Dollars And Sense: Making Sense Of National Security Space

By | May 1, 2003 | Government, Uncategorized

by Carissa Bryce Christensen

Recent world events demonstrate U.S. dependence on space for executing military operations. U.S. national security space spending will dominate the space industry for the immediate future as struggling space companies target growing military and intelligence markets. Good business planning today demands a clear understanding of the recent changes in the U.S. national security space power structure. The most important of these changes are the new roles of the Under Secretary of the Air Force (USecAF) and of Air Force Space Command (AFSPC).

USecAF Peter Teets now serves as a single point of advocacy for national security space capabilities. He is the Defense Department (DoD) Executive Agent (EA) for Space, with DoD-wide authority over the national security space program. The USecAF’s organization has dedicated offices with explicit responsibility for integration of space activities, for definition of future architectures and for acquisition staff support.

The practical meaning of the new EA authority is still being sorted out. There are likely to be de facto limits driven by lack of EA control over funding across services and even within the Air Force, as well as protection of policy prerogatives by the Office of the Defense Secretary.

Despite these uncertainties, the EA has clear power and influence. He is the Milestone Decision Authority over major space system acquisitions; his approval is needed for a program to move from one phase to the next. The organization that actually buys and builds most space systems (the Space and Missile Systems Center within AFSPC) reports directly to the USecAF for acquisition purposes.

The USecAF is also the Director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which builds, launches and operates classified intelligence satellite systems. This dual-hat role is intended to bridge the long-standing gap between the classified and unclassified space worlds.

Increased power and visibility of AFSPC accompany the space focus of the USecAF. The evolving relationship between the Commander, AF Space Command, and the Under Secretary of the Air Force is probably the most critical in the U.S. national security space arena today.

AFSPC organizes, trains and equips space capabilities and forces, providing them as needed to the commanders around the world that actually conduct military operations. AFSPC’s Commander is elevated into a dedicated, four-star position held today by General Lance Lord. AFSPC is reorganized with more responsibility, overseeing both operations and acquisition of the global network of military satellite command and control, communications, missile warning and launch facilities.

The total FY04 national security space budget is in excess of $15 billion. Five major space programs will account for more than $2.5 billion total: procurement of launchers and GPS satellites, R&D for Advanced EHF Milsatcom and SBIRS-High, and the DoD contribution to the tri-agency National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). The balance of national security space spending consists of several dozen smaller procurements of space hardware, about $300 million in Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency aerospace programs, other R&D, classified programs, and costs for operating and using existing space systems.

While not large in absolute dollars, a few military space activities are likely to be so influential they are worth highlighting. Space control activities will expand, with enhanced surveillance and pursuit of defensive and offensive capabilities. There is active and persistent interest in small vehicles as a source of operationally responsive space lift, creating a corresponding need for quick-turnaround small payloads. DoD users will continue to consume a growing chunk of commercial satellite bandwidth, for purposes ranging from routine communication to unmanned aerial vehicle data transmission. And, of course, beyond the national security space budget is $9 billion in FY04 spending, with out-year growth expected, for the ongoing development of ballistic missile defense systems.

National security space does seem to have been elevated to a level of visibility and focus within the U.S. government that is unprecedented. In part this is because of reorganizations, and in part it is because many of the key players (including Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, USecAF Teets, and General Lord) are by design or by serendipity long- time space professionals or space advocates.

As a consequence, long-anticipated programs such as Space-based Infrared System and space-based radar are going forward, and established programs such as Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles appear stable for the future despite ongoing cost concerns.

Substantial military and intelligence space spending on operations, research, and acquisition programs will continue in the long term because space is so deeply enmeshed in U.S. national security. Recent organizational changes will have a lasting effect on national security space decision making and leadership. The bottom line is that understanding the national security space establishment is vital to the success of all space companies today, and for the foreseeable future.

Carissa Bryce Christensen is a founder and managing partner of the Tauri Group, an analytical consulting firm in Alexandria, VA. The Tauri Group delivers systems analysis for the space enterprise, technology assessment for weapons of mass destruction threat reduction and strategic IT support.

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