Center for Strategic and International Studies Headquarters, Washington, D.C. -- (As Delivered -- Edited for Clarity)
Vice Adm. Charles A. Richard, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM): So good morning, and Dr. Hamre, thank you so much for one, hosting this event and that very kind introduction; as well as to CSIS [Center for Strategic and International Studies] more broadly; as well as to Mr. Robinson and the Prague Security Studies Institute.
I think it is great that we have all gotten together to collaborate and raise awareness about the critical issue of space security for the new administration.
Thank you also to all the panelists and participants here for your contribution to the discussion.
We know that in early meetings with senior military leadership our new President has shown a keen interest in space issues as we work towards a strategy of preparation without provocation in space.
So a very relevant topic. I’m privileged to be here. And as Dr. Hamre said, I’m here on behalf of my boss, General Hyten, who I think is one of the leading active duty military space experts certainly in our military and across the board. I’d like to address some issues in space security from a U.S. Strategic Command perspective.
But before I start, I’d also like to recognize the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are manning our strategic weapon systems so we can be gathered here today.
There’s over 184,000 people overall in the STRATCOM enterprise worldwide, and they stand watch, they stand guard 24/7/365 from under water to outer space. Right now as we speak they’re sitting up in Greenland, watching for incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles. They’re in North Dakota, sitting in missile silos. And they’re under the ocean inside nuclear-capable submarines, right? And the point behind that is, is that we are all very secure today, and I don’t think anybody in this room is particularly worried about a strategic attack occurring while we’re here, but that’s not an accident. That is the result of strategic deterrence over a long period of time, and I wouldn’t want us to take for granted the effort this nation makes to make sure that stays that way into the future.
So I think you all know that STRATCOM is a global warfighting command that delivers nuclear deterrent effects every day by sending the message that the risk of an attack on the U.S. will always outweigh the reward. Strategic deterrence is our first priority. General Hyten has made that very clear to us. And this morning I want to discuss the role of space security inside the context of deterrence.
So I think we all know that space is seamless, it is invisible, and it is fundamental to every military operation on the planet. In fact General Hyten has gone so far as to say there’s been a revolution in warfare that is created and enabled by space. It has created an environment where information has become the key to the battle space.
Look, let’s not forget, since we’re going to talk about it today, war is a horrible thing, right? But we no longer fight it by attrition. It is fought by information warfare, facilitated by information networks that space enables. Space enables communications, navigation, a number of things for our warfighters from soldiers on foot patrol to airmen flying sorties. So fundamentally, we’re in a world that in conflict it’s my network versus your network. But if space has become the key to the battle space, that means we have created a domain that must be secured.
It’s our first job at STRATCOM to defend this nation against all strategic threats, and right behind that is to defend and protect the space environment so that every generation in the future, no matter which country that you come from, can dream about exploring it one day.
We’re concerned about space being degraded such that we’re prevented from using it for military operations, commercial applications and scientific research and exploration.
Now General Hyten has said there is no such thing as war in space. There’s just war. I thought that was an incredibly insightful comment the first time I heard that.
Let’s be real clear here. We never want to fight a war that extends into space. It’s bad for the U.S., it’s bad for our allies, it’s bad for the world, and it would be bad for the space environment. However, just the same way we defend our assets in other domains, we must be prepared to defend our assets in the space domain.
Just as nuclear assets deter aggression by convincing potential adversaries there’s just no benefit to the attack, we have to maintain a space posture that communicates the same strategic message. I submit the best way to prevent war is to be prepared for war, and we’re going to make sure that everyone knows we’re going to be prepared to fight and win wars in all domains, to include space.
Look, while our goal is for space to remain a peaceful commons, we recognize that today, at least, it’s not a benign environment. Okay? Chairman Dunford [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] has described the dynamic with our four primary competitors as an adversarial competition with a military dimension that is short of armed conflict. So while we’re not at war in space, I don’t think we could say we’re exactly at peace either.
The strategic environment in space is complicated by our potential competitors’ offensive space capabilities. You don’t have to go very far into the press to read reports, for example Daily Mail here not too long ago, last week, reported that China is developing an arsenal of lasers, electromagnetic rail guns, high power microwave weapons, to neutralize America’s intelligence, communication and navigation satellites. Russia has similar capabilities. I think we could go on to see what other people are thinking about.
