The US Future in Space
Welcome and Moderator:
Vice President and Director,
Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security,
General William L. Shelton,
US Air Force Space Command
Executive Vice President,
Saab North America
Date: Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Federal News Service
BARRY PAVEL: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Atlantic Council. I’m Barry Pavel, the vice president and director of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security here. Thank you so much for coming, and I’m really thrilled to kick off our commander series event today with General William L. Shelton. He’s the commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command.
This event is important to the Atlantic Council for at least a couple of reasons. First, it really puts into gear some of our increasing work on space issues and the U.S. role in it for defense, and more broadly, be on the lookout for some deliverables from us in the fall on that front. And second, it continues our fantastic commander series that we do, thanks to Saab North America. Thanks to Saab, we’ll be hosting not only this event, but others later in this year, which will feature General Philip Breedlove, the supreme allied commander of Europe, General John Kelly, the commander of Southern Command, General Lloyd Austin, the commander of Central Command, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the chief of Naval Operations. That probably rounds out 2014 for us, but there are even additional commanders on the docket for early in 2015. So we’re really thrilled to continue this partnership with Saab for what should really be a flagship year for this series.
And now, I’d like to welcome Michael Andersson – he’s the executive vice president of Saab North America, who will welcome our featured speaker, General Shelton. Before I do that, though, please know that we are live tweeting this event, as we often do, from the Atlantic Council Scowcroft account – that’s @ACScowcroft, and the hashtag is #ACCommanders. Please follow along with us.
And now, Michael, thank you for representing Saab here today, for being a great partner and for engaging us so much in our work.
MICHAEL ANDERSSON: Thank you, Barry, and good morning, everybody. Again, my name is Michael Andersson; I’m executive vice president of Saab North America. As some of you may know, we have been a very active supporter of the Atlantic Council for many years, and we’ve been the corporate sponsor for the commander series since the very start in 2008.
At times, we get questions – how come you’re such an active supporter of the Atlantic Council? And the answer is quite simple: We both share the same ideals. The first part of Atlantic Council’s vision is working together to secure the future. At Saab, we believe that everyone has the right to feel safe. That is why we work every day to develop products and solutions that helps free and democratic nations to protect and maintain those freedoms.
The Atlantic Council also believes in the need to renew and maintain close relationships with the Atlantic Community to meet future challenges. Against the current political backdrop, this is as relevant as ever before. Saab, as a Swedish company with global presence, fully supports the Swedish government in its effort to strengthen and grow Sweden’s relationships with its Atlantic neighbors, and in particular, the United States.
Saab believes that through dialogue and cooperation between individuals and nations, we strengthen those bonds and promote collective security. We as an industry actively pursue numerous industry partnerships both here in the U.S. as well as in the European community. We believe that these types of business partnerships also act to further strengthen the bonds between people and nations.
Today, we are very excited to have the commander of the U.S. Air Force Space Command, General William Shelton, with us, to give his view on the U.S. future in space – no small topic. General Shelton entered the Air Force in 1975 as a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has served in various assignments, including research and development, testing, space operations and staff work. The general has commanded at squadron, group, wing and a number of Air Force levels and served on the staffs at major command headquarters – Air Force headquarters and the office of the secretary of defense.
Prior to assuming his current position, General Shelton was the assistant vice chief of staff and director of staff, U.S. Air Force at the Pentagon. In his current position as commander of Air Force Space Command, he is responsible for organizing and maintain mission-ready space and cyberspace forces capabilities for North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Strategic Command and other combatant commands around the world.
He oversees the Air Force network operations, manages a global network of satellite command and control and communications, missile warning and space launch facilities. He is also responsible for space system development and acquisition.
He currently leads more than 42,000 professional assigned in 134 locations. That’s very impressive numbers. Please join me in welcoming General William Shelton to the stage. (Applause.)
GENERAL WILLIAM SHELTON: Thank you, Michael.
Well, good morning, everybody; it’s great to be here at the Atlantic Council, and good to have this opportunity to talk to you. Before I begin, I’d like to thank North American Saab – Saab North America, rather, for sponsoring this series, and I’d also like to thank Barry Pavel and the Scowcroft Center team for focusing on space issues. And speaking of space issues, there are plenty of them right now. The new normal of a challenging space environment – a decreasing budget outlook and the potential interruption of our supply of rocket engines from Russia, among many others.
Let’s talk first about the budget, though, and what we’re doing to adjust to a potentially dire fiscal outlook for our space programs. You know, dealing with sequestration – civilian furloughs and various associated budget issues has not been very pleasant over the past couple of years. In a period of dealing with less, I suppose everyone wants to talk about their importance and try to make the case that they are different. And I’ll be no exception. I really believe that operating space forces is fundamentally different than operating combat forces and almost every other military command.
Space forces are foundational to every military operation, from humanitarian to major combat operations. It really doesn’t matter – space has to be there. For the most part, space forces don’t surge. We’re expected to provide vital space capability 24/7. We don’t train for combat and respond to a deployment order like other units.
