Space is now a military domain and more intelligence is now needed to defend it

The United States has officially established the country’s Space Command and now it wants more intelligence services in order to be an adequate line of defense against threats to U.S. assets in space.

Currently, the U.S. military is still doing the back-end work of reorganizing its forces and resources to accommodate the freshly minted Space Command.

However, President Donald Trump is also intent on establishing a new branch of the U.S. military, which is the Space Force, with Congress.

In light of all the changes and potential additions to the country’s defense system, a topic of debate arises. Particularly, the need for more intelligence services geared towards addressing the needs for space, specifically for the Space Command and the highly likely Space Force.

This issue was discussed by a panel at the AFCEA/INSA Intelligence & National Security Summit on September 5.

“We need to think really hard right now about intelligence for space,” declared Maj. Gen. John E. Shaw, USAF, deputy commander, Air Force Space Command.

Notably, the U.S. intelligence forces are largely guided by the assets it has currently in place on Earth’s orbit. Meanwhile, the Space Command and the Space Force are meant to defend such assets from threast such as satellite-targeting threats.

“Intelligence support for Space Command is a big thing,” Shaw said on Thursday‘s Summit.

For decades, these intelligence forces was the ultimate high ground for national security. Now as we step into a new era where space itself is becoming a military domain, the U.S. military will need new to start investing and developing intelligence sources in defending that new domain.

To put it simply, the satellites the U.S. Department of Defense and other national security agencies have in space provides vital intelligence information, which are used to defend the country, but now we need to provide intelligence services to the Space Command, in order to effectively defend those satellites and other assets as they quickly become targets, threatening national security.

During a panel session with officials from the intelligence community, Shaw said the Air Force Space Command “is looking really hard at how to set up the Space Force for success” and that will require filling a huge demand for intelligence about orbital threats.

“The challenge we’ve been facing at Air Force Space Command is how to make the shift to space as a warfighting domain,” Shaw said. That means preparing for a conflict that may extend to space if anti-satellite weapons were deployed.

Being ready for a Space Force to join the armed services is “not just the organization, but also what are the capabilities that we need to develop, and more importantly, the human factor on the intelligence side,” said Shaw. “We have to grow space professionals for the space domain.”

In the past, it has been known that China tested technologies that allowed it to blast one of its satellites in space. Russia, on the other hand, crashed one of the U.S.’ satellites with one of their defunct satellites.

In the future, the Space Command and the Space Force hopes to be able to prevent and thwart these kinds of events from happening again to any of the U.S. intelligence space satellites. However, how will they do that if there is not an independent or, at least, dedicated intelligence service to provide the space agency vital information to do so.

“We need to think really hard about intelligence for space,” said Shaw. “Where is that intelligence expertise? What are the processes we need to understand what is actually happening in the space environment?”

Shaw said the intelligence community will become a central player in future space operations. He suggested that, in the future, it may become desirable to establish a national space intelligence center, which will solely work under the Space Command and Space Force.

Shaw continued that cyber is and will continue to be a key component of space operations. “Cyber and space are best friends forever. We won’t be able to do things in space with autonomous vehicles without cyber.”

And these capabilities will be essential as adversaries increasingly target U.S. space assets. “We can’t stop them, but we need to understand what adversaries are doing to the space domain, said Tina Harrington, director, Signals Intelligence, National Reconnaissance Office.

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) develops and operates space reconnaissance systems and conducts intelligence-related activities for U.S. national security.

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