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Pentagon Stepping Up Space Protection Efforts

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said the Pentagon has established an “integrated effort” across its entire space architecture to not only make its satellite constellation more resilient to threats but also ensure that the military can perform its mission without them. Credit: U.S. Defense Department photo

WASHINGTON — Less than two weeks after the U.S. Air Force announced a contract to upgrade a satellite-signal jamming system, a senior Defense Department official said the Pentagon is making a concerted effort to bolster its ability to defend U.S. space capabilities while countering those of potential adversaries.

Speaking at the National Press Club here May 7, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said the Pentagon has established an “integrated effort” across its entire space architecture to not only make its satellite constellation more resilient to threats but also ensure that the military can perform its mission without them. “That is a new effort and one that we are devoting resources to newly in this budget,” he said, adding that the effort is long overdue.

“At the same time, we’re looking at making investments in our own capability to deny the use of space against our forces in a conflict,” Carter said. “So both sides of the equation we’re looking at.”

The Air Force’s budget request for 2014 includes $28.7 million for a Space Protection Program, which is described in budget documents as a comprehensive, enterprise-level effort to improve the resilience of its military and intelligence-gathering space systems that includes measures to deter and defend against attacks. That figure represents a significant jump over the 2013 funding request of $10.4 million, according to budget documents, which did not show the appropriated amount for the current year.

Citing recommendations from an “Assessment of National Space Control Capabilities Study” and the effectiveness of the existing Space Protection Program, the budget documents said the Defense Department is expanding the program to meet the evolving threat across the entire national security space enterprise.

Carter emphasized that there are in fact threats to U.S. space systems but was not specific. However, the Pentagon on May 6 released its latest annual report on Chinese military capabilities, which among other things said China is actively investing in counterspace programs.

Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, said the Pentagon is responding to an evolving rather than a specific threat. Speaking to reporters during a May 9 teleconference, she said the space environment has grown more complex in the last decade and that the Pentagon aims to address that not with new investments in protective systems but, rather, by examining near- and long-term measures to make its constellations more resilient.  

These measures range from operating existing constellations differently to adopting new satellite designs and constellation architectures in the future.

“Space, like cyber, is also an area where we also have a large installed base upon which we depend, and we need to figure out either how to defend it or where that is not possible, because of the nature of orbital dynamics and the inherent vulnerability of an object in space, how to operate without it if we need to,” Carter said, according to a transcript of his prepared remarks.  “We are also developing options to counter the space capabilities of potential adversaries.”

Meanwhile, the Air Force has awarded an $11 million contract modification to Harris Government Communication Systems of Palm Bay, Fla., for upgrades to a ground system designed to block signals from an adversary’s communications satellites.

The modifications are to the system known as the Block 10 Counter Communications System increment 1, and will help improve the system’s overall capability, according to an April 26 contract announcement. The Counter Communications Systems is used to disrupt or even shut down an enemy’s ability to command and control its forces and prevent information operations. Five such systems were operational as of late last year, according to an earlier contract announcement.

The change increases the total contract value from $191 million to $203 million, the contract announcement said.

The work, to be performed in Palm Bay, is expected to be completed by July 25, 2014, the contract announcement said.

The Air Force is requesting  $16 million for the Counter Communications System in each of the next three years, according to budget documents. 

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