By the way, China also has a robust space exploration program and they’re very excited about their moon and Mars exploration programs. I think we all should be. But at the same time, they’re also building capabilities to destroy the dream of space exploration for the entire world.
With the rapidly growing threats to our space systems as well as the threat of a degraded space environment, we must prepare for a conflict that extends into space.
And by the way, in addition to deterring conflict in space, we must also deter bad behavior in space. Right now we’re tracking over 22,000 objects on orbit floating up in space. For example, in 2007 China’s ASAT [anti-satellite] test created over 3,400 of them, and over 80 percent of those are still on orbit today.
Now some people will come back and say look, what’s the big deal? Space is 73 trillion cubic miles. All right? What’s the problem?
Well, as an example, the International Space Station had to maneuver three times last year to avoid on-orbit debris. Every time you have to maneuver, and I know many people in this room already understand this, but any time you’re having to maneuver one of your on-orbit assets, it’s off-mission, it’s burning fuel, you may have impacted the lifetime of that asset. I submit that’s a problem.
The other thing to remember is that all space is not created equal. Just like there’s shipping lanes in the ocean, right? Certain pieces of the ocean are far more valuable than other pieces. Same in the air. We are limited by orbital dynamics in space.
General Hyten likes to tell a story, you may have heard it before, when he interviewed Arthur C. Clarke, the man who invented, I guess maybe a better word is recognized, what a geosynchronous orbit was, and asked him what his biggest regret was. Clarke told him that when he did the math to calculate that at 22,300 miles a satellite would appear stationary from earth, he published the science fiction article about it and sold it to a magazine for $100. I was like ouch. Hey, but what that goes to prove as a point is, in this case there is a magic altitude in space. Very valuable real estate. And it’s not at 22,000 miles, it’s not at 22,500 miles, it’s at 22,300 miles and if there’s debris in that particular space that’s a much bigger deal than if it’s somewhere else and we wind up having to maneuver our assets.
So, that being the case, through the Joint Space Operations Center [JSpOC], which I think many of you know is at Vandenberg Air Force Base, we’re monitoring space debris and working to prevent potential collisions of valuable space assets. So we’re essentially acting as space traffic managers for the entire world, and we do want everyone to know that we’re watching.
Our adversaries’ progress in space technology not only threatens the space environment and our space assets, but they also could potentially deny us asymmetric battlefield advantage if we ever lose superiority in the space domain.
Now it’s our job, STRATCOM’s job, to respond to an increasingly complex geopolitical situation while promoting a peaceful stance among all spacefaring nations, and it compels us to answer the question, how do we deter our adversaries in space while still keeping it safe, stable and secure? I’m hoping actually that some of the work that goes on in this conference this week is going to help us answer some of those questions.
To start, I’ll tell you that we think part of the answer lies in space integration. There can be no more thinking about land, air, sea, cyber and space as separate domains independent of each other. Whether you’re guiding ships, jets, drones, missiles, space is the domain that enables all the others, and if we’re going to wage war successfully, we have to respond in all domains, all the time.
General Hyten has acknowledged this kind of strategic global multi-domain integration is our greatest challenge. The way we integrate is the way we fight, and the nations that figure out how to integrate global operations across all domains will have a significant advantage on the battlefield. With wars in multiple theaters, we have to figure out how to integrate space effects in real time while maintaining timing and tempo across multiple domains if we are to maintain an asymmetric advantage.
Command and control is the limiting factor when it comes to synchronizing operations in multiple domains. As a part of the solution, the newly integrated Joint Interagency Combined Space Operation Center, sometimes referred to as JICSpOC -- and I’m sorry, I hate to go sort of all Pentagon on everybody in terms of, we will come up with a better name for that shortly, the very classic way we name stuff -- which is based in Colorado, facilitates integrated operations across joint forces by serving as a hub for collaboration and experimentation on new space system tactics, techniques and procedures. This ground-breaking effort increases the Department of Defense and intelligence community’s unity of effort and action to integrate capabilities and enhance space defense.
Additionally, the National Military Strategy directs us to integrate on a global scale, and one of the ways we do that is by leveraging the space assets and operating locations of our partners and allies.
