Leading the New Space Race

A rare confluence of events has conspired to make a national priority out of the Pentagon's deployment of advanced communications and surveillance systems in space. The way some defense experts see it, U.S. military control of such space-based systems will be as vital in the information age as U.S. shipyards and factories were in manufacturing the "arsenal of democracy."

At least, that was the conclusion reached earlier this year by the congressionally mandated U.S. Space Commission. As one example of the United States' growing dependence on space-based communications, the commission pointed to the rapid proliferation over the past decade of global positioning satellite systems for everything from advanced weapons and military aircraft to cars and recreational boats. The chairman of the commission was none other than Donald Rumsfeld, now the Defense Secretary. That puts Rumsfeld in the unique position of being able to push through the recommendations of his own recent commissions on space and missile defense, both of which argue for a far more aggressive exploitation of space. Any doubts that Rumsfeld would follow through on the commissions' recommendations were largely dispelled by a Pentagon briefing paper listing his top five priorities, which include modernizing command, control, communications and space capabilities; deploying a missile defense system; and transforming the military with new technologies-many of which use space-based electronics and communications systems.

That's good news for U.S. satellite makers. According to the Space Commission's report, the Defense Department and the CIA will need to replace virtually their entire inventories of satellites over the next decade or so, at an estimated cost of more than $60 billion. The top priority is the Space-Based Infra-Red System-Low (SBIRS-Low) program, which is designed to replace the Pentagon's aging constellation of satellites that give early warnings of missile launches worldwide. Congress appropriated $241 million for the SBIRS-Low program in fiscal 2001. Current plans call for launching a 24-satellite array beginning in 2006.

This year, Congress also has appropriated $412 million for upgrading the Boeing and Lockheed Martin Navstar global positioning satellite system, and $23 million for Lockheed Martin's Milstar secure military communications satellites. The space-based radar demonstration program, known as Discover II, is another favorite of Rumsfeld's commission, and remains the No. 1 technology investment priority of the U.S. Space Command.

If successful, these radars-in-orbit could provide an unprecedented, all-weather surveillance capability for U.S. military commanders around the globe. That would greatly improve their "situational awareness" of a battlefield by tracking both fixed and moving targets from space. Congress killed the program last year, but Rumsfeld wants to revive it.

The information that military commanders already gain from space continues to lift the "fog of war" to an unprecedented degree. During the 1999 air war over Kosovo, for example, U.S. commanders were able to transfer satellite surveillance and intelligence information directly into the cockpits of long-range bombers in the air, including information on threats, targets and positions of friendly aircraft. "Space-based capabilities are largely what distinguishes America as the sole remaining superpower," says John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a think tank in northern Virginia. "Although many potential adversaries have armies, navies and air forces, none approaches the U.S. military in their use of space for secure communications, surveillance, navigation, intelligence-gathering and missile warning."

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 GovExec.com.
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.