2009 Strategic Space Symposium - Commander's Perspective

By General Kevin P. Chilton | Omaha, Neb. | Nov. 3, 2009

General Chilton: What a great turnout. It's great to see you all here in Omaha today. I know the Governor had to run off, but I want to thank him publicly for taking the time to come here and welcome us all to this event.

I'll tell you, when you have the Governor of the state that you're stationed in on your consultation committee, it's a good thing. And having the Governor here today is just typical of the support that we get in U.S. Strategic Command, at the 55th Wing, at the Air Force Weather Agency, anybody who's assigned to Offutt Air Force Base, whether it be from the Governor, the Mayor who was here last night from Omaha, head of the Chamber of Commerce, head of Chamber of Commerce from Bellevue which is the city that Offutt resides in. We just couldn't ask for better support. And I know they've bent over backwards in many different ways to help make you more comfortable while you're here, especially the Air Force Weather Agency, I might add, with the great weather that they've provided us for the next couple of days. So a special thanks to them.

Elliott, thanks for your kind introduction. I'm going to have to correct you on one point, though. My daughter's following in her mother's footsteps, not her dad's footsteps. In a long line of tradition in my wife's family of service to our country, I couldn't be more proud of both of them. But you're right on one thing, it takes five women to keep me going forward, not just one, and I am truly blessed in that regard.

Colonel Gilbert, Tom Gilbert, and the men and women of the GISC. A year ago I asked them to work with the Space Foundation to kind of adjust the way we do this symposium, to bring a little bit different focus to the symposium, and the results so far speak for themselves. The great turnout. Yesterday a great classified session, a first for the symposium at the Global Innovation and Strategy Center downtown. Very large SCIF facility that allowed us to bring together a lot of different organizations and folks and talk very frankly. I think that was a big plus for the symposium. It's one aspect of it that we will continue to do in the future.

Why do we have these symposiums? We have three of them here at STRATCOM. We have one for Space, one for Cyber Space, and a brand new one we just did this summer for Deterrence. The reason is, these are our three main lines of operations. This is what we do every day in this command. We operate in space, we operate in cyber space, and we provide deterrence for this nation.

We need to have forums available to bring focus to these areas that brings together the various elements of industry, academia, policy, government, service, and yes, our international partners as a new element and an element that we're going to emphasize even more in our symposiums. To focus on what it is, reflect on what we have been doing, what we are doing, and focus on what we need to do to move the ball forward in each of these three critical lines of operations.

It's as much about reflection and looking forward as it is about also bringing along and educating the next level of leaders, the next group of leaders who will continue on these mission areas for the United States of America in the future.

A famous Air Force general, when I was a brand new general, was giving a lecture to us all about what, and asked us a question -- a roomful of brand new one stars -- what our number one job was as senior leaders in the Air Force. Someone raised their hand and said the mission, sir. He said the mission's important that's not your number one job as the senior leader. Well, someone else thought this is a 50/50 question so he raised his hand and said it's the people, taking care of our people. He said no, that's important. You can't get the mission done without taking care of your people, but that's not your number one job as a senior leader. We were stumped. So he told us. Your number one job is to raise your replacement so when you go into retirement, you're sitting on your rocking chair on your front porch you have no worried about the defense of this nation. And it's as much about that process that we hold these symposiums, or that reason that we hold these symposiums. It's about raising and educating the next leaders that will take this country forward in this domain of space that has become so critically important not only to our military and the way we operate day in and day out, but also to our very way of life here in the United States of America and indeed, around the world. That's why we're here.

So let's keep that in mind as we have our discussions, as the panels have their discussions in the breakout sessions. It's about sharing ideas, it's about educating, it's about putting problems and challenges on the table. Challenging the gray matter in this room to bring solutions to those problems to help us move the ball forward.

Well, here's my few moments this morning where I have an opportunity to share my thoughts as a COCOM. COCOM's are interesting beasts. They're kind of freer than other four stars in the services, the service chiefs, who are burdened by such things as POMs and budgets and schedules and bottom lines, spreadsheets that have to balance. You see, COCOMs have no budgets. All we have are wants. We're kind of like children at Christmas time. In fact the catalogs just started showing up at my house this week. I don't know how they are where you live. But the newest and greatest toy catalog or dress catalog showed up, and the ""I want's"" are already starting to come out in the house. Pages are getting dog-eared, things are getting underline. You can see it coming. COCOMs are like that. We're kind of folks that just build lists of ""I want's"". And you know what? We don't want them at Christmas time, we want them now. We don't want to wait a POM cycle for them. We want those capabilities delivered now, because we're on duty, we're on watch, we need these things to do our missions today.

