New Joint Space Center to Play Key Role in Future Acquisitions

By Jon Harper
Military officials attend the joint interagency combined space operations center’s distinguished visitor day.

Military officials attend the joint interagency combined space operations center’s distinguished visitor day.

Experiments being conducted at the new joint interagency combined space operations center will be critical in shaping future U.S. national security space acquisitions, a top Pentagon space official said April 1.

JICSPOC, located at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, became operational in October. The organization is focused on enhancing space defense by experimenting with new technologies and operational concepts. Its missions include: improving data fusion among the Defense Department and the intelligence community; developing, testing, validating and integrating new space system tactics, technologies and procedures; and boosting the U.S. government’s ability to detect, characterize and attribute threating space activity in a timely manner.

“JICSPOC provides DoD and the intelligence community with a robust test and experimentation environment to better integrate our space operations in response to threats and to improve unity of effort among diverse national security space communities,” John C. McNellis, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space, strategic and intelligence systems, said at a breakfast hosted by the Air Force Association in Washington, D.C.

The center was the first operational and organizational construct of the Pentagon’s new third offset strategy, which is intended to exploit cutting edge technologies to maintain U.S. military superiority.

The participants are: the Air Force, the National Reconnaissance Office, U.S. Strategic Command and members of the intelligence community.

The center “provides that field of experimentation to look at the best technologies that we can lay our hands on from across industry,” McNellis said. “Some of those are commercial that we’re looking at. Some are things that have been provided by classic defense industry. Many are combinations of the two. And I see through that experimentation process and the using of the various products that are out there tremendous opportunity for all elements of industry, both large and small, to be able to contribute to this enterprise.”

Lessons learned from these experiments will inform space acquisition strategies, he said.

“Speed is of the essence in this process,” he said. “I think we’re going to see some things coming out of [JICSPOC] relatively rapidly.”

A difficult challenge facing those at the center is being able to fuse and share data from space assets across the Defense Department and the intelligence community. There are currently more than 100 U.S. military and intelligence satellites in orbit providing critical national security capabilities, McNellis noted.

“We certainly have feeds coming from a large number of sources, and we’re able to adjust those and integrate those today,” he said. “I think we will be increasing our ability to do so. It’s not perfect, obviously, at this point. In some cases it’s a bit manual. But I think we’re in good shape for moving forward on that.”

Improving response times is another problem that the center is trying to solve, he said.

The organization is helping develop tactics, techniques and procedures for “actually taking the information from all those feeds, being able to process it … [and] then being able to rapidly reach decisions about what is it we’re seeing and what you could do about it,” McNellis said. “That’s one of the key elements [that] I think comes out of this experimentation phase that we’re seeing out at the JICSPOC right now.”

The Defense Department is pursuing human-machine teaming to increase the speed and effectiveness of U.S. military operations, including in space.

“Some of the lines of experimentation [at JICSPOC] are along the lines of more rapid data fusion, more rapid informing of what are the options,” McNellis said when asked about the role that autonomous systems will play in future space operations. “I think there will still be a human in the loop but much better informed.”

Space is a challenging environment from a situational awareness perspective, he noted. “How do you really know what the other person has done? How do you really know what the appropriate response is?” he said. “I think you’re going to want to have the human involved in that process but be able to do so in a more time effective way.”

The need to push forward with JICSPOC’s efforts is made more urgent the acquisition of more sophisticated counter-space capabilities by potential adversaries, McNellis noted.

“Adversaries are developing kinetic, directed energy and cyber tools with the potential to deny, degrade [or] destroy our capabilities in space,” he said. “The need for vigilance has never been greater.”

Photo Credit: Air Force

Topics: Space

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