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:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


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