Creation of Space Command will consolidate USAF operational space activities, provide a link between the space-related research and development process and operational users, and retain North American Aerospace Defense Command authority and responsibilities as currently organized, according to General Allen. Approximately 200 manpower authorizations will be transferred from Offutt AFB, Neb., to Colorado Springs to augment space personnel in the Aerospace Defense Center.
Under the realignment, three AFSC laboratories—the Air Force Geophysics Laboratory (Hanscom AFB, Mass.), the Air Force Rocket Propulsion Laboratory (Edwards AFB, Calif.), and the Air Force Weapons Laboratory (Kirtland AFB, N.M.)—will report to the Space Technology Center Commander, under the AFSC Space Division Commander, rather than to the Director of Laboratories at Hq. AFSC, Andrews AFB, Md. The laboratories will remain at their present locations.
Coordinating the Space EffortFormation of the new command at this time is consonant with the Administration’s—especially Secretary of the Air Force Verne Orr’s—views that space is emerging as a fourth medium for military operations of various kinds, coequal with and as important as land, sea, and air. The decision to set up the new command clearly represents a logical extension of a series of recent actions by the White House, Congress, the Defense Department, and the Air Force that underscore the importance of a coordinated military space effort. Of special importance is the fact that the Air Force is to be designated as the DoD Executive Agent in space.
The Deputy Chiefs of Staff for Research, Development and Acquisition, (DCS/RD&A), Lt. Gen. Kelly Burke; Assistant DCS/RD&A Maj. Gen. Jasper Welch; and their special assistant, Col. Augie Caponecchi, in concert with other experts, recently completed a unique stem-to-stern analysis of the Air Force’s changing role in space. The central conclusion is that space, in military terms, is big, important business, and getting more so.
As General Welch points out, the progress of the Air Force’s space program over the intervening twenty-three years “has been truly outstanding.” The latest DSCS (Defense Satellite Communications System) III spacecraft to be launched next month is a far cry from the heavy and clumsy SCORE “Sputnik catch-up” satellite that beamed President Eisenhower’s prerecorded Christmas message around the world during its twelve-day life span.
The evolution from short-lived experiments in space of marginal military value (phase I of USAF’s space effort) to devices offering a high degree of utility (phase II0 and finally to the current phase III that is marked by systems that not only are of pivotal, military importance, but are long-lived and highly efficient—and therefore offer levels of cost-effectiveness and operational economy unthinkable and unattainable previously—germinates a doctrinal revolution. As both the US and the USSR become dependent on space systems in a categoric sense for essential communications, surveillance, targeting, navigation, weather prediction, intelligence, verification, and warning functions, space, at least under wartime conditions, ceases to be a sanctuary.
Some seventy percent of all Soviet space activity is purely military, with an additional fifteen percent sharing a dual role with the nonmilitary sector—leaving only fifteen percent of their space activity as purely civil or scientific in nature.
Also, the Soviets have exhibited particular interest in manned systems. Their large Salyut-6 manned space station is in its fifth year of operation. They recently placed into orbit Salyut-7, which is apparently intended to replace or supplement Salyut-6 with a system resembling NASA’s Skylab. Additionally, they have in development a new and more powerful launch vehicle, similar to NASA’s Saturn V, that will have the capability of putting much larger manned space stations into orbit.
Lastly, the Soviets, since the 1950s, have devoted substantial resources to high technology developments applicable to directed energy weapons that could eventually prove to have high military value in space. As a result, the Soviets can be expected to score steady gains in the reliability, sophistication, and operational capability of their space systems and their space weapons.
Scheduled to become operational in Colorado Springs, Colo., by 1986, CSOC will provide on-orbit command and control of satellites as well as operational control of the Shuttle. Linked to the Aerospace Defense Command’s facilities in the Cheyenne Mountain complex, CSOC thus leads to a comprehensive and integrated operational space command and control capability. The prospect of longer lived satellites, an operationally mature Shuttle, the Vandenberg AFB launch facility, CSOC, and the opportunity for on-orbit service, repair, modification, and augmentation of satellites places the Air Force’s approach to space in a state of evolution, according to the RD&A analysis.
Additionally, the Shuttle could be used during the construction phase to carry men and building materials into orbit and during the operational phase to reman and restock the station periodically.
Follow-on Upper Stage VehicleA second issue related to the Shuttle involves selection of a follow-on upper stage vehicle that can deliver payloads into high-energy orbits—such as required by a variety of defense and other national security spacecraft—after being placed in low earth orbit by the Shuttle.
