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Air Force Space Commander Poses Questions, Looks at Space Defense Issues

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Air Force Space Commander Poses Questions, Looks at Space Defense IssuesCOLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Apr. 13, 2011) — Air Force Space Commander Gen. William Shelton, speaking today at the 27th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs discussed three factors that currently dominate defense thinking about space:

First, reliance on space, especially in the defense arena, which he said had never been higher, citing GPS, weather, secure communications, missile warning, technical intelligence and battlespace awareness.

Second, Shelton said the U.S. has never been more vulnerable in space. Between the increased number of space participants, the growing numbers of small satellites and growing levels of space debris, space assets are increasingly threatened by growing international ASAT capabilities as well as space debris. Space situational awareness is critical; the 20,000 objects now tracked will triple by 2030, and there are 10 times as many dangerous objects as we can now successfully track. Shelton said the Joint Space Operations Command is currently being evaluated and he expects the government to restructure the program going forward and restart projects that are on hold.

Third, despite these first two trends, Shelton said space budgets in future, at best, remain flat and will probably decrease.
Shelton said the question facing defense thinking on space is whether or not there exists an architecture option that provides a means to address all three of these trends. He said the U.S. needs to be able to maintain our current capabilities and meet growing future demand, provide a high degree of passive resiliency, and do so in a cost-effective fashion with a fault-tolerant architecture.

The volume for which the space command is responsible (or at least the portion from GEO on down) is some 73 trillion cubic miles: clearly it is impossible to approach defense or maintenance of capabilities from a strictly traditional perspective. Shelton posed the following questions:How can defense space planners think about this in a useful fashion? Should they pursue strategies involving disaggregation of critical capabilities? Distributed sensors? Hosted payloads? Commercial options? Should planners make use of on orbit storage of spares or operationally responsive space?

In thinking about these problems, Shelton said it may be possible to analyze the trade of space, leaving cost as the independent variable, allowing planners to assess options that meet needs and meet budgetary cost requirements. He said experience shows that neither “getting government out of the way” nor relying exclusively on government can provide all the answers — any likely solution will involve a balance of private and public sector solutions. Some solutions, such as block purchases of launches may be early ways of exploring some of these hybrid solutions going forward.

In summary, Shelton asked if there a nexus between adequate capability, passive resilience and affordable cost; if so, what does it look like and how do we find it?