Air Force Magazine: General Henry, could you start by defining “space”?
AFM: Is that the concept of the deterrence of truth you’ve mentioned before?
AFM: Can you give us some examples of those options?
AFM: Resulting in improved decision-making?
The other aspect is that we have through the use of space today, a literal explosion of information. You see it on the news at 7:00 o’clock at night; you see it in the weather pictures. As we know, this may or may not make a difference, but it’s becoming more and more evident that the capture of the hearts and minds of people is an important thing to a nation. Space gives us the opportunity, through the providing of information, to assure that truth is known and understood.
General Henry: That is the tremendous potential that space offers. Today we talk about television sets that have 150 channels. We see, in real time, events happening on the other side of the world. We see the time soon when we will be receiving into our homes information beamed directly from satellites. It will be a massive education of the people throughout the world.
General Henry: I would say the better characterization is the provider of the instruments that permit the flow of information to our customers. We provide the instruments that allow the collection, distribution, and dissemination of military information. The deliverable product we provide to our customers is military information, in the form of an electronic bit-stream. Sometimes we generate it and sometimes we repeat it, but our mission in life is to assure that this bit-stream goes to the operating commanders, wherever they may be in the world
General Henry: I have said sometimes in the past that our objective was to bring the use of space down to ships, squadrons, and battalions. That brings up to key points: The first is that every space system we put up is either national in character or serves more than one service. We talk about the Air Force in space, and, to the extent that the Air Force is in space, the Air Force is providing service to more than the Air Force.
What we are trying to do is provide the spacecraft with sufficient power and sufficient signal strength so we can move away from the forty-foot, sixty-foot antennas and the very expensive terminals that we have in some of our aircraft, to affordable terminals that are small enough to be used by battalion commanders or squadron commanders or in small airplanes or in small ships.
AFM: Is the Global Positioning System an example of something with the small terminal?
We achieve this accuracy with affordable equipment equivalent in size to the TACAN sets that we use today—equipment that can be carried in airplanes with small antennae. I simply do not understand the lack of support for the fielding of such a system, which has such national implications in terms of its offshoot to the civilian marketplace.
General Henry: Every customer we have encountered has been enthusiastic about the potential. The Navy has navigated in fog through the San Diego ship channel on a destroyer, it has used it in its exercises in the Pacific; the Air Force has used it and demonstrated it in Europe, and has accomplished aircraft rendezvous, and has performed instrument approaches. It is not generally understood that, with the few satellites that we have up today—that we have a three-hour per day capability throughout most of the world. The testing continues, working with the Army and the Navy, and I consider it one of our most successful joint service program offices.
General Henry: Well, I would say that the Air Force today is in a state of honest debate on the use of space. The Air Force, as the most technical service, feels that it is the leader in the use of space; certainly it is spending the predominant share of the DoD budget in space. Yet those who use space constitute all services, all agencies in the DoD, and as a result of that, we have a continuing debate about how the space program should be paid for—whether it should be Air Force money or OSD money. We have a debate as to what space operations are, whether we’re still in R&D or operations.
Debate goes on today as to whether or not Space should be a separate service. There are those who have proposed that. There are those who have said that we continue to do too much R&D and do not bring spacecraft into a true operational mode. The question is how to do that. In today’s world, when you consider the terrible expense of the way we do business, we do not put many spacecraft on orbit. Each spacecraft is many tens of millions of dollars with a low launch rate, a very high cost per pound, and a very high cost to put on orbit—one needs to build each spacecraft individually in a handcrafted sort of way, and one needs to put them in a way that one has to be sure to do everything possible to do it right the first time.
For example, we are using boosters today, in the interests of cost-effectiveness, that were built in the early sixties. They are twenty years old and have been in storage since then. We have found that it’s very, very difficult to get the high reliability that you want from a system that was built at its outset twenty years ago with an expected reliability of just 0.9. That means that one in ten could fail. Yet, in the interests of saving money, we are doing that.
