In terms of mainstream media coverage of the US Space Force this week, the spotlight was mostly on Maj. Gen. John Olson, assistant to USSF CSO Gen. Chance Saltzman. Olson appeared on a couple of American news networks for a short while, but provided a substantial Q&A in a briefing to the Foreign Press Office corps which truly went far out — into the realm of UFOs and UAP. Also, a new GAO report calls for some technological upgrades stat, while Boeing provided a couple themselves. Read on for this week’s Space Force news.
Gen. Olson runs the mainstream media gamut
On Friday, April 14, Space Force assistant Chief of Space Operations (CSO) Maj. Gen. John Olson held a Q&A session with members of the media from the New York Foreign Press Center. In his opening remarks, Olson reiterated CSO Gen. Chance Saltzman’s “three lines of effort” before stated that he’d be speaking on the importance of international engagement, collaboration, cooperation collectively to achieve peace, stability, and security […] for the world and humanity in general.
Olson took questions from journalists representing the nations of Azerbaijan, Germany, India, Nigeria and United Arab Emirates, among others. Naturally, questions from European and Eurasia journalists mostly focused on the Russo– Ukrainian War; Olson himself noted that the event was taking place on day 415 of open conflict.
“It has been certainly a kinetic war and a war of attrition,” said Olson. “but it is also the first war of cognition, I would proffer. And what I mean by that is space has shown to have a profound impact in terms of visualization, in terms of awareness, in terms of monitoring the logistics and the movements and the progress, in terms of weapons and targeting, in terms of information transfer and flow.”
“So what we have seen is that for the first time that the incredible convergence of industry and of governments and of […] a strong international coalition led by NATO and led by united countries of likeminded support for the rule of law and for supporting the people of Ukraine, this is very important. And so space is indeed an integral part of the activities in Ukraine from an awareness, from an action, and from an outcomes perspective.”
To a specific question about “systems like Starlink interfering with state sovereignties in space, for example, in the Ukraine war,” Olson stated that “Starlink [has] brought ubiquitous and resilient and very capable data and communications activities to the people of Ukraine to help make life more viable and palatable. And as we look at that, it does indeed bring new paradigms to bear[. As] SpaceX has said, it is not specifically a military capability. In fact, it is designed to enable the people of Ukraine to have open ability to communicate and ability to go about their lives that they otherwise would not have as a result of the conflict.”
“But I think we’ve seen a pervasive level of applications — creative applications — and utilization out of necessity. […] I think what we are seeing is, as space systems proliferate and provide extraordinary value to every facet of our lives, it is a critical economic and commerce and life–enabler, but it is also a critical part of our resilient and effective architectures and approaches to space operations in a contested and competitive environment.”
A UAE journalist challenged with “Some experts say that the United States’ concern about China and Russia’s ability to neutralize key U.S. satellites is the reason behind the establishment of the U.S. Space Force. How do you respond?”
Replied Olson, “Well, the United States Space Force was fundamentally established for the primary reason to recognize the fact that space is critical to our modern way of living, but most importantly, it’s also critically to important — important to defend U.S. and allied and partner interests in space. And so it is focused on that mission.”
“We know that 72% of the world is covered of by water; 100% is covered by air and space, right? And as we look at the largest area of responsibility, it’s essentially 100 kilometers and higher is the domain and area of responsibility of the Space Force — this for launched satellite operations; doing missile warning, missile tracking; Earth observation; intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance; space data transport; and position navigation and timing. These and so many more missions are absolutely core and essential enablers as warfighting functions, as defense–driving and security functions and verification functions. So these are really important, and that’s where we’re solely focused.”
“…I firmly believe, although we are the smallest service by design, focused on being the first service born digital, the first new service in 75 years — but it will be one that is leveraging the most talented, the most innovative, the most creative workforce with all the digital tools of the modern world so that we can accomplish that mission in a safe, effective, and affordable manner.”
And if you think that question was difficult, how about “what do you think about the unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) and UFOs?”
“This is a very hot topic,” stated Olson. “I’ve gotten that question a couple other times: ‘What do you think about UFOs or aliens?’ And quite frankly, having flown 83 different airplanes and had lots of hours, we’ve all seen lots of unexplainable elements. And the cosmos — the space realm — is so large. If we look at the Earth, it is this tiny blue dot in an unlimited, almost incomprehensibly large cosmos. I personally believe that there absolutely, from a probability perspective, is life out there.”
