Sunday, February 20, 2011

New Space Solutions to the Military's Wargame Problems

A ClydeSpace CubeSat
The Feb-11 issue of the Air Force Magazine discusses a recent wargame conducted at Schriever AFB. The US Military has problems defending space. This wargame highlighted that. I see two specific opportunities for New Space to help solve the US military’s problem .

First a summary of the 2010 Schriever Cyber and Space wargame.

  • The Year is 2022.
  • A small US ally takes a “local action”, to which a US “peer” rival take offense (they went out of their way not to say “China”, instead “peer rival”, but I am going to say China so this post has a more conversational tone. To my friends in China, please do not take offense).
  • China retaliates by knocking out the US ally’s cyber and space capabilities
  • The US assists its ally in attempting to restore these cyber and space capabilities
  • China views these US actions as hostile and preemptively hits US cyber and satellite “enabler” capabilities. By denying these “enablers” the other US military branches are severely hampered (you try to fight a war without a web-enabled computer, GPS, or other satellite communications.)

Schriever Wargame Observations:
  • Cold-War Deterrence theories are ill-suited these new domains (cyber and space)
  • Cyber war and Space war is instantly global – there is no easy way to keep these conflicts regional.
  • US has many peer rivals when it comes to offensive/defensive cyber and space capabilities. The US lacks the domain advantages it enjoys with ground, air, and sea capabilities 
  • The US had a difficulty reconstituting space capabilities once those systems had been targeted (lack of ORS)
  • Attacks on Cyber and Space systems created a very thick “fog of war” with no clear alternative methods of gaining information
  • If our enemies removed our cyber and space capabilities our first action would be to seriously consider removing theirs (the advantage of these systems is so large)
  • Because they are enablers, attacking Cyber and Space were the first targets chosen by the enemy
  • Space Situational Awareness was significantly lacking.

Military Takeaways?
  • Military Takeaway #1: Create Joint-Sats. Group the capabilities of many nations/companies on a single satellite – this way an attacker would have to “ponder the fallout of collateral damage” prior to attacking a space asset. This idea may have some merit, but feels more like the military is hiding behind other nations and corporations. If the military was already worried about such cyber/space conflicts turning “global”, such joint ownership of future satellites will only exacerbate the problem of turning such conflicts into “global” ones.
  • Military Takeaway #2: Enhance space situational awareness: develop a CSpOC – a Combined Space Operations Center to integrate the space data coming in from Government, Commercial, and foreign ally sources. I like this idea. This shows the military’s willingness to admit they will need the help of civilian and foreign sources to defend the cyber and space realms. However, can’t the JSpOC do this? I don’t know enough about the JSpOC, but since they already do so much space asset tracking, expanding the JSpOC’s capabilities may make more sense than adding a new group. But again, I fully admit I don’t know enough about this to recommend one way or another.

So how can New Space Help?

I will focus my comments now to the space domain. I see two major product/services that New Space could offer in the near term to help the military avoid the hypothetical results of the 2022 Schriever wargame.

(1) NanoSat Launch Vehicles would offer the US the ability to quickly launch new satellites (100kg) to replace assets that are damaged or temporarily offline. The military’s wargame conclusions that by bundling satellite capabilities from several countries would deter an enemy, puts significant trust in your enemy not to come over the high wall you setup. But what if the enemy does escalate, what if they do attack those “joint-sats”? Such a policy does not solve the problem of a determined enemy. Being able to launch new satellites at will is perhaps the best defense to any anti-satellite weapon. I’m not the first to advocate this. I was just surprised by how little this solution was mentioned as a remedy for the US military’s poor performance in the wargame. I believe such an NLV is within the capabilities of new space (NASA’s NLV Challenge starts soon). If the NLV could launch on very short notice, there is no doubt in my mind that the military would be an eager customer.

(2) OBSERVER CubeSat: Perhaps the best deterrence from a space attack is Space Situational Awareness. The US military is worried about how to “attribute actions” in space – basically answering the question, “who is shooting at me?”  Here is one example, the military is worried about the idea of “grappler spacecraft” (among other ASATs) launched by peer adversaries months/years before a given conflict. When called into action the grapplers adjust their orbits (which have been benign up until now) and attach themselves to US military satellites disrupting their functionality. If the grapplers had been launched at the start of the conflict, figuring out who owns them would be fairly straight forward (thank you JSpOC). But if the grapplers had been launched months or years earlier, a small orbit adjustment just prior to attack may not be noticed by ground tracking stations making a surprise anonymous attack on US space assets a real possibility.

**What the US needs is a way to view their own satellites in space.** Can a cubesat (6U, 12U, or ESPA ring) fulfill such a mission? Can a New Space company build me an OBSERVER?
  • A Cubesat with HD Video camera launched to LEO well before a conflict started (immediate market)
  • One or two OBSERVERs per satellite the US military wants SSA on (perhaps two OBSERVERS per military sat for redundancy)
  • Stay back far enough to avoid collision risk with very expensive Govt satellites
  • Too small to be targeted by ground lasers or grappler spacecraft
  • Carry a suite of observation technologies focused not on earth, but only a few hundred meters away on their target satellite
  • Yes, rendezvous
  • No, Docking
  • Not even precision flying, but almost. OBSERVERS would need to be able to modify their orbits as needed to provide alternate views of its assigned target
  • Once the OBSERVER can service LEO customers, how about version 2.0 to service MEO, and GEO?
The year is 2022, with OBSERVERs in place near all high value LEO military sats (now being launched on NanoSat Launchers), US adversaries know that any sneak attack in space using space assets would be caught on video. If an attack does occur, NLV’s can be launched quickly to temporarily replace lost US capabilities. The military can attribute actions and the effectiveness of ASAT weapons is severely hampered. Thanks New Space.


  1. Brig. Gen. Charles Shugg, vice commander of 24th Air Force, in his remarks at last week's AFA Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., wants for Cyberspace, the equivalent of a Stealth Fighter.

    "We need to make huge strides to keep up with our adversaries and to get to the point where we can neutralize them with our strategies" he said.

    In Cyberspace the military is looking for the ability to replace/repair capabilities in minutes to hours not days to weeks.

    I am still baffled the push for similar space capabilities (ORS) remains stifled.


  2. Gen. Robert Kehler is in charge of US Strategic Command. On March 1, 2011, he outlined the command's priorities. STRATCOM must strive to improve capabilities in space and cyberspace. This includes "ensuring uninterrupted access" to space and space-based capabilities, improving "awareness of objects and activities in space," and "improving space access, protection, and resilience."


  3. Storable propellants and satellites sound like a must-have in this context. Something non-volatile, maybe like a solid/liquid hybrid.