Space forces are continuously deployed in-place, providing communications, missile warning, navigation, space surveillance and weather services. And unlike other forces, you simply can’t save money by putting satellites we fly into some stand-down sort of state. The same holds true for ground-based sensors we operate. They all must be operated 24/7. There just aren’t operational tempo-lowering cost-saving options – no (RIA ?) stats to turn.
So I think those factors make space forces different, and I think it aptly demonstrates their essentiality, but in a tough budget climate, we’ve had to come up with our share of reductions as part of the overall Air Force reductions. I’m not complaining. It’s just the way things are today.
We shut down a space surveillance asset that quite frankly was our lowest-priority asset, and that saved us $6 million per year. We cut some operationally useful sensor redundancy at our launch bases for another few million dollars per year. We took drastic cuts in our headquarters’ contractor support, and that saved us considerable money, but at the same time, substantially reducing our capability. All told, we cut close to $1 billion from our annual budget in FY ’13 and FY ’14 combined. Needless to say, this was very, very painful, and I still have lots of people mad at me. None of them have to pay the bills, however.
The bottom line on our budget situation is this. We made the needed adjustments in FY ’13 and FY ’14, and FY ’15 right now looks like it will be feasible. But the law of the land is still sequestration for FY ’16 and beyond. Should Congress decide to not grant relief, I don’t know how my command can absorb the mandated reductions.
Remember, this law is an across-the-board cut to every line item appropriation. In the spirit of, misery loves company, sequestration will create huge pressure on space forces as well as the rest of the Air Force and the rest of the Department of Defense, for that matter.
To make it even more challenging, we know people are developing systems designed to counter the advantages we gain by use of our space forces. Our satellites were not built with such threats in mind. In fact, space largely has been a peaceful sanctuary up to this point, and due to the cost of each of these intricate machines we build just enough capability and build it just in time. We don’t build in sparing or battlefield attrition reserves as is the case with other major weapons systems. Think about this: again, space is foundational capability for all military operations yet we don’t really plan for anything but success. Launch failures? Haven’t had one in 72 straight national security launches. Satellites have been living longer than designed so we’ve accidentally gained overlap between father and daughter satellites.
In tough budget times, these factors make it easier to avoid paying for operational reserve that would make us much more resilient to launch failure or premature failure on orbit. But now we have a clear and present danger to contend with, which I believe must change our calculus on resiliency. We must adapt our satellite constellations in response to these growing threats and we have to elevate our game in space situational awareness. And with that decreasing budget in mind, we have to do this affordably. So visualize, if you will, a VIN diagram with three ovals. These three ovals would be required capability, resiliency and affordability. If you put these three ovals together, in the center there where they all overlap I call this the nexus or the sweet spot that we’re aiming for in our future constellations.
So let me put a finer point on this. And I like to us our advanced, extremely high-frequency satellite constellation as an example. This is the constellation the president would use in existential circumstances for the United States to command and control nuclear forces and to ensure continuity of the United States government. The required constellation is four satellites, just enough for worldwide assured coverage. If an adversary were to take out one, just one, satellite in the constellation, a geographic hole is opened and we potentially have a situation where the president can’t communicate with forces in that part of the world.
So we’re looking at a range of options to make this scenario much less probable; for example, disaggregating our constellations for increased flexibility and survivability. Let’s stick with advanced DHF to demonstrate what I mean by disaggregation. On that satellite we have both strategic and tactical communications packages. What if we separated these into – these payloads into two or maybe three satellites to become much more resilient to the one cheap shot? And the added benefit of this conceptual approach is less complexity and less weight on each satellite, which might prove more affordable than our current approach, especially as you consider launch costs.
Other things on our list to consider: hosting payloads on commercial or other government satellites, lowering the cost of complexity of getting capability and capacity into space, leveraging commercial capability such as satellite communications rather than building dedicated military satellites, exploring partnerships with other nations to share the responsibility of sustaining critical space capabilities. We’ve done this already with our wideband global satellite and partnered with Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark and Luxembourg.
I believe we need less complexity and much more flexibility in our constellations, and we’ve got to make decisions soon on our longer-term approaches. Our need date is the mid-2020s for replacements to the current satellite programs of record. With long budgeting and development timelines, we’re looking at decisions in the FY ’17 program, which works through the Pentagon next year. Once again, we need to hit that sweet spot I mentioned earlier: a balance of required capability, resilience and affordability. We have many study efforts underway to determine the best way ahead, and stay tuned for those results in early 2015.
We’re watching carefully as other nations significantly increase their investment in counterspace programs. We absolutely must adjust our approach in response, and the time for those decisions is approaching very rapidly. As we watch the traffic build in space as we see many new entrants into the ranks of space-faring nations, and as we watch these counterspace capabilities becoming more concerning, we have to improve our real-time situational awareness. We’ve got a new architecture approved for SSA and we’re moving out.
The first critical step is our Joint Space Operations Center Emissions System program. This open-architecture, high-performance computing environment will be a several-orders-of-magnitude improvement over our current system. And by the way, the last major upgrade to our current system was in 1994. I think we’re due. JMS will give us as modern sensor data processing capability plus a command-and-control environment for all of our space forces.