“However, this task force is a very serious U.S. Government approach to systematically investigating and understanding these, because of course unidentified elements present a national security concern, present a safety of flight, present a risk that we must take and diligently pursue.”
“…we will continue this effort, and in fact I believe it will be getting more funding and more of a structural support level within the department. But I also believe that this is part of our never–ending quest to learn and understand and explore. And as we have on our probes that have exited the solar system to our probes to the Moon, we have gone in peace to explore and discover. And we continue that yearning to see and discover is there life out there and what does that mean for humanity.”
The same morning, Gen. Olson guested for a 5–minute segment on CBS News Mornings in which the main focus was on competition with Russian and Chinese programs.
And Olsen capped the day of media appearances with a stint on ABC News Live Prime, on which he was able to offer a primer explanation of the importance of the space domain to both civilian life and national defense. Sources: State Department PR, CBS News, ABC News, YouTube.
Boeing reveals PTS–P technology for USSF WGS–11 satellites
On Thursday, April 13, representatives of Boeing unveiled the company’s Protected Tactical Satcom Prototype (PTS–P) payload, anti–jam technology integrated for use in the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS)–11 satellite scheduled for launch in 2024.
The PTS–P will provide jammer geolocation, real–time adaptive nulling, frequency hopping and other jamming–counter techniques. On–board testing of the PTS–P is planned for 2025 and afterward will be available to transition to operational use. Company reps promised that “PWS works seamlessly with all the existing WGS user terminals, while allowing gradual fielding of PTW (protected tactical waveform) modems in a theater of operation.”
On the same day, the folks at Boeing’s Millennium Space Systems announced that its TETRA–1 microsatellite in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) had successfully completed system checkout and was now under full operational control of Space Systems Command (SSC). The TETRA–1 was among the payloads on the well–publicized launch of the behemoth SpaceX Falcon Heavy on November 1 of last year and is described as “the first in a series of prototype GEO satellites launched by the US Military, which will test systems procedures for future satellites.”
“TETRA–1 has helped us learn about small satellites’ potential to operate in super GEO,” stated SSC TETRA–1 deputy program manager Capt. JeanCarlo Vasquez\. “Due to TETRA–1’s maneuverability, it has enabled us to experiment and train with various tactics, techniques, and procedures. Thus, allowing our program office and operators to identify what roles small satellites can potentially plan in future USSF missions. Furthermore, TETRA–1’s robustness permitted SSC to work with Space Delta 11 in Space Training and Readiness Command and perform maneuvers dedicated solely to a live on–orbit training campaign knowns as ‘Scarlet Star.’” Sources: Satellite Today, Defense Daily, Military Embedded.
GAO: Imperative to update, upgrade Satellite Control Network
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) this week released a report on the USSF’s Satellite Control Network (SCN), the network consisting of 19 parabolic antennas based in seven locations which was first established in 1959. The GAO report is the result of Congressional mandate within the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act as well as plans released in 2017 which stated that an overhaul would be undertaken within five years.
The front page of the report on the SCN emphatically states that “Updating Sustainment Plan Would Help Space Force Better Manage Future Efforts,” essentially summarizing most of the findings. In short, the SCN is “running out of capacity and is in dire need of upgrades” and the “SCN LifeCycle Sustainment Plan (LCSP), which serves as the primary document for sustainment planning [since issued in 2017, has not been updated to address changes to the SCN and the Space Force.”
In response to the report, Shawn Sawyer, director of data transport for product support for SSC Battle Management Command, Control & Communications (BMC3), reassured news outlet Breaking Defense that a new LCSP is “in final review and will be sent to SSC/S4 [the Office of the Director for Logistics and Product Support] to begin coordination once complete.”
After that, “it will be submitted for final signature to SSC’s Deputy [Program Executive Officer] for Battle Management Command, Control & Communications (BMC3),” he added.
Science & technology outlet Space News also pointed out that the USSF’s recently–reached agreement with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will also the USSF to employ five NOAA satellites to augment the SCN’s capacity.
The GAO does see hope of alleviating certain difficulties with the SCN in the near future in the Satellite Communication Augmentation Resource (SCAR) program, a $1.4 billion contract award to BlueHalo in May 2022. SCAR will provide phased–array antennas, which could provide as much as 20 times more communicative capacity. The GAO report claims SCAR would represent an 82% cost savings. The SCAR prototype is slated for delivery in Q2 2025, with the contract to be completed in 2030. Sources: Space News, Breaking Defense .