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Intel, AF Sats Must Go Separate Ways: Kehler

Donald Rumsfeld made much of his reputation before becoming Bush's defense secretary when he recommended in 2001 that the intelligence community and military work closely togther when they built satellites. Known as black-white space integration. this principle has been the bedrock of space acquisition since then. The argument that so much of the technology and expertise used to build spy and military satellites is identical or related has proven difficult to naysay.

The end of black-white space integration may be at hand. The man long identified as one of its most devoted followers, Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, the head of Air Force Space Command and former deputy commander at Strategic Command, told the intelligence community that "this approach is posing insurmountable problems, and those problems are going to get worse as we look to the future." Even worse, he said this approach means that both the inteligence community's strategic needs and the military's tactical needs are being shortcahged. "One size does not fit all when it comes to reconnaissance satellites any more than it fits all when it comesto uniforms or boots or anything else that we’re doing," Kehler said Oct. 30 at GeoInt, the annual gathering of the geospatial intelligence community. The heads of, or senior officials from the NSA, CIA, NGA and the Pentagon all attended the conference.

As Kehler noted, his "bold statement... challenges some of the basic foundation on which our space reconnaissance structure and in fact the entire national security space enterprise is built."

The problems is that, while the intelligence mcomunity and the miltiary can use each other's data, the types of information they need to use differs substantially. "U.S. forces will increasingly need a space architecture that is responsive to military purposes, that can support operational plans, that are configured to optimally serve particular tactical needs and that can assuredly contribute to the joint fight," Kehler said. Then he offered a prime example of just what has been wrong with the attempts to merge black and white space.

"The nation has attempted for over a decade now, to deploy a cutting-edge space-based radar system, yet we have not fielded such a system for the war fighter. Why not? We have a set of requirements, we see the value in night-time and all-weather reconnaissance and tracking, we have the technical capability to build such a system, and while likely it would be expensive, just as Jeff Harris said this morning, we could prioritize and fund such a system if that’s what we really wanted to do," Kehler argued. The problem is that the intellgience community and the military "can’t reconcile the requirements. We are not able to sit across the table from one another and say I can bend on this one; not because we are digging our heels in arbitrarily but because the mission needs of both have become so great that reconciling the requirements on one platform is not what we’re going to be able to do. In essence, we’ve got more requirements than can be met with a single system."

What will fix these problems?  First, and most important, would be changes to the requirements process, Kehler said. Troops need "flexible and responsive tasking and mission planning to support operations, to include high-quality resolution for target planning and execution; frequent revisit rates over the target of interest; broad open ocean surveillance for maritime applications; timeliness in tasking to delivery; releasable data to coalition forces or unclassified data when that’s necessary; system that can be readily available for dissemination and deployment; common data formats; network connectivity and speed; interoperability; queuing, correlation, fusion; assuredness in tasking."

Defining those requirements is something the country doesn't do very well so "we start programs the wrong way, without a clear understanding of what requirements we're trying to satisfy and without a funding profile or a schedule that matches. And then we wonder, five years in, eight years, how did we do this wrong," Kehler said.

Getting there will require "some new relationships among service, departmental, and national organizations," the general said.

A senior national security space expert told me he was shocked by Kehler's change of heart and hoped it would lead to improved requirements generation by the Air Force and the intelligence community. But this expert said changing the attitudes crafted over most of the last decade will be very difficult to change.

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