We’re also making sensor improvements. We just awarded the contract for the space fence that will be built on Kwajalein Island out in the Western Pacific. This new radar will produce thousands of observations every day, covering almost all orbital inclinations. It will have a much greater sensitivity and an ability to track unscheduled events in space such as threatening satellite maneuvers and rocket body breakups that result in increased orbital debris traffic.
We’ve shipped a converted space launch tracking radar to Western Australia to give us much better near-Earth space situational awareness in the southern hemisphere. And we will send to Australia a DARPA-developed telescope, which is currently in New Mexico. This very capable telescope will do a great job of deep-space surveillance from that unique vantage point in Western Australia.
Finally – and I saved the best for last here – tomorrow we are scheduled to launch our first two Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program satellites. We call them GSSAP. This neighborhood-watched twosome will help protect our precious assets in geosynchronous orbit, plus they will be on the lookout for a nefarious capability other nations might try to place in that critical orbital regime. We will learn a great deal about the geotraffic with the images produced by these two satellites.
GSSAP will also demonstrate enhanced maneuverability activities, which include rendezvous and proximity operations during the developmental and operational test events shortly after launch. Our first space operations squadron at Schriever Air Force Base will then have rendezvous and proximity operations in their toolkit to allow GSAAP to maneuver to get the best possible vantage point for collecting images when required. We will keep flight safety paramount and maintain a safe and responsible distance from the object we’re trying to image. And to answer the question you might be asking in your mind, we do have an inherent – an inherent right to safely maneuver around and monitor potentially threatening satellites. Needless to say, GSSAP represents a big leap forward in our situational awareness at geosynchronous orbit.
So let me wrap up this section on SSA with new data sources and a new system to process the data. Later in this decade we will have truly enhanced our ability to monitor activity in space. And the big payoff: We can transition from a reactive posture in space to becoming much more proactive, predicting space activity and anticipating outcomes.
As I said at the start, there are many issues facing us today in the space business. I’ve only talked about a few but we can certainly address others in a few minutes if you so desire. But the major takeaway: We are dealing with tremendous uncertainty today in Air Force Space Command. Our folks are working extremely hard, without the benefit of a crystal ball, to determine the best approaches that will ensure our vital space assets remain relevant in space, in the space equivalent of anti-access aerial denial adversary capabilities. And we know we won’t have volunteers in other functional areas to hand us extra money. Now, admittedly parochial, but this is important foundational capability for our nation, and as the steward of that capability I’ll continue to put forth the strongest argument I know how to affordably provide required space services in a much more resilient architecture.
I appreciate your attention and I look forward to your questions. Thank you. (Applause.)
MR. PAVEL: Thank you, General, for a very useful overview of a lot of issues. Let me start with what’s in the headlines and on CNN sort of as we speak, the question of sort of Russia’s rocket engines and how the U.S. might get through some of the more worst-case scenarios that officials such as Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin have announced on Twitter and other places.
What’s your sort of overall sense of how the United States, you know, might get through a situation where it certainly seems like the crisis is escalating and that U.S.-Russia relations certainly won’t be getting better anytime in the near future. What kinds of plans are you developing and how do you think – how do you help us think about this?
GEN. SHELTON: Well, this is a hydra-headed monster, in a way. There are several mitigating issues – approaches. We have 15 engines in the – in the country right now. So we’ve got 15 engines that theoretically are within restriction, at least to date. And, oh by the way, there has been no indication other than the comments from minister – Deputy Minister Rogozin there have been no indications that there will be an interruption in the supply coming from Russia. In fact, two engines should be delivered next month and three more should be delivered in October.
But should the worst happen, should we end up with a situation where these – when our supply is cut off or we’re not allowed to use those engines on future launches, we will have to ramp up our production of the Delta 4 rockets. We are continuing to work on certification of Space X to lift the missions that they can lift. We hope to have that certification completed by December. Our schedule shows that – our predicted schedule shows that maybe that won’t occur until the first quarter of calendar year ’15, but if we get everything done in an absolutely green-light schedule, we might be able to get it done by the end of this year.
And that’s what we’re working toward. And by the way, we’re spending about – by the time we’re done, we will probably have spent close to a million dollars – I’m sorry, a hundred million dollars and 136 people engaged in that certification. So there’s a lot of work going on in that piece of it. But it will take us a considerable period of time to get the integration of payloads, the engineering work done required to fly on the Space X rocket, to ramp up production of the Delta 4 is probably a two-to-three-year exercise, for getting the long-lead parts required and the throughput going in the factory.
So this is – this is a real concern to us. And it’s not something that will be cheap. And it’s not something that – we’ll not put our constellations at risk while we’re implementing the mitigation measures.
MR. PAVEL: I see. Thanks very much. I’ll ask a couple of more questions and then we’ll open it up to the audience. And then my second question is one that you know is on my mind. At the Scowcroft Center, one of our key priorities is to sort of address issues that are not yet fully appreciated. They’re coming soon, but not yet here. I sort of think of it as they’re two-to-ten years from the headlines.