The IUS, assuming normal evolutionary improvements, is expected to meet all foreseeable defense needs at least until the late 1980s. DoD, however, anticipates major growth in military spacecraft, primarily to meet increased survivability requirements, in the late 1980s and beyond. Although the Centaur has more than twice the payload lift capability of the IUS, it is not otherwise well suited for defense missions. The number and variety of USAF’s missions place severe demands on the upper stage, and extensive modifications would be needed to make Centaur usable, according to General Welch. Further, all of the national security spacecraft modifications would be required to make them compatible with Centaur.
The Air Force, according to General Welch, has “what we consider to be a better plan—we prefer to proceed with the joint Air Force/NASA development of a new HEUS.” The HEUS will be designed to meet both Air Force and NASA requirements, and timed to allow transition of national security spacecraft with minimum effect on cost and schedule. Further, General Welch pointed out, “we believe we can structure a program using preplanned product improvement [P3I] concepts; this could enable the HEUS to grow logically to meet NASA Orbital Transfer Vehicle requirements and thus completely avoid a second major development program. We have already directed the Air Force Systems Command to begin concept work on the HEUS, and NASA is participating actively in that process.”
Yet there is concern in the Air Force, the Defense Department, and other agencies that the zest for correcting this dangerous deficiency might lead to an overreaction, especially if the Soviets succeed in putting a first generation laser weapon in space within the next five years. As General Welch warns, “such a weapon would have much greater political than military value. In fact I would expect its military effectiveness to be marginal.” The Soviets already have placed a laser system in orbit that US intelligence describes as a rangefinder system of less than startling competence.
ASAT Flight Test NearAs he points out, the Air Force is firmly committed to develop, test, and deploy an air-launched ASAT capability. “The program was recently reviewed by both the Air Force and OSD and found to be in excellent health [and] received strong support,” according to General Welch. Additional funding to reduce technical risks and to expand the flight test program has been included in this year’s budget and should permit a first flight test of ASAT in the very near future.
But as the Air Staff analysis points out, “unfortunately, our efforts to date have resulted in a lack of unanimity within the technical community about the full capabilities of the space-based laser.” It is imperative, therefore, that the risks and uncertainties be identified and resolved before a national commitment is made, in the Pentagon’s view.
The current turmoil over the direction, feasibility, and utility of space-based laser weapons has triggered significant organizational adjustments to focus management attention on DoD space technology development, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Richard D. DeLauer has designated Dr. Robert S. Cooper, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Technology and the new Director of DARPA, as the focal point for space activity within the DoD R&D community. Further, Maj. Gen. Donald Lamberson, USAF, who has years of unique experience in directing high energy laser technology, was recently named Assistant for Directed Energy Programs and reports directly to Dr. Cooper. Finally, the Air Force established a space laser program management office at AFSC’s Space Division in Los Angeles, Calif.
Survivability and EnduranceAnother cardinal requirement that is related to ASAT centers on the survivability and endurance of space-related assets. As military dependence on these systems continues to grow, so do concerns over their survivability and endurance.
Space systems generally consist of three principal elements: ground control and terminal facilities, a launcher replenishment component, and the satellites themselves. Theoretically, a determined foe could destroy single components within an element of a particular space-based system in a rather straightforward manner, just as any individual tank, ship, or aircraft could be destroyed if sufficient resources are applied.
As a result, General Welch suggests that “our systems as they exist today are survivable, but future systems can and should be made even more survivable on a selective basis.” With space systems’ survivability and enhanced surveillance and command capabilities singled out as key elements in the Administration’s strategic modernization program, the Air Force is devoting some eighteen percent of the FY ’83 space hardware budget for survivability; this is scheduled to increase to thirty percent by 1987.
The central element of USAF’s efforts in this area, according to the Air Staff analysis, “is to develop space systems and a support structure that are reliable and efficient in peacetime and are more survivable in conflict, thus increasing the confidence of our operational commanders in their continued availability and permitting them to place greater reliance on their use.”
The Air Force’s short-term goals that ensue from this postulate, as the Air Staff analysis spells out, are fairly clear cut: “First, we recognize that change is inevitable due to the military and economic advantages of space surveillance, communication, and navigation, and that therefore we need to expand our military capabilities in space.
“Third, we consider it essential that we pursue a vigorous R&D program to ensure the availability of adequate options to ensure our ability to meet our inherent right of self-defense. That is, we must posture ourselves to assure continued and full access to space in the interests of national security.”
As the Air Force stands at the crossroads of formulating its doctrinal and organizational approach to the high ground of space over the decades ahead, it is fitting to evoke Theodore von Karman’s sage recommendation to General “Hap” Arnold in 1944:
The Air Force’s formation of a space command would seem to fit this prescription acutely.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Daily Report: Read the days top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Tweets by @AirForceMag