We are now examining the Titan II fleet with the idea of converting them to space boosters. While I appreciate the economy of using the Titan II as a space booster and I fully appreciate that there are spacecraft that can be properly put in orbit using the Titan II, I would hope that those who are in charge of our budget would not force us once again to stand short on the money that it takes to refurbish those ICBMs into the kind of reliability that we need for a space booster. We should have, in a space booster, a reliability in excess of 0.95, a reliability that approaches that of the Space Shuttle.
General Henry: There is a better way. One approach being talked about today is to establish a space appropriation within OSD, which would have the same characteristics as NASA and other organizations that buy spacecraft—basically incremental funding and multiyear funding that doesn’t constrain you to the extent of the full-funding concept we have today.
General Henry: Well, if we had a space appropriation, it is essentially a defense appropriation. There are those who argue against that because it denies a flexibility in the budgetary process, but, on the other hand, one can always move the fence. If we did such a thing, it would allow our space programs to compete with each other, and to assure that as we meet the necessary constraints (since budgets are by definition limited), we can adjust our priorities in relation to each other.
If we want space systems to be available in time of war for communications, weather, navigation, or whatever, then we are going to have to start to buy space systems in a way that accommodates and permits combat attrition as well as peacetime attrition.
General Henry: Precisely. It suggests that we need to, in a strategic sense, define a force structure on orbit which includes orbital sparing. But we also need to, in addition to that, correlate individual systems with each other so that there is sufficient interdependence, that you have resilience in your force structure. We are now at a stage where we can talk seriously about developing an orbital cross-link—where satellites are connected electronically to each other. If you do that, then you can build on orbit a structure that gives you the kind of resilience you have in your communications systems on earth today.
AFM: And you can still talk if someone, either nature or some other force? …
The bit-stream is an electronic warfare problem. The terminals, if we can make them small enough and affordable enough so we can buy many, many of them, then we’ll have survivability and resilience in the terminal structure. Then in the spacecraft, if we can make them affordable enough, and make enough of them, interconnect them and make them interdependent or have a relationship between them, then we will have the resilience and depth to collect that information we talked about.
General Henry: Yes. And again, we should not go to space unless it’s the only way we can do a job, or can do it better, or it’s cheaper. The global movement of information seems to be the one thing we can use space for that we have not learned how to do on earth.
General Henry: Well, first of all, there is some speculation and discussion by those who talk about a warfighting capability in space. I’m not sure I know how to do that. I’m not sure anyone knows how to do that. The warfighting capability we have today in space is the ICBMs moving through space to get from Point A to Point B. perhaps someday we will have the technology for an antiballistic missile system. In theory, and I emphasize the word “theory,” the easiest way to destroy a ballistic missile is as it comes out of the atmosphere on the way up. That could be done from space, using beam weaponry, in theory. The problem is we don’t know how to build the beam weaponry.
That is a near-term threat. A far-term threat, of course, is the destruction of satellites wherever they may be. Despite the fact that there’s almost nothing between here and a satellite that’s 22,000 miles over the equator, that 22,000 miles is still 22,000 miles. And if you take that same sixteen-inch globe, that 22,000 miles is, in scale, about four feet from the globe. So getting there isn’t that easy. Getting to the right place is not that easy. Certainly, it is within technical feasibility.
AFM: So it seems we’ve been preoccupied with the craft and haven’t really devoted much attention to the bit-stream or the terminals, in the debate at least.
AFM: Do we have an industrial base that allows for resiliency in providing the components of this triad? Is there enough industrial capability to handle increased numbers of spacecraft and terminals?
I do not have a single program where I have spacecraft in the barn to launch in an emergency. I don’t even have launch vehicles that are untagged, if you will. Happiness, for Space Division, would be having spacecraft at a continuing production/ and that is not a high rate of production, but a production that is a recognition of the expected mean mission duration and allows for a little depth on orbit.
AFM: But that belies reality and experience, doesn’t it?
AFM: There’s a debate or suggestion that the Air Force take over the Shuttle mission, and also that the Air Force establish a Space Command. Could you comment on both of these please?
