Lessons from F-35 Can Be Applied to Space Weapons, Retired General Says

An Atlas V rocket carrying the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO Flight 4 satellite lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Jan. 19, 2018. (U.S. Air Force illustration/Dalton Williams)
An Atlas V rocket carrying the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO Flight 4 satellite lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Jan. 19, 2018. (U.S. Air Force illustration/Dalton Williams)

The former head of the F-35 Joint Program Office says Pentagon officials should look to the Joint Strike Fighter as they develop a warfighting strategy for space.

One key lesson, said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, senior vice president of aerospace business at defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, is that no weapon or system should be designed to serve only one purpose.

"You and I could sit down and probably have a one- or two-hour session on many of the lessons learned from F-35 that can apply to both space and other future development programs," Bogdan told Military.com in a recent phone interview. "The one that I emphasized when I was in uniform, and I emphasize it now to space leaders in [the Defense Department], is don't build closed, proprietary stovepiped systems. ... It takes way too long and costs way too much money, and you're tied to only one solution when things change. And the threats are going to evolve, and the sensors and the technology are all going to evolve."

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Booz Allen is hoping to become the main contractor for a new ground system the U.S. Air Force is advancing for its missile warning satellites, called the Future Operationally Resilient Ground Evolution, or FORGE.

Like the F-35, future national security equipment needs to be able to execute more than one mission. Easier-to-upgrade software is also a necessity, Bogdan said.

Otherwise, "you're going to spend an awful lot of money and an awful lot of time trying to catch up," he said.

Bogdan's focus is now on developing satellite and ground control station capabilities for the increasingly crowded and contested space domain.

"As we build ... networks and satellites, I think the [Defense] Department needs to move away from these one-purpose, unique, very expensive, exquisite satellites, and try and build systems in space that can be more than one thing," he said.

"Maybe they're software-programmable, maybe they have different payloads on them that can be turned on and off at different times. Maybe they have built-in cyber capability. From the very start, multi-role, multi-mission kinds of platforms are really, really important, because we simply can't afford one-trick ponies anymore," Bogdan said.

New Space Vision

Bogdan said space needs a single operating picture created from the massive volume of available data.

"The advantage of an F-35 is when you can connect that picture that the F-35 creates to the bigger battlespace awareness for the [air operations center] and for other airplanes flying in the airspace and for other assets. We're going to have to recognize that, in the space world, we're going to need to be able to do the same thing," he said.

The retired general said the Pentagon and other agencies have many "disparate systems that track different satellites and track debris."

What they don't do, he said, is "fuse all of that information and provide a visualization to the commander. So he or she can understand what's really going on in space."

One example of this taking place is at the National Space Defense Center at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. Booz Allen won a contract last year to implement a classified program at the center. The center's goal is to implement programs that will "integrate ... open architectures, data fusion, command-and-control visualization and multi-domain command and control into those facilities so that space warfighters can now operate, act and react like land, air and sea warfighters," Bogdan said.

"One of the things that we're really pushing very hard with all of space, whether it be the intel or DoD or even the commercial space industry, is trying to open up and re-architect their data platforms," he said.

The company is focusing on data platforms that "are much more open" as a result.

"They use open sources, they are re-architected in a modular kind of way so that you can have rapid software development. And you can build cyber security in that" from the start, he said. "We think offensive and defensive capabilities in space are going to be enhanced by the way we use the power of information and the power of data."

The strategy also speaks to how the military services are developing future weapons or a "family of systems" that connect and share with one another to read the battlespace in real time.

"If you build the network appropriately and use things like machine learning and artificial intelligence to make those networks adaptable and recoverable, it will be very, very hard for your adversary to take the whole system out. And that's an advantage," Bogdan said. "All of those things are eventually going to be common characteristics of future systems."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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