Space is quickly becoming a highly contested and congested domain, with allies and adversaries alike establishing their presence in the final frontier. The ability to navigate through space and leverage those corresponding capabilities in-theater is crucial as the battlespace becomes more connected and data-driven. The defense community continues to expand throughout the domain with the Space Development Agency tasked to accelerate military space capabilities.
In fact, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced that it intends to implement a Defense Space Strategy in response to adversaries’ recent weaponization of space. In a recent statement, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper remarked, “We desire a secure, stable, and accessible space domain that underpins our nation’s security, prosperity, and scientific achievement. However, our adversaries have made space a warfighting domain and we have to implement enterprise-wide changes to policies, strategies, operations, investments, capabilities, and expertise for this new strategic environment. This strategy identifies a phased approach on how we are going to achieve the desired conditions in space over the next 10 years.”
But how do agencies like the Space Development Agency (SDA) envision the space domain and how do they intend to facilitate a stronger defense presence with it? Advancements in space as they pertain to defense communications and connectivity are a prime focus for the Space Development Agency’s Transport layer. According to the agency, “SDA’s Transport Layer will provide assured, resilient, low-latency military data and connectivity worldwide to the full range of warfighter platforms.” This effort is envisioned in the form of a constellation comprised of 300-500 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites varying in size that will ensure constant global coverage.
Jason McDonald, Air Force veteran and Associate Director for Strategic Planning at Collins Aerospace, reflected on his experience at United States Strategic Command advocating for funding and rapid procurement authorities to close evolving space and ISR capability gaps and at Air Force Space Command where he expedited National Security Space Launch requirements to meet urgent warfighter needs in a recent interview with Modern Integrated Warfare. McDonald spoke to the rapid growth and innovation taking place in the space domain, noting that he’s seen more change in the arena in the last four years than he has in the last two decades in response to increasingly complex communication needs on the battlefield.
“Space is an important part of the puzzle for success in other domains,” he explained. “Pertaining to both multi-domain operations inter-branch communications, space-based connectivity is crucial to warfighter safety and mission success.”
While there has been great progress in weaving space into our defense strategy, there is, of course, room for improvement throughout the process. McDonald noted three main challenges communicated by the defense community regarding increasing the defense presence in space: pace of innovation, lack of research and development, and the increasing congestion of space. But industry is tackling these obstacles in partnership with the defense community.
“Big changes are happening when it comes to how defense leaders acquire technology,” McDonald stated. “Through the advent of approaches using enhanced space procurement authorities, faster OTA and IDIQ acquisitions, and the increased use of rapid technology demonstrations, new technologies can be implemented more rapidly in-theater, addressing warfighter challenges in a more timely manner.” McDonald also noted increasing budgets as a catalyst for more in-depth R&D that will fuel the technology being put forth as well as an increase in partnerships between the DoD and the space industrial base to deliver game-changing solutions that solve the most challenging warfighters needs.
However, space congestion is not a challenge easily solved, as there are no signs that growth of space as a battle domain is slowing. Signal interference and congested frequencies are among the top concerns. This is where modernized waveforms and software defined solutions come into play. By opening up lines of communication securely via new waveforms and open architecture networking approaches, warfighters are able to fully utilize uncompromised comms capabilities across the battlespace. This is all crucial in delivering on low-latency, reliable connectivity for the warfighter that agencies like the SDA are working to provide.
As space becomes a warfighting domain, similar to land, sea, air, and cyber, these challenges will continue to evolve and be addressed through a joint partnership. The lessons learned and best practices implemented as a result of the work that agencies like the Space Development Agency are doing are sure to breed continued innovation in all domains of the battlespace.