New U.S. satellite architectures for gathering geospatial and signals intelligence are being designed to be more resilient in the face of growing threats from near-peer adversaries, even if that means sacrificing some capability, according to the U.S. defense secretary’s principal intelligence advisor.
In a GEOINT 2016 keynote Monday morning, Marcel Lettre, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, echoed warnings from his colleagues at the Pentagon and in the Intelligence Community that U.S. adversaries are increasingly looking to neutralize the advantages that come with superior space and technological capabilities.
“Deterrence depends on preparedness,” Lettre said. “The blunt reality is we must prepare for adversaries who are willing to fight in every domain, including space.”
In the event that some geospatial intelligence collection capabilities are sacrificed in the name of resiliency, the Defense Department and Intelligence Community will be looking to the commercial sector and allied nations to help fill gaps, Lettre said.
Resiliency also will be a key consideration as the U.S. Air Force designs its next-generation missile warning capability, Lettre said. The service recently completed an analysis of alternatives for the follow on to its Space Based Infrared System and is expected to decide before the end of the year on what the next system will look like.
The Pentagon has devised what it calls a “third offset strategy” to cope with increasingly capable adversaries who are benefiting from the proliferation of advanced technologies. The strategy presents challenges to the GEOINT Community in four key areas, Lettre said.
The first is transforming the GEOINT enterprise. This entails greater use of automation and improving human-to-machine interaction to both speed the delivery of information and provide better insights, as opposed to mere pictures, he said. It also involves greater integration of different types of imagery collected by different platforms—airborne and satellite, for example—and leveraging open-source data, he said.
The second area is resiliency. Unlike the air domain, which was always contested, space for a time had been considered a sanctuary.
“That is no longer the case,” Lettre said. He noted that the Defense Department is investing $5 billion over the next five years to make its constellations more robust, including $2 billion in “space control” measures.
“The Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office have taken lead and are cooperatively working to ensure an integrated approach to resiliency across the enterprise,” Lettre said.
The third area is engagement with commercial partners, Lettre said. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has long relied on commercial imaging satellite operators to help fill gaps in government collection capabilities, but the industry has entered what might be characterized as a new golden age.
Driven in part by Silicon Valley technology, capital, and thinking, entrepreneurial companies are deploying new and innovative capabilities, both in terms of satellites and ground-based data processing capabilities, he noted.
“These advances will prove to be critical enablers for industry users and likely will prove beneficial to the Department of Defense as well,” Lettre said.
Finally, the Defense Department will work to better leverage and integrate the space capabilities of its allies, Lettre said. Given the huge volumes of raw data involved, accomplishing this will require what Lettre called a “federated process” for processing, analyzing, and distributing data among U.S. forces and coalition partners.
“Key to ‘third offset’ is our defense-intelligence capability, particularly the great strengths to be derived from GEOINT,” Lettre said. “And it is therefore imperative to continue the transformation of our GEOINT enterprise, to maintain the nation’s strategic advantage to make our space architectures more resilient and survivable, to harness the full capability of the academic and commercial sectors, and to seamlessly integrate with coalition partners in unprecedented ways.”
Click here to download a PDF transcript of Lettre's GEOINT 2016 keynote remarks.