Navy Adm. Cecil D. Haney spoke at a Peter Huessy Breakfast Series seminar sponsored by the Air Force Association, the Reserve Officers Association and the National Defense Industrial Association.
The playing field in space is changing, and not always to the advantage of nations that are peaceful and have democratic governments, Haney said. “Today, our nation is dealing with a global security environment that is more complex, dynamic and volatile than at any time in our history,” he added.
The security environment features multiple actors operating across all domains. Many actors challenge U.S. democratic values in many ways, the admiral said.
Tensions With Nation States, Ungoverned Environments
“In addition to significant tensions involving nation states,” Haney told the audience, “we are in an environment that is flanked with numerous ungoverned or ineffectively governed areas that are breeding grounds for bad actors and violent extremist organizations.” These groups, he added, also use space and cyberspace to recruit and spread propaganda — including misinformation — in support of their causes.
“Perhaps of greater concern, however, is the proliferation of these emerging strategic capabilities attempting to limit our decision and maneuver space that ultimately impacts strategic stability,” Haney said.
The admiral focused on the emerging capabilities and what it means for the United States. Space is getting cluttered, he said, noting that it is more “congested, contested and competitive.” That alone makes U.S. capabilities increasingly vulnerable, he said.
Congestion in Space
Congestion is a huge problem for Strategic Command. More than 17,000 objects the size of a softball or larger are in orbit today, the admiral said, and hundreds of thousands of smaller, untracked objects are circling the Earth at orbital speeds.
Roughly 1,200 of those objects are satellites, Haney said. The rest are debris, increasingly threatening operational satellites.
Complicating this already crowded environment is the increase of small satellites, which also pose a threat, the admiral said. “Consider for a moment the devastating effects just one collision could have on our financial and economic sectors and our ability to conduct military operations,” he said.
As more countries develop space capabilities, the problem will grow, the admiral said. North Korea has been busy upgrading launch facilities, Haney noted.
“Iran, just this past week, successfully launched a satellite into orbit after a string of failures,” he said.
China has publicly stated that its goal for the next decade is to outperform all other nations in space, investing large amounts of money in increasing the number of platforms in every orbital regime, and increasing their influence, Haney added.
Nations Seek to Take Away U.S. Strategic Advantage
Countries also are working to take away America’s strategic advantage in space, the Stratcom commander said. “U.S. national security space systems are facing a serious growing threat,” he added. “For example, multiple countries have developed and are frequently using military jamming capabilities designed to interfere with satellite communications and global positioning systems.”
China and Russia warrant the most attention, the admiral said. “Both countries have acknowledged they are developing — or have developed — counter-space capabilities,” he said. “Both countries have advanced directed energy capabilities that could be used to track or blind satellites — disrupting key operations — and both have demonstrated the ability to perform complex maneuvers in space.”
Space also plays a large role in 21st-century deterrence, Haney said. “To effectively deter adversaries — and potential adversaries — from threatening our space capabilities, we must also understand their capabilities and their intent and make it clear that no adversary will gain the advantage they seek by attacking us in space,” the admiral said. “We must apply all instruments of power and elements of deterrence.”
Operational Planning Comes First for Stratcom
Strategic Command is working to ensure the United States maintains the strategic advantage in space today. Operational planning is first with the command, the admiral said, ensuring it is prepared for all phases of potential conflict. This means characterizing the operational environment, allowing timely and accurate warning and assessment of threats to senior leaders including the president, Haney said.
Operationally, the admiral said, Stratcom must protect and defend space capabilities using new tools and new tactics, techniques and procedures. The command, he said, also must use new partnerships and new command and control relationships.
All this is happening at a time of constrained budgets, he noted.
“I am pleased to see the president’s budget for fiscal 2016 recognizes the growing and demonstrated threat to our vital space assets — assets our forces are reliant upon and assume will always be there,” Haney said.
“We are early in the process, but let me make clear: Any retrograde in the president’s budget could jeopardize these investments and diminish our asymmetric advantage in space, exposing our nation to significant risk in this foundational area,” he said.
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