And ever since I started here a few years ago, I’ve been thinking that space and our reliance on space, but also our potential vulnerability is an issue that just doesn’t get the attention that it deserves. And the analogy I use is cyberspace, where we have similar reliance – I mean, our entire societies rely on both space and cyberspace – and we have similar vulnerabilities. In cyberspace, for now, it’s an offense-dominant domain where easier to attack and disrupt than to defend. And in space, we also have significant vulnerabilities.
And what I’ve been wondering and what I would like to do is try to understand, why is – why does space not get the attention – the policy attention, the resources – that cyberspace does? Is it just because we haven’t seen a major crisis involving a loss of access to space? And I just wonder how – I’m sure you think about this as well and would love to hear your thoughts on this.
GEN. SHELTON: Yeah. It’s interesting. Space has really become a utility. You plug in, take it for granted, don’t even think about where the services came from. All the people using GPS for navigation, all the cellphones using GPS services, all the financial transactions using the timing signal from GPS – it’s just all – it’s there and it’s taken for granted and it really – it really doesn’t come into people’s thought process at all.
And the interruptions just aren’t there. I mean, you know, if you – if you’ve been following the press, there was a GLONASS – the Russian equivalent of GPS – there was a GLONASS interruption – in fact there have been a couple within the past couple of months. I’m sure that got a lot of people’s attention. You don’t see that with GPS. You just don’t see those interruptions. There are a lot of people working hard to make sure those services are available 24/7. And when you don’t get interruptions you just assume it’s going to be there, just like the power at your house.
So I don’t think we as a country really think much about what the potentials would be, what the – what the ramifications would be should we get serious, sustained interruption of space services. And I hate to think that it would take some sort of galvanizing event to bring that to our consciousness, but that may be – that may be exactly what would be required.
MR. PAVEL: Mmm hmm, I mean, just as a follow up, and this is – I’ve seen this in the press, that some of the potential adversaries in a – in a major conflict that are talked about a lot in the defense press – Russia, China – very clearly in their doctrine is to very early in any potential – in any potential conflict is to go after U.S. space assets. And I think that’s the kind of really scary and consequential wake-up call that we’d love to try to avoid.
GEN. SHELTON: Yeah, as I said in my prepared remarks, we are very dependent on space for military operations. I don’t know that we would know how to fight these days without space capability. So we are going to continue to pay attention to what others are developing and make sure that our satellite services, the capabilities we provide from space, will be there regardless of the circumstances. And it is much like we see in other weapons systems, when an adversary builds a capability to counter your system you develop counters to their counters. So we are going to have to get into that mindset with space systems as well. To this point, as I said, this has been kind of the peaceful sanctuary. It is not anymore.
MR. PAVEL: I see. Let me address one issue that’s related, but broaden it. We do a lot of work here on non-state actors. They’re a growing power because of a number of factors, including the proliferation of technologies, the rise of the global middle class, et cetera. But it’s clear to us that – and we’re calling this a Westphalian-plus world. States aren’t going away, but individuals are getting much more powerful, as are groups. We see the darker side of this with the development of ISIS. But there’s also a lot of positive aspects in the development of technologies that will make our society better, more prosperous, et cetera.
But regarding non-state actors, do you see any – do you spend any time, are you at all concerned about certain non-state threats to U.S. space access or space assets on the negative side? And then on the positive side, I’ve seen some work where it’s getting a lot cheaper to access space, to put something up, to use space. And therefore, you’re going to see a lot – a lot of non-state actors with space assets. And I imagine that changes the game a bit in terms of even your core mission of securing U.S. space assets and deterring and defending against challenges to that. How are you thinking through the non-state actor piece of this?
GEN. SHELTON: Yeah. The – probably the biggest concern for non-state actors is in the cyber domain. You know, it’s still pretty expensive to get into the space business. I mean, it’s real cheap to get into the – into the cyber domain and become a real player. But in terms of launching and having the infrastructure to support a satellite is still very expensive business. So I don’t think the typical non-state actor is going to have that kind of financial resource.
Now, you can buy all sorts of services commercially. Certainly you can buy imagery, you can buy communications capability, those sorts of things. And certainly non-state actors have taken full advantage of that, but having their dedicated asset, having the capability to affect us in space, that’s a different matter.
Now, there are two things that non-state actors can do relatively cheaply and relatively simply, and that is satellite communications jamming and GPS jamming. And those are – those are things that would have consequence, but we have ways of finding those jammers.
MR. PAVEL: I see. Let me ask one more question, and then we’ll open it up to the audience. We also spend a lot of time here on what we call disruptive technologies – biotech, 3-D and 4-D printing, algorithms, robotics and then, in the longer term, quantum computing. And it strikes us that, you know, this is affecting industries and disrupting a lot of them, a lot of different sectors. How might this impact space? What are the revolutionary technologies or technology that you see as potentially being a major advance in how you do your business?
