,” the space commission reports.

Other commissions were charged with similar investigations. In the report of the Independent Commission on the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), commissioners question whether military doctrine has evolved to rely so much on intelligence—especially imagery—that it may become unsupportable with current investments. The NIMA commission submits that the need to engage tactical targets precisely without collateral damage or risk to life requires detailed knowledge immediately prior to and immediately following a strike. “The [NIMA] commission echoes the sentiments of Congress with respect to the halting way in which the intelligence community is embracing commercial imagery collection,” the report states.

NIMA must “commercialize” itself. It needs to adopt the business models of the commercial world to move at the speed of innovation. “The speed of the marketplace is the same as the speed of the battlefield—in both, seconds do count,” the report charges.

The National Commission for the Review of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) concurs. Commissioners believe that the NRO’s future will be affected by the degree to which it can exploit the commercial space imagery industry. The national space policy includes commercial space guidelines to promote the development of a competitive U.S. commercial space imagery industry. The goal is to enhance commercial activities and protect security interests.

NRO and NIMA officials have considered how the commercial imagery industry could complement U.S. government collection, analysis and dissemination capabilities, and substantial purchases of commercial imagery have been promised. This has resulted in high expectations from the private sector, which has been disappointed with such purchases to date, calling them relatively insignificant, the report discloses.

“Questions have been raised about the effectiveness of the government’s plan for buying imagery products and services,” NRO evaluators say. Answers will not only affect the government but also have a large impact on the long-term viability of industry. The question is how best to structure government procurement. The commission recommends that the NRO work with NIMA to develop a new acquisition model for commercial imagery that will help create the predictable market necessary for the industry to become a reliable supplier to the U.S. government.

The space commission, recalling history, cited Pearl Harbor, the killing of 241 U.S. Marines in their barracks in Lebanon and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen as targets adversaries have exploited. With the growing dependence on space, U.S. assets in space and on the ground could make equally enticing targets. Consequently, giving space capabilities priority in the competition for funds as well as for collection and analytic resources is crucial.

The last major presidential push for space advancement was the Strategic Defense Initiative program under the Reagan administration. The question is whether the United States will make another aggressive push forward. The report queries, Will the United States be wise enough to act quickly enough to reduce space vulnerability? “We are on notice, but we have not noticed.”

There have been warning signs that proper allocation of resources is a pressing issue. In early 2000, computers in satellite groundstations malfunctioned causing the country to lose information from a number of satellites for several hours. The space commission also cites a report in July of the same year. “The Xinhua news agency reported that China’s military is developing methods and strategies for defeating the U.S. military in a high-tech and space-based future war.”

At present, there is no Defense Department appropriation that identifies and aggregates funding for space programs. According to the space commission, space funding is a part of many appropriations across the Defense Department and intelligence community budgets. The majority of funding for national security space resides in the Air Force and NRO budgets, while the Army and Navy each fund space programs that meet service-specific requirements.

“These multiple appropriations lead to several problems,” the report says. “When satellite programs are funded in one budget and terminals in another, the decentralized arrangement can result in program disconnects and duplication.” Similarly, as the Defense Department undertakes new responsibilities in space, it will spur the development of new systems. “Space capabilities are not funded at a level commensurate with their relative importance,” space commission members relate. “Nor is there a plan in place to build up to the investments needed to modernize existing systems and procure new capabilities. … Providing the Department of Defense and intelligence community with additional resources to accomplish these new missions should be considered as part of U.S. national space policy.” A Defense Department appropriation for space programs is key.

The NIMA commission also advocates stronger leadership support. Because of government reliance on intelligence, commissioners believe that U.S. imagery intelligence cannot continue to sustain requirements without additional resources.

Part of the solution is continuing NIMA’s trend of outsourcing products, largely cartographic to date. More may be necessary, and the NIMA commission’s evaluation points to moving legacy systems and products off site. This would free skilled government staff to work on other projects.

Admitting that resources are only part of the problem, this commission observes that the past administration appears to have been reluctant to request from Congress those resources necessary to fully cure the ills that beset NIMA and to cover the acknowledged fiscal shortfalls. Likewise, a recommendation has been made that the assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communicatons and intelligence and the director of central intelligence (DCI) work with NIMA leadership to seek the means to ensure a functional mission and infrastructure.

Resource investment issues fall across the board. The NRO commission believes that the disappearance of a single large threat has provided a false sense of security, which has diverted the government’s attention from national security issues and, for the NRO, resulted in underinvestment.

Because the NRO responds to both the secretary of defense and the DCI, it is regularly caught between competing requirements. Because of these pressures, the NRO is a strong and persistent advocate for greater resources. However, the commission’s recommendations are focused on balancing competing needs because it is not possible simply to buy a way out of the problem. Leaders must work to achieve this balance, the NRO commissioners agree.

The debate over which customers should have high priority for NRO space reconnaissance capabilities is partly the result of the need to allocate scarce funds, the report explains. “Experience … suggests that certain programs to support tactical military requirements have had increasing difficulty competing for funds within the National Reconnaissance Program (NRP). This is because NRP spending to address those requirements consumes resources appropriated to the National Foreign Intelligence Program. Some believe those requirements should be supported by intelligence funding taken from the Defense Department budget.” In the end, the debate is not about whether the agency should undertake an activity but how the NRO will fund it.

