The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the recently established U.S. Space Force are continuing to define how the two agencies – one sitting under the intelligence community and one headquartered firmly at the Pentagon – will interact with each other in the future, the NRO’s deputy director said April 24.
Since the Space Force was first proposed by President Trump in August 2018, questions have risen as to whether now was finally the time that the NRO would be folded into the Defense Department, sending its acquisition functions to the Space Force and its operational duties into the equally new U.S. Space Command. For now, the NRO will continue to run independently of the Space Force, but “cultural differences” must still be overcome to achieve some of the U.S. military’s key focus areas, said Maj. Gen. Michael Guetlein in a Friday teleconference hosted by the Mitchell Institute.
“While we’re cooperating more than we have any time in the past, we still have several challenges we are wrestling with, such as overcoming the legacy of the cultural differences between DoD and the IC, as well as between SMC [the Space and Missile Systems Center] and the NRO,” he said.
One of the U.S. military’s main capability goals, dubbed Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2), involves networking various systems and sensors together, across domains and services. The IC and the Defense Department will have to overcome four challenge areas to seamlessly integrate data coming from the NRO’s surveillance satellites and link systems built with NRO-specific guidelines into U.S. Space Command’s networks, Guetlein said. Those challenge areas include speed of information, meeting new threats, responsibility for protecting space capabilities, and developing common standards.
“These two communities have traditionally had two very different approaches to the problem sets we face and operate in vastly different environments and on very different timelines,” he said. “They can complicate getting the valuable intelligence information data and analysis from the IC to the commanders and warfighters operating at the tactical edge in near real time.”
“One of NRO’s priorities driving forward … is our integrated architecture, that will help accelerate the delivery of data we collect to both the warfighter and the IC analysts, making sure they get the data they need, when and where they need it, as fast as they need it,” he said.
Both the NRO and DoD will need to ensure their systems are designed to operate in and through a contested environment, and then determine which agency is responsible for developing which elements in the space enterprise, he added. “We’re in the process of developing a joint protect and defend CONOPS [concept of operations] to help guide the future investments in operations.”
The two agencies are working together to build common technical and data standards for JADC2, Guetlein said. “We are partnering in the stand up of JADC2, as well as a couple of other C2 systems, to make sure that as those systems come online, our data can seamlessly flow into those C2 systems, and be able to get it directly from the sensor to the shooter,” he said. “Today, we’re writing the interface standards to make sure as we build these new next-generation systems, both sensors and processors, that they can all interface seamlessly machine to machine.”