So as I walk through my remarks this morning, keep in mind the perspective I'm bringing here. This is November. The time is appropriate for me to roll out this year's STRATCOM Commander's Christmas list. It won't be a long list, I assure you. In fact some of the things on my list are things that I may have asked for last year, the year before, and the year before that. I'm going to continue to ask for them, though.

There's a new one on my list this year, and we'll talk about that in a minute as well.

As I reflect back on this year, it's been a busy year for the command. We've had just a few things going on. This thing called QDR, this thing called NPR, START negotiations, and one that's most interesting to this group and forum, the Space Posture Review. Every one of them right in the wheel house of our lines of operations and the command has been sprinting, trying to keep up with these reviews and make sure that our inputs are brought to the table for each and every one of them. All with a new team in the Pentagon and the White House to work with.

But I think if we think back in our domain here of space, what's probably the seminal event in this past year that kind of, once again, helped us refocus on the domain, I would have to say it was the Cosmos-Iridium collision. The big space theory, like the big sky theory, kind of came to a close when that happened. The thought that we wouldn't have to pay attention to the movement of every satellite up there because there's so much space up there and such a low probability that they'll run into each other that we won't have to do that.

I don't think any of us in the business ever believed that. In fact we've always wanted to do better at that. But we have always been resource constrained. It's amazing what one collision will do to the resource spigot. Once that happened, we started to see some resources start to flow in the right directions and some creative thinking going on to improve our ability to predict collisions between the 800 satellites that we care about up there that are active and the over 20,000 pieces of total particles, debris, manmade objects that are in orbit today around the planet. That's 20,000 that we can see.

I use that number hesitantly, because I'm driving my speechwriters and my public affairs crazy. I think when I took command it was 14,000; then it went to 16,000; 18,000; the latest count is 20,000. Ladies and gentlemen, the trend is in the wrong direction here, and the rate of growth in space debris is in the wrong direction. And when we say 20,000-plus pieces of debris in orbit, we're only talking about the stuff we can see.

Models estimate that we're off by an order of magnitude of the total amount of debris that's up there that could do damage to satellite and systems on orbit.

So what has been going on to support this? The 14th Air Force, Air Force Space Command, and through their leader, the Commander of JFCC Space, General James, have really cranked up the effort here to do collision avoidance, conjunction analysis work out at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Now instead of doing slightly less than 100 conjunction analyses a day, they're doing over 800 a day and predicting conjunctions between those 800 active satellites and the debris that is up there.

They've advanced the ball on the commercial and foreign entities work that has been going on as a pilot program, and we're going to see that transition to U.S. Strategic Command later this year.

But the work that we are demanding of the men and women at Vandenberg Air Force Base at JFCC Space is still too hard. We're still making their job too difficult to do, particularly given the technologies that we have available to us today.

When I look at the super computing capabilities that we have, when I look at the computing and data storage capabilities that we have, when I look at the collection assets that we have, and then I go look at the JSPOC and I see what they have to do to take that data and information and crank it into decision quality information and data for the commander, we are decades behind where we should be, in my view.

Situational awareness. It's a first principle for any warfighter in any domain. It's the first question asked by any officer or leader or platoon leader when a report comes back from the front. The first question is, what is the situation? What is meant by that? Where are the good guys? Where are the bad guys? Where are the neutrals? What's the terrain like? How are the bad guys armed? How are the good guys armed? What's our defensive posture? Are we moving forward, are we retreating? What is the adversary doing in the battle space?

Situational awareness is a first principle for command and control of forces, no matter what the domain. It allows the commander to make good decisions. Without good situational awareness you die. I know this from my years flying fighters. We would come back in the debriefs and if you got shot or if someone in your element got shot in the exercise or the drill, you can bet one of the first things that happened to them on their way to getting shot was, they'll tell you in the debrief, I lost situational awareness at this point in the fight. Thirty seconds later, one minute later, I was kill removed. I lost track of the adversary, I lost track of my wingman, I lost track of the situation and the environment that I was directed to operate in.

Space situational awareness is no different than the situational awareness that we demand in any other domain, and we do not provide that in an adequate fashion to my component commander in charge of space operations for the United States of America.

SA should give him the ability to plan in advance, and act in advance, and not just be reactive in the way he conducts his business and directs our forces.

Now you're always on occasion going to have to react, but if you have good situational awareness you'll make the correct decisions in that reaction mode. You'll advance or increase your defensive posture and adjust your forces to react and regain the initiative. Without it, none of this is possible.