Look, we share a number of common interests with our partners and allies. We are not the only people that have assets. And I think there is great opportunity for us to collaborate to mutual benefit in this area.
Let me give you some examples. Last November the U.S. and Australia signed an agreement to cooperate on space situational awareness to include placing U.S. radars in Australia to track satellites and debris in low earth orbit. We have similar collaboration with the United Kingdom by integrating the Royal Air Force’s Flyingdales radar for missile warning and space situational awareness. We have one with Norway where the Globus II radar tracks deep space objects.
Recognizing that a risk to one user and domain is a risk to all users and domains, and that our dependence on the network infrastructure that enables our operations makes us vulnerable to attack, we are working with our partners and allies in a variety of ways. I would submit that that is one of the fastest ways that we can improve this situation to mutual benefit.
I mentioned space situational awareness a moment ago, and through the space situational awareness sharing program we now have information-sharing agreements with 12 nations, 58 international companies, and two inter-governmental organizations. The intent here, the idea, is to promote exchange of information with like-minded spacefaring nations to maintain and improve space object databases and to promote the responsible, peaceful and safe use of space and to strengthen cooperation in the global space community, all free of charge.
Let me give you an example of that. So last summer a small business loan bank in Indonesia became the world’s first bank to own its own satellite in order to deliver reliable communication services to its nearly 11,000 branches to include rural and remote regions throughout Indonesia, Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia. Because of the United States’ commitment to safe space operations, we reached out to the Indonesian operator to provide them their satellite’s first orbital element set. That, of course, gave them better accuracy for their command and control on the payload, and most importantly, it aided in spaceflight safety. It is but one example of the United States’ commitment to international cooperation in developing norms of responsible behavior in space to keep space services viable.
Another way we integrate operations in space is through exercising and synchronizing our space capabilities with our partners and allies. Exercises such as Global Sentinel and the Schriever War Games, which I got to observe this past November. These exercises explore what a conflict in space would look like, how we might fight it, and how to guarantee that we would control the environment. By bringing together multinational groups of like-minded spacefaring nations working to integrate military space activities, all while optimizing resources across participating nations, our militaries share information, data and resources to leverage and synchronize existing capabilities.
One of the things these exercises have highlighted is we have difficulty determining the appropriate response at times due to a lack of rules of engagement in space. We’re still sorting out answers to the questions like what constitutes an attack in space. What is the undisputable evidence required within the international community to assert violation of sovereign territory in space? What constitutes provocation in space in our viewpoint?
If we’re going to act decisively in real time, we have to address these issues both legally and operationally. And as the U.S. works to establish and maintain international norms of behavior in space, and as we demonstrate a rules-based order with our allies, what that’s going to accomplish is the free-flow of commerce, information and ideas in all domains. By building coalitions in space, as in all other domains, with our space-capable allies, I believe we can improve our resiliency tremendously, starting by cultivating and exercising these relationships.
In closing, here’s what I want to reiterate. As we work to deter conflict and bad behavior in space, our goal ultimately is to promote secure access to space so it can be explored for generations to come. While we view space as just another domain like land, air, sea and cyber, it is still something special. It is still a domain that people look up to and dream. And it’s USSTRATCOM’s job to help keep it that way. To keep it safe, stable and secure for future generations.
And so to all of our academic and commercial partners in the room, thank you for your contributions to addressing these strategic challenges. We need your expertise to help us solve the many issues involved in space security.
I look forward to the results of your successful dialogue and collaboration during this conference, and I also look forward to your questions. Thank you very much.
Moderator: Thank you, Admiral Richard. We have time for a few questions. I’m Tom Karako, I’m a Senior Fellow here at CSIS. And I thought I would kick it off really by responding to a couple of things that you said.
You highlighted some of the aggressive actions on the part of Russia and China. Let me kind of probe a little bit behind that and say that isn’t there kind of a bigger problem that we face in just kind of being out of the habit of identifying in pretty candid language that Russia and China are a threat. In recent years we’ve seen the phrase, the term, great power conflict. Do you want to kind of speak to that a little bit with respect to space?
