New Concept Calls for Coalitions in Space Operations

4/19/2012
By Stew Magnuson
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — U.S forces on the ground, air and sea routinely enter into coalitions with allies. It is time for similar cooperation to exist in space, Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said April 19.
Kehler introduced the "Combined Space Cooperation" concept in a speech at the Space Symposium here.
"Our competitive edge [in space] is eroding," he said. There are more space-faring nations than ever. The U.S. military depends on space systems for essential functions such as navigation and communications. Adversaries see space systems as an Achilles' heel. Meanwhile, there are numerous unintentional and natural threats such as on-orbit collisions that create space junk.
Space situational awareness is not as robust as it could be, Kehler and other Air Force officials have said. Better international cooperation may help the United States and its allies track orbital debris or what adversaries are doing in space, he said.
"Multinational cooperation is a requirement," Kehler said. This concept could also be expanded to solving issues is cyberspace, he added.
STRATCOM is in the beginning stages of studying the new concept, he said. The command will "get on this road and find out if there is any there, there," he said.
If the concept goes forward, he stressed that a cooperative effort would not mean a large investment. He didn't, for example, see a physical infrastructure where the coalition would be co-located. The partners could be connected virtually, he said.
"There are multiple ways we can go forward without creating an investment burden," he said.
Earlier, Air Force Chief of Staff Norton A. Schwartz outlined three of the service's top priorities in an austere budget environment. The service has requested $9.6 billion for space operations and acquisitions in the 2013 budget.
First, was the development and testing of the Space-Based Infrared System. The $950 million requested will fund the continued acquisition on the spacecraft, which will increase the nation's ability to detect missile launches throughout the world.  
"Our program management team continues to streamline schedules and reduce overhead and achieve efficiencies, making possible the ongoing development and future procurement of the SBIRS ... satellites," he said, alluding to the cost overruns and delays the program has suffered in the past.
SBIRS will be a fleet of satellites placed in high and low orbits. The first of the spacecraft was launched in May 2011. The new spacecraft will be able to detect dimmer and shorter duration missile launches, he added.
Schwartz's second priority was maintaining the GPS program and continuing to develop the third-generation satellites. Air Force Space Command Commander Gen. William Shelton told reporters earlier in the week that GPS III will be delayed to about 2016 because of software problems in the ground control segments.
The Advanced-Extremely High Frequency communication satellite is the service's third priority, Schwartz said. The first of these powerful new, jam-resistant satellites reached operational orbit in October after a year-long climb caused by a malfunctioning propulsion system. The second will be launched May 3. The Air Force requested $780 million to continue building the constellation.
Earlier in the conference, Shelton said Space Command will able to continue operating its fleets of satellites with the current budget figures on the table for 2013, but if the cuts were doubled under sequestration, "there would clearly be some constellations that are going to be impacted."

Topics: Space

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