The NRO commission concurs with the space commission that it is time to establish funds within the Defense Department budget itself. This approach would allow the military’s unified command to be directly involved in setting priorities for future space reconnaissance systems.

Adherence to these recommendations will enable the United States to set and achieve priorities as well as sustain its position as the world’s leading space-faring nation, space experts contend. “Presidential leadership and guidance coupled with a more effective interagency process and especially with improved coordination between the Department of Defense and the intelligence community are essential if the nation is to promote and protect its interests in space.”


Government Reorganization May Fortify Space Security

Three commissions are calling for space and national security assets to be better organized to address the future of U.S. defense. These investigative bodies include the Commission to Assess U.S. National Security Space Management and Organization, known as the space commission; the National Commission for the Review of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO); and the Independent Commission on the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA). These commissions agree that certain organizational modifications should be made to address the changing role of space-based defense.

The space commission, chaired by Donald H. Rumsfeld prior to his appointment as secretary of defense, is calling for several organizational and management changes. The commission contends that the U.S. government—in particular, the Defense Department and the intelligence community—is not yet structured or focused to meet the national security needs of the 21st century.

This delegation finds that a new, more comprehensive approach is needed to further U.S. security interests in space, starting from the top with presidential leadership. The commission has unanimously recommended that the president consider designating space as a national security priority. In addition, a presidential space advisory group is key. This advisory body would provide independent advice on developing and employing a long-term strategy and new space capabilities.

“Currently, responsibility and accountability are broadly diffused throughout the government,” the space commission report attests. “The interdependence of the space sectors requires a more concentrated focus on space at the Cabinet level. The distribution of responsibility for space activity among many departments and agencies is less than ideal.”

Present interagency mechanisms cannot adequately address the number and scope of today’s space issues, which continually grow, experts say. An interagency coordination process could provide the focus on the space policy and activity coordination needed. Consequently, the establishment of a senior interagency group for space has been recommended to the president. This group would reside and be staffed within the National Security Council structure.

NRO commission analysis has shown restructuring may be necessary for the organization to get back to its roots and focus more effectively on its mission. “From its beginning, NRO success has been based upon several special attributes,” the NRO report says. These attributes include the personal attention of the president, a closer secretary of defense/director of central intelligence (SECDEF/DCI) partnership, a single director and organization with expertise focused on space reconnaissance on behalf of the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, and a strong cloak of secrecy surrounding its activities.

NRO reviewers contend that these attributes have eroded and that structural change is needed. “A new office should be established that, by recapturing and operating under the NRO’s original attributes, will respond more effectively to technological challenges in space reconnaissance,” they say. Likewise, commissioners favor the creation of an Office of Space Reconnaissance that would be granted special exemptions from standard Defense Department acquisition regulations. The NRO director would supervise the office, but it would operate in secure facilities separate from NRO activities.

The NRO once was heralded as the pre-eminent research, development and acquisition organization in the intelligence world. With some structural change, the commission suggests it can regain ground.

Additional restructuring has been suggested within NIMA. The organization has been working on a future imagery architecture (FIA), but has overlooked the value-adding systems and processes collectively known as TPED—the tasking, processing, exploitation and dissemination of imagery collected by reconnaissance satellites. The NIMA commission believes that the agency currently cannot implement a much needed TPED system successfully.

“In addition to the lack of a common definition of TPED, there is similarly confusion as to the requirements that TPED must satisfy,” the NIMA report reveals. TPED requires stability in definition, scope and funding to establish a common ground from which to implement the capabilities needed to support its users. The assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications and intelligence presented a multiphase view of TPED to the commission that shows the integration of commercial and airborne imagery assets in phases. “If fleshed out, funded and adhered to, the plan seems satisfactory to the commission.”

Acquisition trends are not as satisfactory, however. NIMA’s current acquisition strategy requires the agency to be its own systems integrator. The concern is that NIMA may not have the systems engineering and acquisition experience required to obtain TPED systems. “The imagery TPED program increasingly strains at the fabric of the NIMA organization as a whole. Repairing the problems cited, while necessarily adhering to the schedule imposed by successive generations of imagery satellites—EIS [enhanced imagery system] and then FIA—makes the program far more risky than previously supposed.”

To ensure TPED capability is achieved to maintain the country’s information edge in the 21st century, the NIMA commission has recommended that an Extraordinary Program Office (EPO) be created. This office would consist of the DCI and the SECDEF, and it would be complemented by Congress. The commission also advocates that the office be staffed “beyond ceiling and above pay cap through a heroic partnership among industry, NIMA and the NRO.” The EPO would be responsible for all pre-acquisition, systems engineering and acquisition of imagery TPED from end to end.

It also suggests that TPED itself migrate in structure toward a data-centric, World Wide Web-centric design. Processes would be carried out through Web-enabled database access, with products being pulled from the database or created by servelets, applets and client software.