GEN. SHELTON: Additive manufacturing shows tremendous promise in intricate part production in particular. There are – there are items that we put on on rockets, items that we put on satellites, that take considerable time and effort and expense as a result to produce, and additive manufacturing can do this in hours, not days and weeks. So it really has the potential of being revolutionary in – not only in the aerospace industry but in lots of other industries as well.
MR. PAVEL: And there is also a time element, too. There is a time element as well as a cost element too is my understanding. It’s a lot cheaper.
GEN. SHELTON: Absolutely. It’s – you know, time is money when you’re talking about labor costs. And when you can do this with a machine and build an equivalent, if not better, part in much less time, the business case is clear.
MR. PAVEL: I see. Thanks very much.
Now I welcome any questions. Yes, in the – in the far back. And there should be a microphone headed your way. Please identify yourself.
Q: Good morning. Victoria Samson, Secure World Foundation. General, you mentioned the addition of the sea band radar and the SST in Australia and the space fence as all ways in which you’ll be getting your data sources for SSA. I was wondering how you were looking at incorporating sources of SSA data from commercial entities, such as the Space Data Association or AGI’s announcement of their new commercial space operations center. Thank you.
GEN. SHELTON: OK, so the joint space operation mission system that I mentioned will open the window for taking in those kinds of observations from others, sensors from around the world that we don’t – we have literally a hardwired system right now. It expects a certain set of sensors for inputs and cranks the data out on basically eight-hour epics. This will be a real-time capability, bringing in, again, a high-performance computing environment, bringing in these disparate data sources as well. So it really – it really opens up a brand new game in space situational awareness and allows us to take that data that you’re talking about from commercial providers. I mean, they know exactly where their satellites are because they have to – they have to provide the commanding and the tracking of those satellites. So why wouldn’t we take that data in and take advantage of it?
MR. PAVEL: Yes.
Q: Hi, general. Pat Host with Defense Daily. Is there any sort of game plan or strategy within the Air Force to leverage commercial satellite operators for future Air Force ISR needs, especially over the Asia-Pacific?
GEN. SHELTON: There is certainly a consideration of using commercial capability writ large. Now, what we have found is there is not nearly the capacity over that part of the world for commercial means. There is really not that much capacity. And so we are actively looking at that with commercial satellite providers as well. But if you were to look right now at what’s available for us to surge or even have steady state capability, there is just not that much there. But it’s certainly in our trade space.
MR. PAVEL: Do you use the trend – I mean, is your project in that in five to 10 years, there’ll be greater capacity for U.S. – for you to leverage?
GEN. SHELTON: Oh, I think. I think we’re going to see people moving to where there is a market, and I think there is going to be much more of a market there.
MR. PAVEL: I see. Great. Next question. Yes.
Q: Thanks. Patrick Tucker from Defense One. When you talk about various threats to U.S. continued dominance in space, can you speak to the specific biggest threat that you consider – that you watch in terms of our continued access and dominance of space?
GEN. SHELTON: Actually, it ranges from what we would call reversible effects. I talk about jamming and – GPS jamming, satellite communications jamming. It goes into directed energy threats, so lasers that would dazzle an optical sensor to a high-powered laser that would actually be destructive to a satellite to a kinetic anti-satellite weapons all the way up to – probably the least likely but the most troubling, which would be high-altitude nuclear burst, which has prompt effects if you happen to be in the area but sustained effects because of what it does to the Van Allen belts and pumps up the magnetic field around the Earth with charged particles, and eventually, everything in (lower orbit ?) has its electronics fried. So there are just a host of things, from, again, the reversible to the irreversible, that give us great pause.
MR. PAVEL: Thanks very much. Steve Grundman has a question in the second row.
Q: Hi. I’ve Steve Grundman from the Atlantic Council. I wonder if you could put some color or flesh on the idea of a more resilient and, at least by one concept – I’ll call it distributed rather than concentrated constellation of satellites is one of the ways – yeah, 10, 15 years from now, of accommodating to a world in which the space realm is, in fact, contested. Is the crude analogy between mainframes and PCs too crude? Can you just add some color to this idea of a more resilient and I’ll call it distributed architecture?
GEN. SHELTON: Yeah, let me – distributed is a – is a good way to think about it. And I hadn’t thought about it in terms of mainframes versus PCs connected to a server, but maybe that’s not quite such a bad analogy. But let me give you a series of what ifs. So I mentioned advanced DHF (ph), strategic and tactical payloads, integrated today, very complex, big satellite that basically represents a big target for an adversary. Missile warning satellites. We have both a scanning and staring sensor on our missile warning satellites right now, big satellite, very complicated tight integration of that satellite.
So advanced DHF (ph) – separate that into strategic and tactical payloads. You know, get rid of the kind interleaving. Separate those. Put them on different platforms, maybe hosted on other platforms, but it doesn’t represent that one big strategic target. Missile warning – spread out those sensors on a variety of platforms so that you’ve got good infrared coverage of the Earth all the time from various viewing angles. To me, that represents a much more survivable architecture. It’s all about the data at the end of the day, integrating the data on the ground, as opposed to integrating it in space. So I think – I think your analogy is a good one, and I think that’s probably where we will need to head to be survivable in this new normal of a challenged space environment.
