The U.S. Space Force recently became the 18th member of the U.S. Intelligence Community. During a Wednesday keynote at GEOINT 2022, Deputy Chief of Space Operations for Operations, Cyber, and Nuclear Lt. Gen. G. Chance Saltzman explained why the Space Force is not just a new IC member, but also a vital one.
During a keynote address Wednesday morning at GEOINT 2022, Lt. Gen. B. Chance Saltzman of the U.S. Space Force opened with a joke: “What’s the most under-appreciated aspect of jokes about GPS?” “Timing.”
Space dads everywhere guffawed.
It was a funny introduction to a very serious subject—the use of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) in space to protect U.S. military supremacy on Earth.
“Strategic competitors have tested and are fielding space systems capable of harming U.S. space assets and capabilities,” reported Saltzman, who serves as Space Force deputy chief of space operations for operations, cyber, and nuclear, a position in which he’s observed everything from destructive debris-generating anti-satellite missile tests and RF interference to cyberattacks on space nodes and provocative, on-orbit anti-satellited demonstrations. “Furthermore, these competitors have developed and advanced space-based hybrid capabilities that put our joint force at risk.”
Protecting America’s space-based capabilities and defending U.S. warfighters from those of other countries is the reason the Space Force was established in 2019, according to Saltzman, who said it’s also the reason that Space Force in 2021 became the 18th member of the Intelligence Community (IC)—making it the first new member of the IC since 2006.
“We must continue to make our space-based capabilities more resilient and even more effective, and do so with a sense of urgency,” Saltzman said. “We must not let potential adversaries achieve a strategic advantage in space, or our joint force will struggle to meet military objectives closer to the surface.”
Maintaining space supremacy requires the United States to “examine our current capabilities, our future advances, potential gaps, and our greatest needs,” explained Saltzman, who said space-based commercial ISR data will play an important role in preserving America’s strategic advantage both in space and on the ground.
“We must find ways to meet our bold national security needs and expand our partnerships with the growing sector of commercial GEOINT,” he said. “The Space Force absolutely seeks faster and more effective ways of doing business to leverage the innovation and creativity of that radical-growth commercial space sector.”
Space Force will promote an “expansive, holistic” approach to space-based ISR, according to Saltzman, who said a major goal of Space Force is collaborating with its peers to improve “space-domain awareness” across the IC.
“Historically, we know that ISR from space has taken precedence…Not until very recently have we focused on ISR for space,” explained Saltzman, who said the United States must actively cultivate intelligence about space-based threats in order to prevent and pre-empt them. “To that end, to truly gain space-domain awareness we must have persistence, higher-fidelity sensors, shared data, and the tools to help our partners recognize, analyze, and assess threats…Looking down from space is so important. But with new threats, it’s going to be just as important that we start looking up.”
As it establishes its intelligence organization, Space Force is pursuing five objectives that will drive ISR capabilities and growth, Saltzman said. First, it wants to accelerate its dissemination process to enable fast and easy access to Space Force ISR analysis by decision-makers at all levels. Second, it wants to synchronize ISR operations and processes across the IC and the military services. Third, it wants to advance its ISR expertise through recruitment of top talent. Fourth, it wants to increase partnerships not only with industry, but also with academia, other government agencies, and U.S. partners and allies. Finally, it wants to build “a resilient and effective system of systems” to enable ISR operations.
Of all the ISR outcomes that Space Force will enable through the fulfillment of these and other objectives, perhaps the most impactful will be “attribution,” suggested Saltzman.
“What I mean by [attribution] is the ability to attribute to a specific actor a specific action at a specific time and place,” he said. “I’ve seen firsthand how the ability to attribute activities changes adversary behavior before the activities are even executed. In short, the ability to attribute deters adversaries, or at the very least constrains their behavior.”
The ability to prevent attacks on U.S. space assets by way of attribution can protect U.S. forces in real and significant ways. But it’s just one of many likely scenarios where Space Force can leverage ISR to add value to U.S. national security. As an active and engaged participant in the IC, Saltzman promised that Space Force will be prepared for countless others.
“Our guardians at Space Force stand ready 24/7 to protect America and its interests,” he concluded.