Vice Adm. Richard: Well, I would start off with, I think it shouldn’t come as news to anyone that major power competition is back on the table in a way that we have not seen in the world for perhaps 15 or 20 years. That applies in all domains. And as a result of that, there’s impacts and consequences to that in the space domain.
Space had for the longest time had a bit of a sanctuary status to it, right? That once on orbit, pretty benign, and you didn’t have to worry too much about actions being taken against your assets. I’d argue that those days are beginning to come to an end. And as a part of this competition, which hopefully stops short of war. I think I want to emphasize that. That while we’re very much going to talk about how to prepare for war, the idea is to avoid it, because on orbit the results are just bad. And it is bad for everyone that is involved.
So hopefully it is not news to anyone in this room that a combination of development of capabilities as well as the possibility of intent here, we are facing a radically changed situation in space from the ones that most of us grew up with and it’s time to start thinking hard about what we’re going to do about that.
Moderator: You also, in the course of things, mentioned kind of the challenges of rules of engagement in and through space. I was a little bit struck by that.
Last year DOD released the long-awaited update to the kind of Law of Armed Conflict, operational law, decades really in the making. And it had a nice big section on space. How is it, maybe you could speak a little bit, you know, how is it then that the rules of engagement for space are so challenging? It’s not like it’s a question anymore whether the Law of Armed Conflict applies to space, so what’s standing in the way?
Vice Adm. Richard: I’ll tell you, and I should probably start with, my background, of course, is not space. My background is undersea warfare. And while it’s no longer completely true, I sometimes, as little as six months ago, my entire qualification to participate in the space conversation basically consisted of having watched every episode of the original series of Star Trek. But that gives you a different perspective, and going back to your point, I think sometimes in the novel domains, right, and there may be an overlap into cyber here, we have this tendency or temptation to sort of start from scratch when we start to answer questions like this when in fact we have a lot of history in the other domains that gives us the beginning points of how we probably ought to think our way through this.
Space is very different. Physics is different, engineering is different, but some of the questions we’re answering have already been answered in the maritime domain and in the air domain. So we have precedent to at least start from, and I think that is the way to go after exactly what you’re talking about in terms of all right, if you want rules of engagement, norms and behaviors, if we start from a clean sheet of paper we will probably argue for a very long time. If we start where we’ve actually answered these questions in other domains I think it will get us a lot further along where we need to go.
Moderator: So shifting a little bit, last night North Korea apparently had another missile test, attempt. We were talking about it just a bit ago. It seems to have been a failure based on initial reports from the office back in Nebraska. But as I see the reaction to it, there’s a bit of, and I think there was kind of a New York Times article about this, kind of a wink, wink, nudge, nudge, that’s us. We’ve got this.
Is there kind of the risk, do you think, of a little bit of hubris of our ability to get on that problem left of launch, as it were?
Vice Adm. Richard: What I would offer, one, and I don’t have any particular information in terms of exactly what happened or why it happened, but I would be cautious to draw any conclusions coming from that.
Look, the bottom line is that launching rockets is hard. There are many experts in here that could go into more detail on that. I don’t know why, for example, right? But our own history is somewhat of a guide to us that we weren’t terribly successful at it when we first started doing it either. But every time we had a failure, we learned from it and eventually got to the point where we are today.
I think the same thing will happen with North Korea. They are learning from every one of those, and it is incumbent upon us to think through where does this end logically in terms of the capabilities that we have and do we have a plan in terms of what we’re going to do with it. Right?
So I do think it would be a bit of a stretch to say oh, we’ve got this. We’re actually causing all of that to happen. We have to think through this in terms of, much broader than that.
Moderator: I think we’ll open it up to questions. We have a few minutes for that.
Audience: Hi. Thank you. My name’s Linda Williams.
My question is, is STRATCOM by itself or in cooperation with its allies developing plans to mitigate space debris either by de-orbiting debris or capturing it? Thanks.
Vice Adm. Richard: Ma’am, we are not currently developing any plans to sort of de-orbit or otherwise mitigate the effects of space debris. We’re certainly very familiar with that, but no ma’am, we don’t have any capabilities that are either resident or contemplated to vacuum clean, if you will, up in space.
Audience: Roger Robinson.