MR. PAVEL: Now, when I raised this – I just wanted to follow up briefly – when I was in the Pentagon I’d raised this with sort of one of your predecessors, the strategic commander at the time, STRATCOM. He was sort of saying, well, the launch costs make it – would potentially make it prohibitive. This was years ago, so I’m not holding him to account today. But, you know, would this require more frequent launches, even though the satellites are smaller? And have you sort of done the cost, or has your team done the cost benefit that this sort of will work in terms of fiscal constraints as well?
GEN. SHELTON: Those studies are underway right now, and we’ll figure out what the costs are. But the – what alternative do we have? You know, I mean, we’re – I believe, and I called it a clear and present danger in my prepared remarks, and I believe that’s where we are. I don’t believe we can just continue the status quo, stick our head in the sand and just hope for the best. I don’t think that’s a good strategy at all.
MR. PAVEL: I see.
I had question right there.
Q: Thank you, Dr. Pavel. Sydney Freedberg, General, breakingdefense.com. One of my colleagues asked about the range of threats. It strikes me, especially with, you know, nonstate and, you know, less wealthy states, that a lot of threats to space are from the ground and perhaps are, you know, that low cost of entry hacker or something in the electronic warfare realm, rather than our sort of Cold War image or even recent China image of an actual kinetic or explosive ASAT weapon.
And perhaps conversely, there are ways to move space functions to the ground, to an aerial layer or to a ground layer into other domains to back up, at least allow us to degrade gracefully when space is lost.
So you know, you are a domain commander, but how do threats from other domains figure in your picture, and how are there ways to perhaps back up what you do with other U.S. commands and other domains using other kinds of technology that may not be as – may not have the altitude but may not have the vulnerabilities, either?
GEN. SHELTON: Yeah, a multifaceted question. Let me see if I can handle that without going on and on here.
I – first, I would agree with you that the nonstate actor is going to go after this from a lowest common denominator view, and cyber is probably the one you think of first. And it wouldn’t – it wouldn’t and shouldn’t surprise you that we are doing everything we can to harden our systems to make sure that we’re not vulnerable to the cyberthreat.
Many of our – many of the networks that we use to control space systems are closed networks. There aren’t accesses to the Internet, so you would need some sort of insider capability to get to that. But we are – we are even hardening against the insider threat as well. So we’re making sure, particularly with our new ground systems, that we’re designing information assurance in from the start, and it will be very difficult for somebody to get in and be effective, even from the inside.
In terms of alternatives, I don’t – you know, if we as a nation want to remain a global power, that means we need to have global access. That means at times and places of our choosing, we conduct military operations.
It’s not let me find a fiber head and plug into it. It’s not let me make sure that I’m next to something that gives me RF direct to some sort of feeder that can then go global. That will not work for a global power.
So the terrestrially based alternatives to space capability always leave me with a concept of operations question about what our capability in light of that kind of capability. And let’s get to the point where we’re involved in a major combat operation. That’s going to be challenged environment – a challenged environment. That physical location where you might have to find some terrestrial alternative – I mean, we’re very concerned about these anti-access/aerial denial capabilities that are developing around the world. We can’t even get close, in many cases.
So having global ready 24/7 space capability – I don’t see the substitute for it in the near term, the midterm, and I can’t even conceive of the longer term.
Q: But every – it’s more vulnerable than it has been in the past, U.S. space – (inaudible) – everything else is arguably even more vulnerable.
GEN. SHELTON: I believe that’s true, and I believe that’s part of the challenge for the entire United States military right now.
MR. PAVEL: Sort of a follow-up that combines some of the questions. In terms of sort of wake-up calls, I think that the cyberequivalent, the best one that I can think of, was sort of when Russia used cyber on Estonia in – I think it was roughly 2007 – that triggered a lot of NATO activity, and there’s now a much more robust – although still lots of progress to go in terms of NATO’s cyberdefenses. Is there sort of any – has – what’s the closest equivalent since Sputnik of the need for sort of a more secure approach to securing U.S. space capabilities and access? Or is there just nothing? What – has there any – has there been even a blip that’s been publicly acknowledged that that would be sort of the initial sort of chink in the armor that would suggest that that we need to wake up a little more in terms of space security?
GEN. SHELTON: I think probably the strongest catalyst toward our awareness was the 2007 Chinese ASAT test. I think everyone was stunned not only by the boldness of that particular test but also the technical acumen that it demonstrated. And the intelligence community following that got very serious. And I think there have been some events that have happened since then, in terms of intelligence community collection, in terms of recognition of the problem, that have been very helpful in trying to move this ball forward about resiliency, about the survivability, all those sorts of things.
MR. PAVEL: Could we talk a little bit more about that? I mean, that seems to have had long-lasting and very damaging effects to spacefaring nations’ ability to use space. And then where do you see – that’s sort of part one.