So what do we need? Well, my big gift that I want under the tree is improved situational awareness for my functional component commander for space. There are little packages that need to come along with that, though, to make this dream come true.

It starts with sensors. It starts with having sensors in the right place around the globe so you can surveil the domain. We are challenged with the sensors that we have deployed today because they were deployed in the Cold War against the Soviet threat, so mostly they were deployed in the Northern Hemisphere.

Fifty percent of the time satellites in orbit are in the Southern Hemisphere. We need to pay attention to what's going on in that part of the domain as well as we pay attention to what we see in the Northern Hemisphere.

We have some good programs in train. Replacement for the space fence. Space-based space surveillance systems. It's imperative that we keep these programs on track.

But I think there are also opportunities for us to reach out to friends and allies and leverage capabilities that others have in a teaming fashion to provide the increased surveillance assets, the increased observations, that decreases the uncertainty in the location of elements in space. I think there's great opportunity for us to reach out and do that better as well.

We need help doing this. We can only do so much on our own. It's time to admit that we can join together with other space-faring nations to address these issues.

There's another great organization in our Department of Defense, the Missile Defense Agency, which has done an absolutely spectacular job in fielding a capability in an incredibly short period of time. We should pay attention to how they did that.

If they were asked to do the normal processes for acquisition we would not have what we have on the table today and deployed in Alaska and California and the command and control battle systems that we have available to us for both defense of North America and for forward deployed forces.

But in their mission area as they deploy these capabilities, one thing that they absolutely hang their hat on is the deployment of sensors to support the missile defense mission.

We've been using missile warning sensors for a very long time in the space business to keep track of objects in space. Those missile warning sensors are in place for another reason. They're part of our deterrent posture and they're part of our warning posture, they're part of giving the President decision space in the event of a really bad day. That really bad day has not happened.

Imagine if we had just let them sit there and use all that energy, time and investment to just wait for that bad day as opposed to use them the way we do use them which is day in and day out to conduct space surveillance. Always ready at a moment's notice to convert back to the number one priority mission.

We need to do the same thing as we field missile defense sensors. As we put up sensors for missile defense, a system we hope we never will have to use, a system we hope that will deter adversaries from attacking us with either short, medium, or long range ballistic missiles, we ought to write into the requirements and field capabilities to support space situational awareness development and space surveillance.

The second thing this system needs to help General James is a system that can ingest data from various sources. From radars, from telescopes, from infrared sensors, from contractors, commercial entities and allies who are flying satellites. There are folks out there today flying satellites who are friends of ours in the commercial world who know exactly where those satellites are. Wouldn't it be nice if we could set up relationships so that we could share that information with General James' organization so we don't waste radar energy and waste our assets keeping track of something that we already know where it is. In fact we ought to use those as a calibration source to calibrate our sensors.

There are plenty of opportunities to bring these data in to the JSPOC to inform the space surveillance picture. The impediment is not the willingness often of people to share this data, it's in the systems in the JSPOC and their ability to absorb that data, bring it together, and use it.

Technical challenges that we know how to overcome. Technical challenges that we can overcome. And technical challenges that we should overcome.

Then we need to take those increased sensors, all that data that's available, some of it available today and not being used, and figure out a way to fuse it together and present it to the commander for the purposes of allowing him to make decisions.

Again, situational awareness is about enabling commanders to make decisions. To command and control their forces. To take the situation report, assess it, give orders, and have the mission executed to deal with the situation as reported.

Finally, there's another part of situational awareness that can be improved through increased focus from our intelligence community on the space mission. We've talked about this before, about the vast numbers of people we had deployed in the intelligence community -- analysts I'm talking about now -- during the Cold War to consider the single threat of the Soviet Union space program.

Today in this multi-polar world with players that include Iran who has launched a satellite into space; North Korea, who desires to launch a satellite into space; and others. We have shrunk our intelligence analyst capability to a point where it would be totally inadequate for even one country, let alone the multiple players that are out there today.

Regrowing that expertise in the intelligence community, and it will take time, but paying attention to it, focusing it, so the commander can get assessments of what is going up into space before it is launched. Finding out what's in space after it's gotten into space is too late for a commander. We don't tolerate that in other domains. Before a ship sails, before a tank hits the battlefield, before a new aircraft flies in combat, we've already studied it and analyzed it and understood its capabilities. This focused level of intelligence is something we need to rejuvenate in the system, and it's going to take time, but if we don't set the bar and set the goal for doing it then we won't make progress.

