The U.S. Space Force is looking to its collaboration with industry in the new service’s Commercial Integration Cell (CIC) for help in the protection of satellites.
Formed in 2015, the CIC is to integrate commercial satellite capabilities into the Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC) at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. The eight companies in the CIC are Eutelsat America Corp., Inmarsat, Intelsat General Communications, Iridium Communications [IRDM], MAXAR Technologies [MAXR], SES Government Solutions, Viasat, Inc. [VSAT] and XTAR.
CIC companies provide such capabilities as Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit (GEO), and satellites with multiband communication support, mobility communications, voice and data connections, spatial and space-based technology solutions, and terrestrial imaging.
“The first indication that we might be experiencing war extending to space would be a jamming of satellite communications,” Air Force Maj. Gen. John Shaw, the commander of U.S. Space Force’s Space Operations Command, said in a recent Constellations podcast by Kratos Defense [KTOS]. “And so we have a number of companies that are part of our Commercial Integration Cell here at Vandenberg that are satellite communications companies, and if we detect some sort of jamming going on, we’ll let them know immediately.”
“They may detect it first and they let us know about it,” he said. “So collectively we have much greater awareness of what’s going on within the space environment and operate as a team in that fashion. And that’s just talking about satellite communications and jamming. The same could apply to any kind of challenge or issue within the space domain.”
Shaw said that “a war that extends into space could probably start with something as simple as electromagnetic interference or jamming satellites or trying to jam GPS signals, or maybe using lasers–directed energy weapons—to dazzle. That would mean to make any sensors that are looking down at the earth get blinded temporarily.”
Such attacks could escalate to kinetic anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons to destroy satellites on-orbit, he said.
While former U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein argued against U.S. ASAT tests in the spring of last year, Space Force leaders are not against developing U.S. offensive capabilities (Defense Daily, July 16).
“I think that the thing that maybe concerns me the most is not delivering space capabilities where they are needed by those joint warfighters on the ground or other national security needs,” Shaw said in the Kratos podcast. “Some may remember that the Iranians launched a missile attack against a base in Iraq back in January of this year and landed a number of missiles at one of the air bases where we had a large number of military personnel. Well, our space capabilities, and our people operating those space capabilities, detected the launch of those missiles and gave alert immediately and gave a few minutes of alert to those people on the ground so they could take shelter, and as a result, we had no casualties in that particular event.”
On Jan. 8, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) launched ballistic missiles at two airbases in western Iraq in retaliation for the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper strike that killed IRGC Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, five days earlier. The U.S. military initially said that there were no casualties in the Jan. 8 missile attacks, but DoD then disclosed that dozens of U.S. personnel had received concussions and traumatic brain injuries.
“If we hadn’t done our job that day [Jan. 8], if we hadn’t been observing, watching for those missile launches and raising that alert and hadn’t notified those people on the ground, there would have been casualties and deaths,” Shaw said. “And that’s the sort of thing that we just can’t allow to happen.”