A war game that concluded Sept. 13 allowed the National Reconnaissance Office and U.S. Space Command to test out a new agreement for defending the nation’s spy satellites during a conflict in space.

"Recently we’ve reached an agreement with the NRO that, when a threat is imminent, the NRO will execute direction from U.S. Space Command to take protective and defensive actions to safeguard their space assets,” said Gen. Jay Raymond, the head of both U.S. Space Command and Air Force Space Command. “The Schriever Wargame provides an opportunity for us to exercise our jointly developed space protect and defend [a concept of operations].”

The NRO is charged with acquiring and managing the nation’s spy satellites and gathering satellite imagery for the intelligence community, while U.S. Space Command is the recently reestablished unified combatant command responsible for fighting in space.

In August, Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire explained that the NRO would take orders from the Pentagon regarding their satellites should a conflict extend into space. That announcement breaks a long tradition of strict separation between who controls intelligence community satellites and who controls DoD satellites.

In a joint statement, the NRO and U.S. Space Command said that they were able to demonstrate how that agreement would work during a two-week long Schriever Wargame conducted by Air Force Space Command at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.

"Space Command's mission to protect and defend all U.S. satellites will enhance the survivability of NRO intelligence collection satellites and enable continuation of the national intelligence mission deep into conflict,” said NRO Director Christopher Scolese. “Exercises like the Schriever Wargame provide us an opportunity to test and improve our joint planning process and shared defensive action 'playbook' to preserve assured access to space."

According to the statement, the agreement between the NRO and US Space Command does not constitute a formal command relationship nor does it transfer satellite control authority.

Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.

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