Work: U.S. Must Demonstrate Ability to Fight in Space (UPDATED)


In order to deter potential adversaries, the U.S. military must demonstrate its ability to wage war in the space realm, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said June 23 in a speech in Washington, D.C.

The problem is doing so in a time of restrained defense budgets, he said at the GeoInt Symposium.

Russia and China have found a gap that they can exploit in the unlikely event that they would find themselves in a shooting war with the United States, and that is space, he said. It is a potentially vulnerable center of gravity of U.S. power, he added.

"Obviously, we need to do something about this," he said. The first order of business is to make space systems more resilient, "If we fail to do this, the implications for national security will be quite profound."

Command and control, the ability to detect adversaries' ballistic missile launches, accuracy of precision guided munitions, communication links and nearly all intelligence data would all be held at risk, he said. President Obama has tasked the Defense Department with making sure this never happens, he added.

The two principles that the military must deter when it can and fight when it must come into play, he said. "We cannot credibly deter conflict if we are not prepared to fight, and we are not demonstrating our capability to win. And that means we must be prepared now to prevail in conflicts that extend into space," Work said.

Work said within the next six months the Defense Department and the intelligence community, which includes the National Reconnaissance Office, will set up an inter-agency space operations center.

“We are going to develop the tactics techniques and procedures  …. that would allow us to fight the architecture and protect it while it is under attack,” he said. “That is our highest priority and I think where we will get the highest payoff,” he said.

The secretary of the Air Force, currently Deborah Lee James, will also get more power over space matters, he said. Space capabilities are spread out among all the services, he noted. The secretary is the executive agent for space and presides over the Defense Space Council, which is an organization that relies on consensus. The idea is to empower that position as the “principle space adviser to the secretary of defense,” who can give advice independent of the council. 

The military and intelligence community have to work together to come up with new space doctrine, he said. They will need better warning against attacks on their respective systems. They must also develop more resilient architectures, including command centers that will allow them to fight through attacks.

"And together we must make sure that we counter adversaries' space capabilities, especially their [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] and their space-enabled precision strike," he said.

"Our post Cold War budget cuts are limiting our own ability to make technical investments," he added.

Beginning in the 2016 budget, about $5 billion will be shifted from other accounts to invest in intelligence and defense space communities' defensive and offensive capabilities, he said. "That doesn't sound like a lot, but in this budget environment, that was a big, big, muscle move," Work said. A goal of a new space strategic review being worked on is to find out if even more money will have to be invested, he added.

As for the budget climate, Work said he is more optimistic that sequestration will not return in 2016. "Three or four months ago I would have said, 'Man, I think we are headed for sequestration. I just don't see how we de-trigger it." But over the course of the last several months, things have changed," Work said.

One reason is the strong veto threat President Obama has made to Congress. He said he will not accept sequestration levels in any of the appropriation bills for the full year, and would not decouple non-defense discretionary [funding] from defense. "They both have to rise because sequestration levels hurt our nation in different ways." Congress can't simply give the Defense Department more money without doing the same for other agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, State, FBI or other parts of national security outside the military, he added.

The Defense Department needs long term budget stability. "Budget instability is killing us," he said. "We are simply unable to make big moves because we are afraid to, quite frankly."

Indications are that both the Senate and the House would have the votes to sustain the veto, which might force Republicans and Democrats in both chambers to come together to make a deal, Work said.
Update: Story adds paragraphs about joint operations space center and the executive agent for space.

Topics: Space

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