Tenth Anniversary of the Chinese Anti-Satellite (ASAT) MissileTest
January 11, 2017, marks the tenth anniversary of China’s test of an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile against their own weather satellite. On that date in 2007, China provocatively demonstrated their ability to attack satellites in a domain long perceived as “sanctuary”. This action received strong international condemnation and placed the United States and its Allies on notice that our reliance on space for warfighting and intelligence was now at risk. Further, it showed the broader national security community that space could become a battlefield between major powers, making it a critical domain for both defense and deterrence.
Since this ASAT test, the threat has grown. The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) noted in his 2016 Annual Threat Assessment that China and Russia continue to progress in developing weapons systems capable of destroying satellites on orbit. The DNI highlighted that China conducted another ASAT missile test in 2014 and the Russian government recommended a resumption in research and development of an airborne anti-satellite missile to “intercept absolutely everything that flies from space”. Time and distance are no longer on our side against these foreign space threats.
Coincidentally, January 11th is also the 16th anniversary of the Report of the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization, also known as the “Space Commission”. This independent analysis, led by former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld prior to his leadership of the military, is often considered the seminal work in how our space forces should be managed and organized to address the threats the Nation would face. The commission offered near-, mid-, and long-term recommendations. Unfortunately, multiple recommendations were never implemented, and of those that were, numerouswere only partially realized or even undone in the intervening years. Thus, the Nation has been left with a 20th centuryconstruct for managing space in a 21st century threat environment.
To the Department’s credit, its leaders have recently madesome necessary investments in capabilities and a joint space operations center for wargaming to improve our space posture. However, these steps alone will not solve this problem.
It is all too clear to us that the Department is not strategically organized and managed to respond to these threats. Thecurrent DOD structure depends far too much on the individual personalities in key positions to make space a priority and lacks a clear focus for continued US national security space leadership.
The Department’s military space program is conflicted within the services, which have other important priorities for air, naval, and ground forces. The organizations responsible for organizing, training, and equipping our space forces are subsumed within their larger service structures, which canresult in space priorities being given a back-seat and without an empowered leader whose focus is space. The situation is not so different than we found in 1986 for US Special Operations Forces, or even in 1947 with the Army Air Corps, both of which experienced major reorganizations and are now the envy of the world.
Additionally, as the General Accountability Office (GAO) concluded in a recent study of this topic, the space acquisitions, management, and oversight are significantly fragmented within the DOD. Specifically, eight organizations have space acquisition management responsibilities and eleven organizations have space oversight responsibilities. This fragmentation has repeatedly led to lengthy decision making and poor coordination of space programs. These recent GAO observations are not new; a Congressionally-directed independent space study in 2007 rightly stated “no one’s in charge”.
Management changes must be part of a comprehensive solution to our space security challenges. We need to rapidly develop the capabilities to protect and defend our space systems and to deter aggressors from taking a war to space.
The risk of continued inaction is far greater than the loss of a few pricey engineering marvels–rather it is that US space capabilities will not be available to support our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen in harm’s way. As General John E. Hyten, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command stated,without space “you go back to World War II. You go back to industrial age warfare.” We all remember the massive casualty numbers of previous wars, and while satellites do not have mothers and fathers, those who depend on these systems do. Also, unbeknownst to many, space is integral to our economy, transportation systems, agriculture, and even Americans’ everyday lives.
Change will not be easy, and it will be disruptive; however,history tells us that well-considered and worthwhile change benefits us in the end. We have the world’s best military and civilian personnel, alongside the most advanced industry partners, and it is time to put them in a structure to succeed. We look forward to working with our colleagues in Congress and the newly-nominated Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, and his team at the Department of Defense to making lasting changes to DOD’s organization and management of space.
Let this January 11th anniversary serve as a call for bold action to ensure US space leadership long into the future.