Air Force Restructures Space Responsibilities, JICSpOC Gets New Name

Air Force Restructures Space Responsibilities, JICSpOC Gets New Name

Acting Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) Lisa Disbrow announced a number of changes to the Air Force “space enterprise” today, starting with creation of a new position of deputy chief of staff for space.  Also today, U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) Commander Gen. John Hyten told a Senate committee about a name change for the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC) and discussed the need for a 21st Century deterrence strategy that includes space.

In a statement, Disbrow said the Air Force changes “reflect the reality that space is a joint warfighting domain.” Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein added that the new deputy chief of staff position will be a three-star (Lieutenant General) position and known as “A-11.” That person will serve as the space advocate within Air Force Headquarters and be “instrumental in fostering … the cultural change and capabilities evolution required to operate in an increasingly contested space domain.”

Four other changes are in the works.  The Air Force is reforming its space acquisition program approval process and will consider alternative acquisition approaches.  That includes expansion of the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) organization “to rapidly field systems, as well as procure existing commercial capabilities.”  Air Force Space Command has developed a Space Warfighting Construct (SWC) to “evolve the space architecture to be more flexible, survivable and resilient.”  Lastly, the Air Force, in conjunction with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the other services, will “embed space professionals at every stage of decision making.”

Disbrow stressed that the Air Force “seeks to deter conflict in space, but should deterrence fail, we will counter any attempt to deny freedom of action in this vital warfighting domain.”  She has been serving as acting SecAF since January 20 when the Trump Administration began.   Former Rep. Heather Wilson has been nominated to serve as the new SecAf. Her confirmation hearing was held last week, but she has not been confirmed yet.

The Air Force is responsible for many national security space programs
and the SecAf was named as the Principal DOD Space Advisor (PDSA) in the
Obama Administration.  Still, finding an effective organizational model
to develop strategy for and execute space activities in the national
security sector — DOD and the Intelligence Community (IC) —
apparently remains elusive.

The Disbrow announcement came hours after Hyten testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in open session.  The hearing was quite broad and space activities were not a major focus. Hyten and several Senators referred to a classified hearing scheduled for tomorrow where they will be discussed in more detail.

Hyten announced yet another change.  The Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC) is being renamed the National Space Defense Center to better convey its purpose.   Established in September 2015, JICSpOC is intended to facilitate information sharing across the national security space enterprise including the military and the IC.

Hyten is a former commander of Air Force Space Command, but in his current role as head of USSTRATCOM has much broader responsibilities encompassing all U.S. strategic forces including nuclear command and control, space operations, global strike, global missile defense, and global command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR).  At the hearing, Hyten expressed frustration on a number of issues across the command, especially acquisition and the need for a 21st Century deterrence strategy.

“Deterrence is going to be expensive, but war will always be more expensive,” he argued.  Current U.S. deterrence strategy is stuck in the past when the focus was nuclear weapons.  It needs to evolve to include space and cyber threats as well.  “The context has to be the fact that we’re actually not deterring cyber, we’re not deterring space, we’re deterring an adversary who wants to operate and do damage in those domains. That’s what we have to deter.”

When asked by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) about recent Russian efforts to develop antisatellite (ASAT) weapons, Hyten responded that while Russia may be developing such capabilities, the nearer-term threat is from China.  In response, the United States must “have the ability to defend” against those threats and “build an offensive capability to challenge” theirs.  Hyten told Cruz they could discuss it more in the classified hearing on Wednesday.

Cruz specifically asked about the vulnerability of GPS positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) satellites.  Hyten listed the large number of military systems that have become dependent on GPS, from aircraft to artillery.   Six years ago, he said, the Air Force did a “day without space” exercise and took away GPS and communications satellite (SATCOM) capabilities from aviators.  “And it was not good.”  Since then, training has changed to teach how to operate in an GPS- and SATCOM-denied environment.  “Maybe we were spoiled” because space was once considered a safe environment, but “we can’t assume that any more.”  The military needs to look at precision navigation and timing “as a mission and build resilience into that architecture as well as defending GPS on orbit.”

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