WASHINGTON - Until recently, space was a peaceful domain where orbital and flying craft were unprotected, but adversaries now are developing systems designed to counter advantages gained by those using such space capabilities, the commander of Air Force Space Command said here on July 22.
Source: Northrop Grumman Space Technology
Air Force Gen. William L. Shelton spoke at the Atlantic Council on the U.S. future in space.
"Our satellites were not built with such threats in mind," Shelton said. There hasn't been a launch failure in 72 consecutive national security launches, he added, and satellites have lasted so much longer than their designed lifespan that the nation accidentally gained overlap between "father and daughter" satellites.
"Space largely has been a peaceful sanctuary up to this point," the general said, "and due to the cost of each of these intricate machines, we build just enough capability and build it just in time. "We don't really plan for anything but success."
Now, he said, "we have a clear and present danger to contend with that I believe must change our calculus on resiliency."
Traffic is building in space, as many new entrants have joined the ranks of spacefaring nations and counter-space capabilities are becoming more concerning, Shelton explained. The Air Force must adapt its satellite constellations in response to such growing threats and elevate its game in space situational awareness, he said.
And, the general said, Air Force Space Command is addressing this challenging space environment in the midst of a decreasing budget outlook.
"Space forces are foundational to every military operation, from humanitarian to major combat operations. It really doesn't matter -- space has to be there," continuously deployed in place, providing communications, missile warning, navigation, space surveillance and weather services," Shelton said.
Still, he added, Space Command's share of reductions as part of overall Air Force reductions included a space surveillance asset that saved $6 million per year, operationally useful sensor redundancy at launch bases that cut another few million dollars per year, and drastic cuts in headquarters contractor support that saved money but substantially reduced capability.
"All told, we cut close to $1 billion from our annual budget in fiscal year 2013 and [fiscal] 2014 combined," the general said.
"The bottom line on our budget situation is this: we made the needed adjustments in fiscal years 2013 and 2014], and [fiscal] 2015 right now looks like it will be feasible," he added. "But the law of the land is still sequestration for [fiscal] 2016 and beyond. Should Congress decide not to grant relief from [the severe budget cuts of] sequestration, I don't know how my command can absorb the mandated reductions."