Military space programs at risk, experts say

U.S. national security space capabilities, so critical to deployed combat forces and national missile defense, and the supporting industrial base are at a dangerous "tipping point" and need focused leadership and long-term stability in programs and budgets to avoid a crisis, a panel of administration officials and defense space experts warned Tuesday.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry (Trey) Obering, the former director of the Missile Defense Agency, warned that the soaring cost and prolonged development time for new satellites had left the nation with no backup systems to replace any that could be affected by hostile action.

With the anti-satellite capabilities demonstrated by China and others, the space assets so important to U.S. missile defense are "extremely vulnerable," Obering said.

Obering, who was the immediate predecessor to current MDA Director Patrick O'Reilly, and two Pentagon officials advocated reducing the initial capabilities of satellites to get systems in use faster and at lower cost, then build on those capabilities for later models. "Take smaller bites . . . reduce the risk," Obering said.

Steven Miller, a Pentagon cost analyst, said, "We don't have anything in the barn. Assured access [to space] depends on having those systems and the ability to get them into space."

James Miller, the principal undersecretary of defense for policy, said he saw "major challenges and opportunities" in the long-term national security space program. The administration is working on a new space policy, export control changes and a 15-year space budget as steps to improve defense space capabilities, he said.

Noting that the U.S. share of the international space market fell from 73 percent in 1995 to 23 percent in 2005, he said, "We do need to rebuild U.S. leadership in space."

The officials spoke at a Capitol Hill forum held in conjunction with the release of an Aerospace Industry Association report that warned of the fragile condition of the national security space capabilities and industrial base.

The association's report said the space industrial base was at "a tipping point beyond which irreparable harm to our nation's defense and economy could occur." The report advocated leadership and program stability, modernization of the space infrastructure, changes in the export controls that limit U.S. international sales, efforts to sustain and replace a declining space work force and "robust" space research and development programs.

Aerospace Industry Association president Marion Blakey praised the efficiency initiatives and procurement improvements introduced by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the sweeping revision of export controls ordered by President Obama.

Those efforts were supported by the other speakers at the forum, all of whom stressed the importance of space assets to U.S. defenses.

Because the nation is so dependent on space for surveillance, precision navigation and strike, long-range communications and missile warning, James Miller, the undersecretary, said, "it's clear the U.S. has the most to lose" from attacks on space assets. He said the administration was committed to developing the capabilities to deter, defend and, if necessary, defeat threats to U.S. space assets.

While acknowledging the need to invest more on space, he said, "We have to be smart. We're not going to buy our way out of this problem."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.