Space Force not ready to face counterspace threat

A threat to U.S. abilities to function in space spur Space Force to develop new capabilities and change training models.

An emerging threat from foreign adversaries makes the U.S. vulnerable to having its space capabilities disarmed or disabled. It’s a threat the Space Force says it is not ready to counter.  The Defense Department’s newest service still has a way to go before it has the tools to confront counterspace threats.

A new report from the Mitchell Institute’s Charles Galbreath highlighted the Space Force’s weaknesses in counterspace deterrence, and called for a faster acquisition process to get the tools needed to increase the service’s ability to defend against the threat. A counterspace attack could disable satellites, communications and command and control capabilities. The report said the service does not currently have the resources to counter those threats.

“I don’t think any of us are satisfied that what we have resourced and fielded is adequate for the task — not our Guardians themselves or the capabilities that were given to them,”  Maj. Gen. David Miller, the service’s director of operations, training and force development said during an event the Mitchell Institute hosted Monday.

Galbreath’s report said weapons developed by China can disrupt U.S. space systems. It’s a threat model that Miller said Guardians need to be trained to confront, but it will require a new type of training, and a shift in the developmental model for leadership. Because intelligence analysts tend to put the threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in the timeframe of 2027, the Space Force sees that as the deadline for modernizing their counterspace capabilities.

“It speaks to an as-yet defined integration model where we are taking those commercial industry advances as quickly as they come and innovating and then putting them into our operating concepts to fill the gaps. There’s been some progress in this so far,” Miller said. “But I think we have a way to go because we still do not have the baseline testing and training infrastructure we need to develop.”

The technologies required to effectively counter adversaries mounting a counterspace attack are in development, but the Space Force needs to communicate more with industry to get direction on the best ways to move forward.

“The Space Force could make more of a concerted effort to really work with industry so they can point out what that roadmap is and we can appropriately invest our thoughts and energy and dollars to develop the technology that’s required. That would be very helpful,” said Robert Atkin, a vice president at General Atomics.

Fast-tracking new defensive capabilities will also require some risk-taking. Atkin said companies like SpaceX are willing to accept significant failure before achieving success, and that the Space Force needs to change its culture to make risk more acceptable, particularly in the acquisition of new technology.

“We have to change the paradigm to take acceptable risk, to understand the risks and try to make quantum leaps in disruptive capabilities, as opposed to evolutionary changes. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to get there as fast as we can. But we need to have a cultural shift to get those in acquisition to understand that’s what has to happen,” Atkins said.

He warned against a tendency of the individual services to develop technology in parallel and said partnerships would speed the development of new technologies. Personnel exchanges between the services and joint training will help avoid stove-piping technology development, he said.

Guardians will need more in-depth training on the specific equipment used to defend against counterspace activities. Miller said where past training focused on more general knowledge, the future model needs to go deeper into specific technologies. He said it takes Guardians about a year to learn the skills needed for a new position, and until then, they are not effective enough to manage a counterspace threat.

“This is an entire leader development model that the Space Force is changing. And I think that you’ve started to see some of the investments needed. You’re starting to see some of the first development changes needed in order to ensure that we can do it,” he said.

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