I would only note that access to space is not cheap, reliability in access to space is not yet easy, and it is not yet simple. The very fact that we are doing with the Space Transportation System is a reflection of the national character of the system. It is far from the routine that one associates with buying a 747 or B-52 or anything else that the Air Force does in an operational sense. So a military management of that space transportation system is first, by definition, a political decision and, second, that decision must take into consideration the inordinate complexity and the manpower intensiveness of this system. This system is a remarkable system, yet my children will someday look at that system in a museum and marvel at the primitive nature of it, just as today I look at the Mercury capsule and marvel at how we were able to do what we did with that capsule—we must remember that.
I would be sad to see us forced into, for organizational reasons, the customer-developer relationship that we have today on the airplanes. The operator is dealing with the bit-stream and what is terribly important to the operator is the quality of the bit-stream and the nature of that bit0stream so that he can have affordable terminals. And then the next most important thing for the operator is that he has confidence that the bit-stream will either go up or come down as he wants it, in the way that he wants it, whenever he wants it. The way to generate that confidence is to participate and develop the strategy—what I call the orbital strategy—and then in turn the launch strategy and the procurement strategy that make it all come true. And then the development and the establishment of requirements in the terminals so he can do what he has to do.
General Henry: Yes. And it’s becoming more and more a multiservice effort. I think one of the fundamental parts of the debate is the joint nature of whatever organization evolves. And, of course, another factor in the debate is whatever organization evolves—should it or should it not remain within Air Force Systems Command, a command that is organized for development and acquisition in the classic role of airplanes. I emphasize again that space is different. One of the most awkward relationships that Space Division has with its management responsibilities is the fact that it is awkward, trying to buy space systems under a system originally designed for the procurement of quantity units for our operating forces.
General Henry: No. My toughest problem today is the experience of my management. I am getting lieutenants, forty-one percent of my work force are lieutenants; my shortfall is in middle management. In my contracts arena seventy percent of my buyers, contracting officers, and procurement clerks have less than three years’ experience, and forty percent have less than one year of experience. So I am working with an experience shortfall that is putting Space Division through one of the most difficult times in its history. The experience shortfall is occasioned by the exodus from the armed forces that we all know happened. It’s also occasioned by the national shortfall of engineers, a national shortage, and it’s compounded by the difficult circumstances of living in the Los Angeles area.
General Henry: Well, they are tolerable for young bachelors coming out of college, whether they be male or female. But for the thirty-year-old who has small children, or the forty-year-old who has children in high school, it is intolerable. My ability to recruit is limited by that. The people are excited about the mission, but they say they are unwilling to put their family through the trauma and the culture shock of moving to Los Angeles where housing is so nearly unavailable and unaffordable.
General Henry: Many of our people spend three hours a day commuting. That’s so they can live in affordable housing.
General Henry: It’s entirely conceivable. It’s a matter of whether or not we can afford it. We live and work in some very high-priced real estate near two Los Angeles airports. There are many advantages to our being there because many of our contractors are there, but on the other hand, it is expensive.
General Henry: Many contractors are having the same problems. There’s no quick and easy answer. The best thing that has been brought forth so far is the variable housing allowance. But unfortunately, the variable housing allowance is calculated on what our people could afford last year, rather than calculated on the marketplace. As a result, the variable housing allowance that we receive its insufficient. It always lags behind. It’s not enough.
General Henry: Well, I guess the one thing that I would like for it to be is that we did reach the threshold of taking advantage of space to make the lot of our soldier, sailor, and airman an easier one. I am convinced that we can use space to do that. I’m convinced that we can use space to do that. I’m convinced that if the soldier, sailor, or airman knows where he is, and if he knows where the enemy is, and if he can communicate with his friends, then his opportunities for living and winning are greatly increased. I hope, in due course, the nation will recognize that and give space the budgetary importance it deserves.
What I sense happening today, which has been difficult to achieve in the past, is a sense of partnership with NASA—a joint venture, if you will—which will give options toward the future and allow both the civil and military use of the Space Transportation System. We need to take that in the proper perspective and use the Space Transportation System wherever it can be used best and use expendable boosters, if you will, where they can be used best for the proper mix of economy and utility.
General Henry: Yes, I do.
General Henry: That’s correct. It leaves the options open for whichever direction. If the political choice is that we have some kind of a government-owned contractor operation—à la Sandia Corporation—or continued NASA management, or transition to military management, those options all remain open.
Daily Report: Read the day's 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