And then – and then obviously China’s a rising power, their economy still going like gangbusters. There’s an arms race going on in Asia, if people haven’t noticed, enormous increases in defense spending across about a half dozen Asian nations. And so while the Asian economy is well-integrated, the Asian security situation is extremely fragile, and I think that’s spurring advances and particularly in China regarding space. So how do you talk about and sort of frame the China – the China space challenge now and certainly going into the future?
GEN. SHELTON: Yeah. If you – if – let me back up to the Chinese ASAT test for just a second. And I mean, that’s a – it’s a – there are – an old weather satellite of theirs that they decided to use as a target – they hit the target at a very high velocity, and it basically explodes the satellite with that much kinetic energy, and that creates pieces of debris small and large.
Our ability to track pieces of – reliably track pieces that – of debris right now is down to about 10 centimeters in size. So – say a soccer ball size is about the best we can reliably track right now.
We know that because of standard physics, F equals MA, a very small size object, even maybe 2 to 3 centimeters in size, at orbital velocities can damage and potentially destroy a fragile satellite.
So we’ve got to get better at our ability to track smaller pieces of debris. That’s what Space Fence is partially about. We’ve got to make sure that other nations understand that generation of debris is just not acceptable for all spacefaring nations, not just for the United States, but for anybody that flies in space. It’s a shared domain. We’ve got to protect the shared domain, and pollution of that domain, if I could use that word, is just not acceptable.
So I think we’ve got to monitor the efforts of other nations, the kinds of things as they’re developing, and have some serious diplomatic engagements at least when they develop things that are harmful to all spacefaring nations.
MR. PAVEL: And then second part was, sort of where do you see the China challenge in – to U.S. space security going forward?
GEN. SHELTON: It’s interesting. As you read the public writings from China, there are some very aggressive statements made. Whether those represent official policy or not is certainly a question, but certainly from some fairly senior people in China, there are indications that they would be very aggressive in use of counterspace technologies.
MR. PAVEL: And in your – so I imagine you’ve had some engagement with your counterpart there. I imagine they raised the U.S. shootdown of the – of the satellite in 2010, as I recall, 2009 or 2010. these are different because the satellite was decaying, et cetera, but can you give us a sort of a flavor, if you can, for the dialogue that you might have had with your Chinese counterpart?
GEN. SHELTON: Actually I haven’t had any dialogue at all. But I would like to talk about the difference between the Chinese test and what we did.
If you recall, that satellite was a National Reconnaissance Office satellite, which had – it failed very early on and had its lifetime supply of hydrazine still on board – toxic hydrazine. Now 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is water, so you could take your chances, or you could take your chances with a bunch of hydrazine, which is lethal, landing in someone’s backyard. And what we decided as a nation is it would be better to take care of this while it was still on orbit and explode – make sure you exploded that hydrazine tank, and then, as those pieces re-entered – and we waited, by the way, until it was very, very close to that re-entry interface – when those pieces re-entered, they came back probably burned up in the upper atmosphere, but anything that survived would be small enough that it wouldn’t create a hazard. So different – totally different objectives for sure, and a different kind of operation because of where we did it in terms of orbital altitude.
MR. PAVEL: I see. And so there was no debris, number one. Number two, it was – as I recall, it was a missile defense capability, an SM-3 fired from a ship?
GEN. SHELTON: It was. And by the way, we stood that capability up very rapidly. Wonderful in terms of technological achievements, wonderful technological achievement, and then we stood it right back down. We have no ASAT capability right now.
MR. PAVEL: I see. Thanks very much.
Q: Thank you so much, sir. I am the Spanish defense attaché. Concerning this GPS satellite system you have mentioned several times, you know that Europe is developing its own satellite system for similar proposals, mainly for communication and navigation, which is called Galileo. What do you think – (inaudible) – about that? Do you think both system – (inaudible)? Do you think both system can support each other? Thank you so much.
GEN. SHELTON: You bet.
Galileo represents an opportunity for Europe and the United States to cooperate. In fact, receivers are already being built that will receive the Galileo signal and the GPS signal and integrate both. So in times of GPS outages or perhaps localized GPS jamming, maybe Galileo gives you different geometries. I – you know, sky’s the limit, really, in terms of using both capabilities. And I think you will see us eventually go to receivers that are both Galileo- and GPS-capable.
MR. PAVEL: Yes, over here.
Q: Hello. I’m Roy Stalby (ph) with Abesent (ph). In your discussion, General, of the RD-180 concerns, one of the things you did not mention was development of a domestic alternative. Is that now off the table?
GEN. SHELTON: Still very much on the table. As a matter of fact, we are trying to determine the best approach if we decide nationally that that’s what we want to do, the best approach to developing a new engine. Would it be totally a government-funded project? Would it be a public-private partnership? What technologies do we need to mature to kick-start this process? Very active right now. And it’s part of the real conundrum we’ve got right now in terms of relationships between Russia and the United States on what that might portend for the RD-180 and what that might necessitate in terms of a new engine development.
