Joseph Rouge, Space Force’s deputy director of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, provides additional answers to audience questions from the 2022 GEOINT Service Day: Air Force and Space Force event
USGIF received many question cards for Joseph Rouge during his keynote at the 2022 GEOINT Service Day: Air Force and Space Force event. From the stack that remained unasked at the end of his session due to time, our editorial staff curated a selection for this follow-on Q&A.
Can you please give an example of the importance of GEOINT to Space Force operations?
The example I would give is non-Earth imaging. It is a GEOINT capability in which, using satellites, we’re able to look at other satellites to try to determine what they are, what they’re doing, if they’re operating properly, and whatever other information we’re trying to gather. So GEOINT is very important to us in the area that we call “space domain awareness,” which is understanding what’s happening in the space domain or other domains that will affect space.
Can you address the Space Force’s plan to protect the space economy, specifically regarding Active Debris Removal of space junk?
We are approaching that problem in a two-step approach. First is creating policies and rules of behavior that minimize the amount of space junk created in the first place. A good example of the opposite of that is the Chinese, who recently, after launching their new space station modules, left big boosters in space that have crashed down to earth with no control. We don’t do that. If we have a booster or something, we’re going to deliberately bring it down over an uninhabited area like the ocean. So the first part is to mitigate what goes into space and reduce the debris. The second aspect is removal. We, along with NASA and other countries, have been analyzing [this challenge] for decades. We realize that to bring a piece down from space is about 1,000 times harder than it is to put it in space. It’s not like all the debris stays in one place, it spreads out over time. Space debris mitigation is a very hard problem. There are many ideas on how to do it and we’re looking at all those ideas. But there is not yet a policy or a major program charged with that because there just aren’t good solutions, which is why prevention is much better than mitigation or removal. In fact, SpaceX announced publicly that they’ve had to maneuver hundreds of times to avoid running into space debris. We are now at a point where there is so much debris that we want to prevent any more of it because it really does have long-term lasting effects.
How do you see the relationship between or interaction between Space Force and the geospatial intelligence requirements management system run by NGA?
Like any other government entity, we will have requests into them for data, knowledge, or information. We are just like any other user. In other cases, we are going to be the entity that will be executing what goes into that requirements system. We will be providing information back to answer the questions that have been posed to that system. We are on both sides of it—we’re both a client of the system and also a provider to the system.
Can you share your insights for Space Force Commercial ISR needs? Do you foresee DoD developing a Commercial ISR Shop or leveraging NRO’s Commercial Office, or a hybrid approach?
The answer is probably the latter. We do have a commercial services office that is looking at potentially working with commercial ISR providers. Now, they will definitely do that relative to space domain awareness because that’s an area in which we have responsibilities. We have made a big effort to understand the space ISR needs, and at some point, in conjunction with the NRO, NGA, and others, we will look at what’s the right solution set. That could end up being a hybrid of NRO buying certain things, NGA buying certain things, and the Space Force buying other things. But that’ll be a coordinated approach, it will not be us unilaterally deciding we’re going to do something. It’s really a hybrid approach.
You spoke about the “frozen middle” being part of the reason behind the hesitance to rely upon commercial imagery, now that some of the technical challenges (tasking, data delivery, reliance on overseas ground stations and cybersecurity) have been addressed. Given that the Space Force is such a new organization, how “frozen” is the middle? How are you leveraging your newness and digital-first culture to think differently?
We don’t have a middle yet! We haven’t been around long enough, so the frozen middle is not as prominent as it would be in other organizations. This is one of those cases where commercial imagery is something that the space community has gotten more used to over the years. As an example, during much of the war on terrorism, roughly 75% of our satellite communication was coming through commercial. We’ve been using commercial extensively for decades. In the space community, this is not new. In the GEOINT community, commercial is newer. To us, whether it’s commercial or governmental, it doesn’t matter, [we want] whichever can do the job better given all the constraints. So I don’t think we have that problem right now. What we have more of is an educational [challenge] because a lot of people have never dealt with commercial ISR. About two months ago, we had a Reverse Industry Day for space-based ISR, and then two weeks ago, we had a Reverse Industry Day for space domain awareness, where we brought in industry and said to them: Instead of us saying what we need, you tell us what industry can do for us. Because we’re trying not to be so constrained by what we think the solutions are. In a lot of cases, when you write requirements, you write them understanding what you think the solution is. The best example of this is the iPhone—no one wrote a requirement for an iPhone, it evolved. And now, we can’t live without it. We have needs that need to be met, but how they’re met can be very open.
You mentioned during the session that one of the advantages to being a small organization within a small service was that you were empowered to say no when you didn’t have the resources needed. Have there been any requests for your support that you wished you’d have been able to say yes to, and assuming so, what were those?
Every day I have things that I would like to be able to say yes to, but I don’t have to say yes to. What do I mean by that? A good example is as our office has grown, we are not saying a lot of yeses to things like acquisition intelligence, meaning the intelligence required to understand the threat and the targets for our space systems. That didn’t mean we weren’t working on it, but I had to delegate it to other people within the Space Force. I could not manage that from the headquarters the way, for example, the Air Force is able to. As it turns out, that’s worked pretty well. Now, I have some people here who have an expertise, and they can help orchestrate it better. So that’s an example where, had we been bigger, we probably would have taken a much stronger rein on it. And that may or may not be the right answer. Because in the long-term, if you can convince other people, it’s a benefit to them to solve the problem. It’s now their solution, not our solution. Having lower-level people come up with answers is very empowering. And someone is much more likely to take pride in their work if they feel like it was from their own brain.
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