It’s almost hard to believe that last month marked the U.S. Space Force’s second year in operation—especially considering how much the newest military branch has accomplished in such a brief period of time.
So far, Space Force has stood up its headquarters, become the 18th member of the Intelligence Community, established three field commands, and has brought on more than 13,000 personnel. These achievements are only a few of the bullet points on the long list of Space Force wins since its inception in late-2019.
One person who has stood witness to all of the branch’s successes, setbacks, and growing pains – since the very beginning – is U.S. Space Force’s Chief of Space Operations, Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond. Earlier this month, Gen. Raymond joined the Mitchell Institute’s Spacepower Advantage Center of Excellence for a special Schriever Spacepower Forum moderated by Gen. (Ret.) Kevin P. Chilton. During their discussion, Gen. Raymond reflected on the Space Force’s journey thus far and discussed the service’s year-three priorities, which will include a heavy focus on building and implementing a resilient space architecture.
Two years down
Gen. Raymond opened the forum by expressing that – to him – the first two years of Space Force operations have flown by. From major organizational milestones to force design deployments, he is extremely proud of all the branch has accomplished in just two years.
“If you look at the body of work that has been done, it’s pretty incredible,” said Gen. Raymond. “I would have flunked the test if you had told me at the two-year mark we’d have gotten all of this done.”
Notable achievements that he highlighted included the design and operation of Space Force headquarters, as well as standing up the branch’s field commands—Space Operations Command, Space Systems Command, and the Space Training and Readiness Command (STARCOM).
Developing a new capability program was also a priority during Space Force’s first two years. “One of the big discussion points, when we were looking to establish a separate service, was how do you build capability at speed,” explained Gen. Raymond. “How do you get warfighting capabilities in the hands of our operators at tactically relevant timelines?”
“One thing is for certain, if the resilient satellite architecture that Gen. Raymond envisions is to be a reality, the Space Force…is going to need to embrace a network that combines both MILSATCOM and COMSATCOM resources.”
During the past two years, Gen. Raymond learned that the acquisition component of providing warfighting capabilities is just a part of a much bigger process. He explained that in order to effectively and efficiently provide capabilities at speed, the approach must include force design, requirements, acquisition, and testing.
On the force design, requirements, and acquisition fronts, Gen. Raymond expressed that he feels very comfortable with where the Space Force currently stands. He did admit that Space Force’s testing program was not robust – initially – but he happily shared that the service now has a testing program that will fully mature in 2022. “So on the capability development front, I couldn’t be more thrilled with where we are,” said Gen. Raymond.
Gen. Raymond also gave an update on the growth of Space Force’s international partnerships. He shared that he is extremely pleased with how the branch has largely transformed its partnerships from being one-way data sharing to being two-way, operationally-focused data sharing.
He went on to say that Space Force and U.S. allies are now exercising and wargaming together, as well as collaborating to develop tactics, techniques, and procedures that link their operational centers together. Through these partnerships, the service is now in a position to develop new capabilities that will be provided to the warfighter. “I really believe we have an opportunity to bring our international partners and commercial industry more into the fold…going forward,” said Gen. Raymond.
One of the more intriguing updates that Gen. Raymond shared concerned the first budget that the Space Force drafted and submitted on its own. “I think once that budget is released, you’ll see a very bold budget as it relates to space and being able to shift to a more resilient architecture.”
Resiliency a top priority
As for what’s in store for Space Force’s third year of operation, Gen. Raymond believes that, “year three is going to be even more consequential than year two.” One reason why he thinks 2022 will be pivotal is due to the fact that Space Force plans to fully migrate to a resilient space architecture this year.
“We have got to shift the space architecture from a handful of exquisite capabilities that are very hard to defend to a more robust, more resilient architecture by design,” said Gen. Raymond. And according to the General, resiliency is the key factor to deterring U.S. adversaries from denying Space Force capabilities and benefits.
“People ask me all the time about deterrence,” said Gen. Raymond. “We very firmly believe that space can amplify those deterrence messages.” He explained that ensuring the resiliency and readiness of U.S. assets in space would make it extremely difficult for an adversary to deny Space Force’s access to its capabilities and advantages.
“But it’s not just about innovation. Integrating COMSATCOM services into an integrated MILSATCOM and COMSATCOM satellite architecture will have the added bonus of baking resiliency into the military’s networks.”
“We will begin our pivot significantly to a resilient architecture this next year,” said Gen. Raymond. “I will tell you, our first priority is a resilient priority. That’s been the majority of our focus for this year.”
One thing is for certain, if the resilient satellite architecture that Gen. Raymond envisions is to be a reality, the Space Force – and broader Department of Defense (DoD) – is going to need to embrace a network that combines both MILSATCOM and COMSATCOM resources.
An integrated architecture is the key to resiliency
It’s understandable why the military is so laser-focused on resiliency for their networks and satellite communications. Satellite has long been a tactical advantage that our military has over our adversaries, and that tactical advantage only grows as satellite – and the technology it enables – becomes increasingly mission-critical at the tip of the spear.
For years, the DoD’s trusted industry partners in the space and satellite sector have been pushing for the military to move away from purchasing, launching, and managing purpose-built military communications satellites. They’ve been, instead, encouraging the military to leverage commercial capacity to meet its communications requirements – and with good reason.
The commercial space and satellite industries are the innovation leaders in that domain. By embracing commercial satellite capacity for its mission-critical communications requirements, the military is gaining access to the innovative and cutting-edge technologies in which the commercial satellite industry has been investing heavily over the past few decades.
“We will begin our pivot significantly to a resilient architecture this next year. I will tell you, our first priority is a resilient priority. That’s been the majority of our focus for this year.” – Gen. Raymond
But it’s not just about innovation. Integrating COMSATCOM services into an integrated MILSATCOM and COMSATCOM satellite architecture will have the added bonus of baking resiliency into the military’s networks.
There are more than 150 commercial satellites orbiting the Earth in MEO and GEO. By utilizing commercial partners to meet communications requirements, the military can both bake redundancy into their satellite networks, and make it more difficult for adversaries to target satellites for jamming and kinetic attacks.
In a recent interview with the Government Satellite Report, Hughes Defense’s Rick Lober emphasized how commercial satellite capabilities can be game-changers for ensuring resilient military communications and mission assurance.
“Only by being able to switch seamlessly from satellite to satellite can the user be assured of uninterrupted communications,” said Lober. “Being able to switch between satellites in different orbit planes provides greater network resiliency and gives commanders more options to enhance their APACE communications. Having a diversity of satellites allows for optimizing the best solution set while making the network more robust.”
Amit Katti, Principal Engineer at SES GS, echoed Lober’s sentiment in a recent interview about SES GS’ new Common Operational Picture platform, Hydra. “If an adversary denies a satellite – either disables it with a kinetic attack or jams its signal – having the ability to manage and control the network to send traffic around that satellite – either to other available military satellites or commercial satellites – could be the difference between having comms and not having comms.”
Click the video below to watch the Schriever Spacepower Forum in its entirety.