The Space Domain is Congested, Contested, and Competitive

Joseph Rouge, Deputy Director of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, Headquarters, U.S. Space Force, discussed the Space Force’s vital purpose, unique structure, and future promise as it engages with burgeoning ISR activities.

Taking the stage for the first keynote address at USGIF’s 2022 GEOINT Service Day dedicated to the U.S. Air Force and Space Force, Space Force Deputy Director of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Joseph Rouge reflected on his many decades of experience interacting with the space domain.

“For the longest time, we could talk about space as a sanctuary. We can’t do that anymore…it is now congested, contested, and competitive.” This sentiment permeated his talk about the recent history and future of the Space Force’s efforts as it relates to ISR.

From a once far-fetched idea to a full-fledged service, the U.S. Space Force has blossomed into an institutional confirmation of America’s commitment to continuing its mission of protecting all domains for its citizens, its allies, and the larger free world. Space is vital, Rouge said, to both our way of life and the modern way of war. With between seven and 20 trillion U.S. dollars tied annually to space systems, the economic implications are as substantial as the geopolitical ones.

The importance of the space domain intersects with a unique set of physical factors that distinguish it from all others, thus necessitating an independent service. Rouge remarked at the outset of his discussion that “doctrine and the whole way we operate in space is so different than air, that assuming the Air Force could do both forever didn’t make sense.” He noted the air domain is about lift and drag while space is all about velocity. The military identified a need for specialists in “acquisition, engineering, cyberspace, intelligence, and digital software” who focus on space as opposed to air as early as 1982, when Rouge worked on a space strategy for the Air Force. It wasn’t until 2019 that he got his wish and saw the new military service established, focusing on space domain activities.

Importantly for Rouge, it must be recognized that military space activities range from commercial facilitation to combat operations to threat assessment and prevention, with the traditional assignment of related responsibilities between the combatant command (in this case, U.S. Space Command) and the military service. While U.S. Space Command utilizes tools for deterrence, defense, space control, and space operations, the Space Force organizes, trains, and equips those systems and those people, and sponsors different efforts through its commercial and academic partnerships. According to Rouge, the goal is to “enable warfare, commercial, and other operations around the world,” not just act as a fighting institution.

This goal influences the structure of the service. With four headquarters staff directorates and a very lean leadership structure of two four-star generals, the Space Force is set up to enable streamlined operation at a rapid pace.

This holds especially true in the Space Force Directorate of ISR. As the center for space intelligence for the DoD, the Directorate is characterized by three primary roles: the Space Force Senior Intelligence Officer, the Head of the Intelligence Community Element, and the Defense Intelligence Component Head. This staff is presently focused on being the “integrator for all DoD space requirements and figuring out if requirements make sense, doing gap analysis, and telling [others] what to do,” Rouge said.

Rouge asked the audience to view the Space Force ISR Enterprise as an “integrated architecture” seeking to expand its capabilities in scope and scale. This effort begins with the stated intention to expand to 1,500 active ISR officers from the current 1,100 officers. It continued with the stand-up of the National Space Intelligence Center, also known as “Delta 18,” at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, and continues with the instantiating of a Threat Analysis Squadron, a Targeting Squadron, and an Exploitation Squadron. Eventually, the Enterprise will have awareness across all domains as they relate to space and be able to respond to threats where present.

The Space Force is looking forward and seeking to address the nation’s ISR needs in an ever-evolving security environment. As the world becomes increasingly integrated with the space domain, the efforts of the Space Force need to grow in kind. Rouge is aiming to combat growing threats out of Beijing, Moscow, and elsewhere by gearing American forces for the future.

In response to an audience question regarding the Defense Department’s commercial space-based ISR requirements, Rouge noted that about a year prior, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) requested the Space Force take on that identification, integration, and prioritization. The approach the service is taking, however, seeks more to identify needs than specific requirements. Rouge highlighted the former as “what is it that the warfighter really needs to be able to do to meet his mission” whereas the latter is “something you put on a system if you’re going to go build it.” He highlighted the vast research and community engagement the service has put into the effort, as well as the emphasis the service is putting on what can be done leveraging the latest technology.

In his closing remarks, Rouge addressed an often-asked line of inquiry – what about beyond Earth? His response says it all: “Did our charter say that our job was around the Earth? It said space…We have to be ready to operate [beyond].”

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