We were just talking about China and Russia a bit, and the way they’re going at space now is very reminiscent of their new brand of hybrid warfare at a terrestrial level. They’re very anxious to probe, to disrupt, to see how far they can push the envelope, but just short of the threshold of triggering the necessity of meaningful Western retaliatory responses. If that’s a decent explanation of what hybrid warfare is.
It’s my impression that we have a form of hybrid warfare going on in space right now. I mean we have jamming, we have radio frequency interference, we have a number of things. We have lasers being directed, at least, on our satellites. We’ve got the bunching of co-orbital satellites from time to time that are suspect, shall we say. The point is, they’re coming up right to the point of where we would feel the necessity of responding, but then they pull back. They’ll probably engage in cyber as well. They already are. And reversible actions. So that by the time we’re having a debate about responses, all service has been returned to normal and you know, it just seems like yet another incident.
But what this is doing, of course, is creating a more permissive environment. They’re stretching out how much they can get away with.
Look at cyber. I mean we’ve seen this very acutely in this country in recent months. I get the same feeling that we’re experiencing this phenomenon in space as well. Can you speak to that? Because if we don’t start a more robust series of responses, and concentrate on intent, not just the notion that they can reverse or pull back, but what were they trying to do, and how dangerous is it? And can we continue to permit that kind of provocative behavior without a meaningful response? Thank you.
Vice Adm. Richard: Roger, that’s a very rich question and I think a fabulous insight. I would submit that that behavior that you’re talking about is not limited to the space domain alone. You just defined the nature of the competition in almost every domain that we face.
A couple of thoughts. It does beg the question, what do you do about it? That’s where I go back to in the end, this goes back to some very basic principles of warfighting in these highly technically complex domains that sometimes are a little easy to sort of get lost on the technologies involved. When actually you are having conversations, should be thinking at some very fundamental principles. Step one, for example.
So exactly how well do we know what’s going on? Just how well is our space situational awareness? Not to go into too much detail, but I mean I came in as an outsider looking at this and you sort of walk in with a yeah, we’ve got a lot of radars. We actually understand everything that’s going on up there. When in fact y’all would tell me that that’s not the case.
I heard it described once as trying to figure out what’s happening on orbit is sort of like watching a tennis match in a darkened room with a strobe light flashing and you’re trying to figure out what’s going on from little observations and the ability to do some math. Right? That’s step one. And I think one of the things that partnerships, collaboration with allies could rapidly improve so that we at least have a better characterization of this competition just short of war.
The second thing is that it’s a multi-domain problem. Just because something happens in one domain, your response may go back in another, in terms of the way that we think our way through that.
And then I come back to some very fundamental deterrence thinking. Fundamentally, the way you deter things is either you deny the other competitor’s objective or you impose a cost that is unacceptable. That whole stack of things applies here. Again, partnerships. By having a more distributed, both on-orbit and ground segments, you make the attractiveness of an action less. You make it such that you can deny the aim. And we have a number of national instruments of power that might impose a cost that would attack it from a different side.
But I do think there is an urgent need to go down these lines and figure out what it is we’re going to do or not do, because the clock is running. That’s part of why I come to work with a sense of urgency every day, we have to rapidly get past sort of the academic debate and get into the specific actions we’re ready, willing and allowed to take in these domains. Particularly space.
Moderator: Can I follow up with one particular thing? You said there is this distribution in resilience. You know, lowering the unit value of any one particular asset, making it harder, having fewer single points of failure. Doesn’t that strike you as a particularly good object goal, to improve our capabilities?
Vice Adm. Richard: That would be, as I look into the future, that’s where I think you wind up having to move. So when space is benign, and I can have a very small number of death stars up on orbit that have all these capabilities. There’s an economic piece to that. There’s a launch cost. I don’t think that’s the right way to go in a contested environment.
And again, we have partners and allies that have capabilities that very rapidly can be used to distribute both on-orbit and ground segment pieces. The incentive goes down to take action, the consequence of it goes down. You get to a much more stable world when you go do that.
Audience: Victoria Sampson, Secure World Foundation.
Talking about intent. It seems like there’s one good way to determine intent or at least get a better sense of what a country’s intent is, and that’s to have an established agreement about what responsible space behavior is. And that can be done via various options. You can do treaties. But it seems it might be easier, the norms of behavior. So I’m wondering from STRATCOM’s perspective, how could norms of behavior, responsible space actors, agreed upon by the international community, make your job easier? Thank you.
