U.S. Military Satellites In Crisis As Foreign Weapons Advance And Proliferate; We Must Practice Going To War Disconnected Or, In An Environment Where Our Networks Are Severely Degraded — Otherwise, We Are Inviting A Nasty Strategic Surprise
Bill Gertz had an article with the title above in the Wednesday, May 17, 2017, edition of the Washington Times, — which is not a new story, nor a new threat — but, the threat is only getting more lethal and widespread. An Executive Summary by the Defense Science Board (DSB) warns that “the U.S. military’s satellite communications are facing a crisis, threatened by a growing array of foreign weapons, including cyber attack capabilities, lasers, jammers, and anti-satellite weapons.” The DSB concludes that “military satellite communications will be contested [and confronted] by a myriad of effects [and threats], ranging from reversible, to destructive.”
“The estimated and projected electronic threats against satellite communication (SATCOM), have rapidly escalated in the last few years; and, will continue to increase for the foreseeable future,” the DSB concluded.
“Advances and proliferation in advanced Electronic Warfare (EW), kinetic space, cyber capabilities threaten our ability to maintain information superiority,” the study notes, adding that “under severe stress situations, jamming can render all commercial SATCOM and most defense SATCOM — inoperable.”
“The reality should be considered a crisis to be dealt with immediately,” the DSB urges.
“Satellite communications network operations in conflict, or crisis situations, can be spotty to non-existent,” the report noted. “In addition to vulnerabilities to attack and disruption, current ground stations used to relay communications are limited to “a few tens of users,” and lack anti-jamming capabilities.”
Not surprisingly, the report calls for “increased connections and protection to handle increased traffic.”
The DSB recommended “speeding up the production and the numbers of advanced, extremely high frequency communication terminals for bombers and command-and-control aircraft. Other needed improvements include accelerating delivery of new, hardened, tactical communications systems for the military.”
The report, “Task Force Report On Military Communications and Tactical Networking,” Mr. Gertz writes, “was made public in March 2017, and was based on a yearlong assessment of military satellite systems.”
“Our nation’s missions around the globe are enabled by robust military satellite communication (MILSATCOM), and tactical networks,” the report noted.
Mr. Gertz notes that “this report comes as China and Russia are developing advanced electronic warfare capabilities designed to disrupt U.S. military communications, currently a major strategic advantage, [especially] during a conflict,” [or crisis].
New Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Dan Coats, testified to the House and Senate Intelligence committees last month, as part of the annual threat assessment briefings to the Hill, that “we assess that Russia and China perceive a need to offset any military advantage derived from the military, civil, or commercial space systems; and, are increasingly considering attacks against satellite systems as part of their future warfare doctrine. Both will continue to pursue a full range of anti-satellite weapons, as a means to reduce U.S. military effectiveness,” he stated, pointed to China’s creation in late 2015 of the PLA Strategic Support Force for military space and cyber space programs,” as evidence that Beijing considers this a high national security priority.
This is not a new story, nor a new threat; and, it is an area that the DSB has been warning about for many years. One wonders if, much like cyber space, the best defense for these assets is a good offense. We could spend ourselves into oblivion; and. these assets could still be vulnerable. Even if we were to flood space with smaller, stealth satellites, and move them to deep space, they would still be vulnerable. And, outside of the hostile or malicious military threat, there is the ever-present, and growing problem of space debris that will likely sooner or later, pose a national security threat to our overhead constellation, and space station. Solving all of these issues, which is gnarly and complex, still leaves these assets vulnerable due to the fact that much of this overhead constellation remains dependent on undersea cables which also have a looming national security vulnerability. Then of course, there is the ever present trusted insider threat, as well as an act of nature that could cause a catastrophic breakdown.
Alas, there are no silver bullets. It is entirely appropriate that the national security establishment address this very important domain, by grabbing all the low hanging fruit — if there is any — and, prioritize the top five most pressing and critical issues that MUST be addressed. But, we should also understand that even if we are able to adequately address — say the top five vulnerabilities — our overhead constellation would still be vulnerable. We should also appreciate that the adversary gets a vote; and, any timetable that we might design for addressing these vulnerabilities, is subject to being overtaken by events, as we found out on 9/11. Finally, the warfighter MUST train to fight DISCONNECTED, or in an environment where our networks are severely degraded. Otherwise, we are inviting a nasty strategic surprise at some unexpected point, down the road. V/R, RCP