If one thing is clear about the future of war, it is that operations and communications must be connected and integrated.

The military is going about this through a variety of efforts that include concepts such as multi-domain battle – which seeks to integrate operations and coordinate seamlessly across the five domains of war as opposed to the antiquated domain-specific approach to solving problems – and the so-called third offset– the brainchild of Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, which seeks to offset adversarial gains through initiatives such as man-machine teaming and autonomy.

While public remarks on these emerging concepts have hovered at high levels describing mostly visions and what might be in the art of the possible, Work described something called the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC) as the first organizational construct of the third offset.

JICSpOC, which in April was renamed the National Space Defense Center (NSDC) was created at the behest of Work in 2015 at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to “create unity of effort and facilitate information sharing across the national security space enterprise.”

JICSpOC, which in April was renamed the National Space Defense Center (NSDC) was created at the behest of Work in 2015 at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to “create unity of effort and facilitate information sharing across the national security space enterprise.”

“In order to enhance unity of effort between the Department of Defense (DoD) the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and Intelligence Community (IC) space defense efforts, the National Space Defense Center (NSDC) was created as the focal point for operational experimentation and tests leading to enhanced responses to space threats,” Lt. Gen. David Buck, commander, 14th Air Force (Air Forces Strategic) and Joint Functional Component Command for Space, told C4ISRNET in a written response to questions for this article. “Moving forward the NSDC, as a joint center, is responsible for the DoD space defense mission under the direction of U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Functional Component Command for Space.”

Both the Defense and Intelligence Community (NRO with ultimate oversight from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence) operational authorities rest with organizations sourcing them, but, Buck said, “members of the NSDC work collaboratively to ensure planning and execution of their respective missions are synchronized.”

“Because of the NSDC, the NRO is better postured to assure continuation of its mission-critical capabilities in support of national leadership, allies and partners, the Intelligence Community and the Joint Force,” NRO’s director Betty Sapp provided to C4ISRNET in a written response to questions for this article.

Protecting space

Space is considered by many to be the most important capability available in the military essentially enabling every single operation from location, timing to computer operations.

Many officials have also contended that the space domain is becoming more and more contested leading to fears that space assets might be targets of either kinetic or non-kinetic (jamming or spoofing) capabilities.These fears were, in part, what led to the stand up of NSDC, which will provide space situational awareness for the United States. Work described during a speech last year that the U.S. has never had something like this because it’s never needed something like this, saying it’s “the first step in the third offset to start to readdress and to extend our margin of operational superiority.”

China’s test demolition of one of its satellites in 2007 was considered a watershed moment as the thousands of debris hurling around Earth’s orbit at thousands of miles per hour posed a real threat to the amalgam of military and civilian satellites in orbit. Additionally, nations such as China and Russia have heavily invested in anti-satellite capabilities.

The third offset and the future of warfare

With the continued threat to space assets, officials view the NSDC as a critical enabler for warfighters and commanders.

“The NRO provides critical capabilities to enable timely, accurate and actionable intelligence information to decision makers and warfighters. We must be able to assure those mission-critical capabilities continue, even in the face of the threats to space we see today, and those we see coming,” Sapp said. “This is particularly critical in a third offset scenario, where space-based capabilities are absolutely critical to the success of every other warfighting domain.”

As the first organizational construct in the third offset, Buck mentioned the next-generation battle management command and control capabilities – as defined in a Joint Emergent Operational Need under the Enterprise Space Battle Management Command and Control (ESBMC2) program – under the guise of capabilities the NSDC will possess as it applies to the future or multi-domain battle and the third offset strategy.

According to Air Force budget documents released in late May, the Air Force will spend $18.052 million in FY18 to develop Battle Management and Command and Control (BMC2) applications for NSDC. The documents note that the funds, part of FY18 Air Force base budget, will go toward “continue[d] prototyping efforts to develop tools to fill capability gaps uncovered in experimentation.”

NSDC has conducted seven experiments since its creation designed to both inform battle management and command and control system requirements, and prove the case for a unity-of-effort approach in protecting national security space mission capability in the event that conflict were to extend into space, Sapp said.

The budget documents define an Enterprise Space Battle Management Command and Control capability for the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC), as providing a system that allows JFCC Space Battle to meet emerging threats. This system will develop and integrate mission applications which include, but are not limited to, providing the ability to aggregate intelligence data from various user-defined sources and automatically generating alerts, provide an integrated operating picture for radio frequency spectrum inputs, and create an interactive modeling and simulation environment to support training and exercises, collaborative data sharing, and Course of Action (COA) development and assessment,” the documents state.

JSpOC detects, tracks and identifies all artificial objects in orbit conducting planning and executing the JFCC Space mission. NSDC is not intended to replace JSpOC. While space situational awareness capabilities come out of JSpOC, at NSDC’s initial capability, DoD and the intelligence community will start to transition those space situational awareness capabilities to NSDC.

What’s next?

In terms of next steps for NSDC, Buck said NSDC initiated Phase 2a operations on June 20, 2016, which maintained a small cadre of space operations and intelligence experts to conduct day-to-day operations.“These experts,” he said, “ensured that capabilities evolve and expand to complement existing constructs and enable U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Functional Component Command for Space and National Reconnaissance Office missions. Phase 2a provided a limited operational capability, including the ability to respond to an emergent counterspace event.”

Phase 2b, which began in November 2016, involved NSDC assuming increased space situational awareness and indication and warning capabilities, Buck said, adding NSDC is expected perform all assigned space defense missions by January 2018.

Greater specifics, such as dates or timelines for NSDC’s initial and full operational capability, were not available as a spokesman told C4ISRNET JFCC Space can’t offer anything further.

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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