Vice Adm. Richard: In so many ways, ma’am. To go after -- just like in any other domain, if we have an agreed-to set of norms and behaviors, now you start to minimize the chance of miscommunication. You start to minimize misinterpreting something such that I don’t wind up doing an inappropriate or disproportionate response to it.
What’s going through my mind is the number of agreements we’ve made over the years in other domains, so it makes it very clear that when you see this, this is what this means. And all of those things drive to stability in our relationships.
So I would strongly, we would strongly support efforts to get to that shared awareness.
The other piece I don’t want to leave out of this, sometimes you just ask, in terms of why did you all do that? That’s got to be a starting point for this. You might not always get the answer you want or a thorough answer, but I think a lot of dialogue, among all spacefaring nations, also goes a long way.
Audience: I’m Bruce McDonald. I appreciate your comments, sir, about the importance of resiliency in our space systems.
I wanted to ask you, do we see signs, because our adversaries are not stupid, they must see the benefits of resiliency as well. Do we see any signs that they are going in that direction? And how do we deal with their attempts at resiliency? And what are the implications do you think?
Vice Adm. Richard: The short answer is yes. We do see lots of other folks going down the same lines. So on orbit, ground segment, all of that. And so the answer becomes, again, it goes back to we’re in a competition. It’s my network versus your network. So we have to think through what opportunities and vulnerabilities we have relative to what they do.
But again, take something as simple as space situational awareness. We very early on figured out that we needed a worldwide network of sensors so that we could understand what was happening. There’s nothing national about that. That’s physics. So you’re seeing other nations go down the same lines. It’s better if we can do it in a cooperative way.
But then the reverse is if someone is not cooperative, that presents opportunities to influence their decision calculus.
Audience: Good morning, sir. Russ Matusevich with Hawkeye Country 60.
I’m interested in what steps STRATCOM is taking to incentivize the acquisition organizations to actually deliver on resiliency, deliver on disaggregation, and including commercial systems. Because we’ve discussed this for nearly a decade and we’re really not seeing a lot of notions down the path to implement. And the commercial industry is ready to help, but it’s like we need to be pushing on both ends of the acquisition spectrum.
Vice Adm. Richard: There’s an acquisition piece to that, and we are taking some efforts. There’s a pretty robust commercial partnership going on, for example, at the JSpOC in Vandenberg where we’re bringing in our commercial partners.
Hey, there is a bit of bureaucracy that you have to dynamite through in order to go do this. Sometimes that’s a bit of an uphill push but STRATCOM is fully engaged in terms of making sure that our policies allow us to go do things like that.
As far as the acquisition side comes, that gets into the role of, it’s important, you know, STRATCOM is a combatant command. We operate things and we set requirements. It is a service responsibility to actually acquire them. So we work very hard to be a demanding customer in that role.
Again, I see signs of optimism in terms of the way that we’re thinking about it. Groups like this actually go a long way. The idea that we need to move to distributed architecture, I don’t know that that’s universally held at this point. And a strong academic underpinning of the logic as to why we need to do that I think helps that argument.
Moderator: One more, and then I think we do need to break to stay on schedule.
Audience: Thank you. John Harper with National Defense Magazine.
Admiral, you mentioned that the President is very interested in space issues. Do you get a sense that the new administration supports increasing funding for enhancing U.S. space capabilities? And does STRATCOM need more resources to carry out the mission that you outlined earlier?
Vice Adm. Richard: One, I don’t know, it would be a bit premature to say precisely what areas the new administration is going to change its resourcing profile. I think it’s pretty obvious defense across the board is receiving a lot of attention from the new administration.
Asking a combatant command if it has enough resources is sort of like asking yourself do you make enough money. And the answer is I can always buy your risk down more if you give us more resources.
But the short answer is I think we’re working very well with the services in terms of setting the priorities and identifying what we think we need to do to do our missions with an acceptable level of risk.
Moderator: Sir, thank you very much. This has been great. We’re going to wrap it up there. We’re going to have a cup of coffee and then we’re going to come back for our first panel. So thank you very much.
Vice Adm. Richard: Perfect. Thank you.