Space is a war fighting domain and there hasn’t been a single panel or discussion about military space in the past year where that phrase has failed to be uttered.
That’s because American assets in space, from the position, navigation and timing signal provided by GPS satellites to early warning missile detection satellites, are increasingly seen as targets by adversaries. Increasingly the military is looking to protect those assets and the nation’s space capabilities.
A major part of that work will be developing intelligence for the space domain, said Maj. Gen. John E. Shaw, deputy commander of the Air Force Space Command, He was speaking at the Intelligence and National Security Summit Sept. 5. While in the past the military has been focused on what intelligence leaders can gather from space, the future will require the military to think about what intelligence it can gather about the space domain.
“We need to think really really hard now about intelligence for space. Where is that intelligence expertise, the processes, the capabilities that we have to understand what’s actually happening in the space environment to support Gen. [Jay] Raymond in his capacity at U.S. Space Command for a potential war that may extend to space,” Shaw said.
Part of that shift will require developing personnel who can understand and analyze data about the space domain.
“We are going to have to grow intelligence professionals for the space domain that support operational and foundational intelligence for a potential war that extends to space. That’s going to be a major focus for us,” he said.
In the future, he said, that need for information could lead to the development of a National Space Intelligence Center, but in the meantime the military will likely bolster current efforts at the National Space Defense Center and other existing organizations.
“In the near to mid-term a Space Force is probably going to leverage what’s at [National Air and Space Intel Center] already. It’s possible —possible — that in the future there is a separate national space intelligence center,” he said.
“I am fond of saying that I think that some of the best experts we have in intel for space are at NASIC and at Wright-Patterson in the space squadrons there,” Shaw added. “I mean, every time I go there I am just wowed by the things that they understand and are doing. We just need to, I think, scale that up. And it’s mostly foundational. It needs to translate into the operational intelligence support.”
Shaw added that the Air Force has made its own strides on building more space-minded intelligence officers. In the last two years, their space training course for intel officers has expanded from two to five weeks. Those efforts will only continue to grow with the establishment of a separate Space Force, said Shaw, which will oversee the training of its own intelligence officers.
All of this is essential to protecting American military satellites in orbit.
“We have to have capabilities to protect and defend otherwise vulnerable capabilities in orbit,” explained Shaw. “You have to have, as I mentioned, the space domain awareness to understand what’s going on in space, and it cannot be at a tempo that doesn’t operate at the speed of war.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this organization incorrectly identified which organization Shaw was referring to. The correct organization is the National Air and Space Intel Center.
Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.