Whether it’s satellite communication, position, navigation or timing data or targeting data, Army leaders knows space capabilities can make their job easier.
But while the Air Force, Navy and intelligence community operate satellites in space, what is the Army’s role in the fourth domain?
“At the end of the day, probably the least most advantageous thing would be the Army trying to build its own satellite to be able to put in space,” Brig. Gen. Robert Collins, head of the Army’s program executive office of Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors, said during an Aug. 16 media day. “We are looking to leverage what’s already out there.”
For Collins, the Army’s focus on space is using the tools developed and maintained by other agencies, such as the Air Force’s GPS for position, navigation and timing data, or looking to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to provide detailed mapping data. To do that, the Army wants a ground station capable of receiving data from all of the space assets held by other agencies.
“What we work on is the ground station, or the catcher’s mitt, to collect what’s in space,” Collins said.
“My ground station, I’ve almost looked at it like a LEGO, right?” Collins said. “I’ve got a base building block that my user interacts with, but it can be built on. Depending on commercial capability, I can tie into that. If [the National Reconnaissance Office] or NGA have things, I can tie into that.”
To take all that data and make it useful, Collins’ office is continuing development of Distributed Common Ground System–Army, a software platform that can layer intelligence data on maps to give war fighters a view of the battlefield or quickly pick out a safe and navigable route.
“As part of our multi-domain operations, I’ll tell you that if we want to target deep, we have to be able to see deep. In order to see deep, you have to do that at elevation, and what better place to do that than space?” he said. “There [are] a significant amount of layered sensors that are out there that we’d like to posture this to be able to collect from.”
Collins said such a ground station would ideally collect intelligence from manned and unmanned aircraft. By pulling in data from those sources, war fighters can create a holistic understanding of their environment that’s based on the most accurate, up-to-date intelligence.
He added that the Army is following commercial satellites as well, and he’s particularly interested in what capabilities microsats could bring to the battlefield. This could include commercially provided, space-based Wi-Fi.
Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.