MR. PAVEL: If you could sort follow-up with the defense – sort of an industrial base question; I mean, if you could create – not that this is even possible, but if you could sort of outline the desired state of the industrial base for your enterprise, you know, what attributes would it – would it – would it have that it – that you don’t think – that it doesn’t really have now? I mean, in other words, are there sort of – is there a trajectory for the industrial base that you would love to structure incentives to help industry move towards?
GEN. SHELTON: Actually, I think in terms of satellite manufacturing, design, all that, I think we’re actually in pretty good shape. There are actually several representatives here in the room of those technologies, and we don’t have any trouble at all. We lead the world in terms of our ability to product and manufacture absolutely the best satellites on the planet.
In terms of liquid rocket propulsion, however, I think that’s a different animal. That’s probably what spurred your question here. I don’t think we build the best rocket engine in the world. We build good ones, no doubt about it, but the best one in the world I would submit is the RD-180. In terms of the most advanced materials, the most advanced thrust-to-weight ratio, those kinds of things, I think that the RD-180 is the best.
And I would love for us as a nation, just my personal opinion, I would love for us as a nation to regain the lead in liquid rocket propulsion. And I think a hydrocarbon engine to be made available to anybody that wants to buy it would be a government program or a public-private partnership program that would benefit every rocket company in the United States. Anybody that would want to buy this engine could buy it and use it for whatever launch vehicle they wanted to build. So I think that’s where we lag a little bit in terms of our industrial base in this country right now. We need to – we need to get some young folks excited about building rockets.
MR. PAVEL: Yes. Question over there.
Q: Thanks. Patrick Tucker with Defense One again. Can you discuss the use of U.S. infrared satellites in, right now, Ukraine to trace the launch of anti-aircraft rockets from within Ukraine? What’s the sort of case that you’re helping the secretary of state build around where the rocket came from, who launched it, et cetera?
GEN. SHELTON: You have probably read – I’m sure you have read the statements that have been made about our intelligence community assessment that that was an SA-11 missile – that is from a variety of sources – not the least of which is all the social media that’s out there, which is an amazing open source technology any more – open source ability any more to confirm events and try to understand attribution. In terms of the specifics of what our infrared satellites can do, I can’t discuss that, but just trust me when I say they are very good.
MR. PAVEL: (Chuckles.) We had a question in the second row, I believe.
Q: Yeah. I’m curious about the general reaction –
MR. PAVEL: Hold on one second. We’re going to get a microphone to you, please, and if you could identify yourself.
Q: All right. Yes, I am identified as Edith Weeks (sp), and I am a professor of outer space development and space law. And I’m curious about your reaction to the following proposition, all right? Considering the U.S. maintaining its leadership and getting young people excited about various aspects of space – considering the industrial enterprises, such as space mining, advanced space transportation systems, and of course, space habitats – also, considering the role of nonstate actors, such as the increasing influence that groups are having over populations, such as we saw with the Arab Spring and leaders’ sensitivity to those types of phenomena occurring, what would you say, in terms of – as a diplomatic engagement, inviting the world community to take a part in this grand event that I like to call outer space development? What is your feeling on that as a method of U.S. security protecting assets, reducing risks, et cetera? Because what I believe – I believe the United States’ greatest form of power is the ideology – the notion that this is the leader of the free world, the land of equality, opportunity for all, et cetera. What do you think about those ideas?
GEN. SHELTON: Well, I certainly think international engagement in space is a worthy pursuit. What I don’t see right now, either nationally or internationally is that big idea – that big pursuit that captures the imagination of young people everywhere – whether it be a mission to Mars or something different, the lack of having that kind of galvanizing, big idea that would make me, as a young person, decide that I was going to tough it through those engineering classes and be in a position to participate in that kind of program, we just don’t have that.
There seems to be so many other things that have captured the attention – captured the imagination – certainly, financially have captured the attention of the nation. So I lament that, because I grew up in the – in the Mercury-Gemini era and then watched that turn into Apollo and watched that turn into Apollo-Soyuz and watched that turn into Skylab and watched that turn into the space shuttle.
And so, being a space geek myself, that certainly captured my imagination as a seven-year-old boy watching grainy black and white images. There is not that same thing out there today. There are so many competing interests; I just don’t see that that grabs the young folks and makes them want to get past that first calculus class.
MR. PAVEL: Well, we’re essentially out of time. On that question, though, stay tuned. We’re having a conference in the fall – I won’t betray too much of it – called – well, it’ll be about the future of human space exploration. I think curiosity had a really interesting – you know, not quite the galvanizing effect that we saw in the ’60s, but I think it gives me hope that there are possibilities for lending charisma to young people to enter this field, and we’ll be looking at a number of the, you know, options for big ideas at that very conference, so please stay tuned and watch our – watch for our website on that very, very important and interesting question that’s really important for us.
Well, General, thank you so much for your time, for your insights.
GEN. SHELTON: Thank you.
MR. PAVEL: Thank you for being here. (Applause.)