USSPACECOM, USSF leaders tout partners as ‘game changers’ to address space threats

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  • U.S. Space Command Public Affairs
U.S. Space Force Lt. Gen. Douglas Schiess, U.S. Space Forces – Space commander; and U.S. Space Command’s Combined Joint Force Space Component commander, joined the Space Order of Battle panel along with USSF Lt. Gen. DeAnna Burt, deputy chief of Space Operations for Operations, Cyber and Nuclear; and USSF Maj. Gen. Gregory Gagnon, deputy chief of Space Operations for Intelligence, at the Air and Space Forces Association’s Warfare Symposium, Feb. 13.

During the discussion, moderated by retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, panelists emphasized the growing threats in the space domain from competitors like China and Russia who have demonstrated dual use capabilities and a wartime space architecture that could put the joint force and its allies and partners at risk.

“This is the domain that people are now concerned about. It is no longer this benign domain, I’m not sure it ever really was. But we have to be prepared (for) all those threats,” Schiess said.

Gagnon specifically highlighted two areas he thinks the People’s Republic of China is focused on, removing USSPACECOM’s ability to support the joint force from space and growing PRC space capabilities to compete with the U.S. capabilities “that we have all grown accustomed to, to make us the most lethal military in the world.”

While the United States has approximately 9,000 satellites in space, 70% of them are communication satellites to “connect the world,” Gagnon said. He compared this with the PRC, who has approximately 900 satellites, of which over half are remote sensing satellites designed to “find, fix and track joint forces in the western Pacific.”

To best meet these challenges, the USSF recently activated S4S to ensure the most efficient presentation of forces to USSPACECOM. In his role as the C/JFSCC and S4S commander, Schiess acknowledged he has three lines of effort: protecting the joint force from space-enabled attacks, defending space systems, and delivering space capabilities to the joint force.

"Our joint force is architected and grown on the effect that they are going to have space to do their job, and so, we can't allow that they don't have that,” Schiess said. “We have to protect, we have to defend, and we deliver. And that means that we have to have those capabilities.”

Burt said that part of the solution is to make it harder for an adversary to take away or eliminate the joint force’s access to space capabilities through proliferation and resiliency.

“You impose cost upon (adversaries) to have more capability and magazine depth to try to take that capability away from the joint force,” Burt said. “By diversifying constellations in different orbits, you get different capabilities.”

Gagnon explained this as “disincentivizing first mover advantage” so that an adversary does not have the opportunity for a “knockout punch.”

The USSF has demonstrated numerous capabilities to mitigate threats, one of its recent examples is the VICTUS NOX mission, which demonstrated the USSF’s ability to execute Tactically Responsive Space, or TacRS.

Schiess explained that the concept of TacRS is to give the component commander the ability to rapidly reconstitute space assets and allow the USSPACECOM commander to plan and react quickly, should they need to.

“What do we have out there that we can put up very quickly, one, to send a message to our adversaries that we're watching, and that we're aware of what they're doing,” Schiess said. “And here's our capability to get after that, but also get something up there as fast as possible.”

As competitors continue to develop advanced capabilities, the USSF needs to adapt and continue developing advanced tactics and advanced operations in space, Gagnon said. He explained how the USSF’s X-37B spaceplane, on its seventh mission, is getting after further understanding the space environment through space domain awareness experiments.

“Space defense starts with space awareness,” Gagnon said while also emphasizing the significant role international partners play in improving and increasing SDA.

“Although we have the best space domain awareness today … we will be even better with our partners, because we are stronger together,” Gagnon stated.

Schiess expanded on the “exquisite capabilities” partners provide, including commercial partners in the Commercial Integration Cell at the Combined Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. He acknowledged the power of the 10 current companies, but added, “10 is not enough … we have to expand the commercial integration.”

He also addressed the progress across the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office and USSPACECOM to jointly share threat information and conduct other measures to avoid or reduce harm to commercial satellites from potential threats through the Commercial Space Protection Tri-Seal Strategic Framework.

“Now we are on (the) hook from U.S. Space Command to provide threat warnings to them, to provide information, but we also get something back from (commercial partners),” Schiess said. “Sometimes they may have some information that we may not have, because of the capabilities that they have on orbit.”

As USSPACECOM continues to grow allies and partners, Chilton noted, “no doubt our great allies and partners give the Chinese pause.”