The Air Force is launching a new, secretive strategy to protect military satellites from foreign threats, a future that centers on Colorado Springs.
Two top space generals and the Department of Defense's No. 2 civilian leader cited ongoing war games at Schriever Air Force Base's Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center as the centerpiece in a new, muscular U.S. approach to military missions on orbit. The war games at the center, which opened in late 2014, have brought together experts from Air Force Space Command with their counterparts at intelligence agencies to determine how America would fight a war that extends to space.
"We have to really get prepared in case an adversary wants to extend the fight into space, and that's exactly what we will do," Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work told a packed auditorium at The Broadmoor hotel Tuesday during the Space Symposium.
The symposium has attracted more than 10,000 space experts from around the world. Much of the discussion has focused on the future of commercial spaceflight and the prospect of thousands of ordinary people becoming astronauts as ventures launch their next-generation rockets and capsules.
But what is a boon to business has also brought rising concern to the military as the tools to counter America's clear advantage in military space systems grow cheaper and easier to obtain.
To deal with the threats, Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs has launched a rigorous training program to ready its airmen to protect satellites from threats including jamming and incoming anti-satellite missiles.
Space Command boss Gen. John Hyten said the three war games conducted so far at the Schriever center have taught leaders a string of other lessons.
"No. 1, the intelligence community is key to everything," Hyten said.
Hyten said past space leaders haven't leaned on intelligence agencies to help predict threats in orbit or to tease out the plans of potential enemies for how they might attack satellites and associated ground systems.
And airmen have been unprepared for a future where satellites are targets, he said.
"We did not train them to deal with a contested, threatened environment," he said.
Hyten is working on a blueprint for how the Air Force approaches space called the "Space Enterprise Vision." He didn't offer details in the public forum but said he would address a classified gathering of contractors on the idea Wednesday.
Lt. Gen. David Buck, who heads 14th Air Force at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., gave hints to some of the new strategy. They include beefing up intelligence capabilities within space command to better spot threats and a new "battle management system" that will give leaders tighter controls of American military satellites if battle erupts.
Work said the Air Force is seeking a new architecture for its satellite constellations that moves away from the practice of spending billions to build small numbers of highly capable satellites for communication, navigation and intelligence missions.
Taking a page from the entrepreneurs who are revolutionizing commercial spaceflight, Work wants smaller and cheaper satellites to meet future needs. He described the new satellites as "harder to find, harder to catch, harder to hit, harder to kill.
He said the billionaires revolutionizing commercial spaceflight could lead the way.
"It reminds me of the old railroad magnates of the 19th century," Work said.
And like the competition of the railroad men, the U.S. is gaining rivals in space.
Russia, North Korea, Iran and China are among the nations thought to have anti- satellite missiles and other capabilities.
That rivalry means America's military must get stronger above Earth, Work said. The Pentagon asked congress to boost military space spending by more than $100 million to $7.1 billion next year for satellite and rocket programs, and bigger expenditures are likely as plans solidify.
"People are more likely to attack if they see us as weak and vulnerable," he said.