The time for action I believe is now. We've been talking about the need to improve SSA for a long time. In fact that talk and those arguments have turned into real dollars laid into the POM. FY09 was the first year. '10 is the second year. The dollars are there. We fought for those dollars. It's time now for the users to sit down with the acquirers to explain what it is they need, to identify the technical hurdles that need to be overcome, and as one of our most famous Nebraskan comedians says, ""Get ""er done."" It's time to move forward in this area, ladies and gentlemen.

The second ""I want"" on my Christmas list is one that I began speaking about last year. The issue really came clear in my head yesterday in one of our closed sessions in an unclassified discussion. One of the members of the session was reflecting back about his days in the space business ten years ago, in 1999. He said, let me tell you what it was like back then. He was involved with the GPS Program Office at the time.

He said in 1999 we had 27 GPS satellites on orbit. Beyond the requirement. More than the requirement. We had 20 GPS-2R satellites built and in the barn, waiting to go up with a 45 day call-up capability, a launch on demand, to replenish the constellation should you start having problems with the satellites on orbit. Not only that, besides the 20 2Rs that were on the ground waiting to go up, we had 6 GPS-2Fs, the follow-on to that system, on contract and being developed.

For missile warning, DSP. We had several satellites on the ground, in the barn, and a robust, healthy constellation on orbit, and a plan to replenish as required.

For our weather satellites, DMSP. Five satellites in storage, over four on orbit, and a plan to sustain the capability.

For protected coms. Three MILSTARS on orbit, one that should have been but didn't quite make it to its right orbit, but two additional satellites nearing completion and construction and work on the follow-on satellite to MILSTAR, the AEHF, had already begun.

And in the launch business. Thirty to 40 Delta 2's on a 30 day call-up contract to support access to space. Multiple launch families. Atlas 2, Titan 2, Titan 4, Atlas 4, and Delta to choose from.

If you wanted a flight and it wasn't an emergency, six months to two years to get on the calendar to go fly.

Then he reflected on what our situation is today.

The GPS constellation is still robust, ladies and gentlemen. It still has more satellites on orbit than are required and is doing a phenomenal job. But unlike 1999, we no longer have a stable of spacecraft on the ground awaiting the next launch. In fact the next launch is scheduled no earlier than May of next year.

For DSP, missile warning, there are no more DSPs in the barn, ladies and gentlemen. And the first SBIRS is 12 to 18 months away.

Last year when I stood up here the first SBIRS was 12 months away. It slipped more than the time that's gone by in the interim.

Weather satellites, we still have a couple of DMSPs in the barn, and that's a good thing to have because the follow-on system has not had a good track record of becoming ready to replace it.

Protected com, that AEHF program that was underway in '99, is still underway today and still nine to twelve months away from launch. It will be nearly a decade between the last launch of our MILSTAR protective satellite and the next launch of our follow-on family of protected satellites.

If you want to launch today in a hurry, it's a minimum two year EELV call-up.

Over the last ten years we have gotten into the position of managing to efficiency at such a level that it's working against us, ladies and gentlemen. I believe we are approaching our critical space needs at a time when our space capabilities clearly have become even more important to us than they were ten years ago. We have fallen into what I will call gap management in the way we manage our constellations, our critical constellations on orbit. We need to stop doing this. We need to stop managing the health and sustainment of these critical constellations on the very edge of a gap that could develop.

You know, I'm a big baseball fan. I love this time of year when the World Series is going on. I would love it a little more if my Dodgers were in the finals. [Laughter]. But you know, the way I like to see a baseball game end, when the bases are loaded and my team's up by one, and we're in the field, and it's the bottom of the 9th, I like to see a nice towering fly ball hit to the center field where he doesn't have to move very far and he circles under it. Because I know while that ball is in flight, I know the game's over. There's no way for the Philly's, Shane Victorino's going to drop a can of corn fly ball coming at him where he doesn't have to move in center field. It isn't going to happen.

I don't particularly care for the line shot in the gap where I'm counting on Shane getting on his horse and making a diving catch at the last moment to save the series.

Well in the launch business and in some of our constellations, the bases are loaded and it's the bottom of the 9th inning. And I tell you, I'm not going to look forward to listening to the man count backwards from ten on launch day knowing that that mission has got to succeed, got to succeed or a gap is going to develop in a critical constellation.

We're good at this launch business, but I've been part of an organization who thought they were so good that they could have 100 percent success and survivability and reliability in their system, and they know much better now, that you have to have safety nets. You have to have plans. And when it's important, you better have executable plans.

What's even more frightening to me, or concerning to me, is it's not just one line drive that the center field is going to have to shag and catch in a critical time. It's multiple launches that are going to have to go off perfectly with brand new systems for us to be in a position where we want to be in the future. We need to do a better job in this area, ladies and gentlemen.

My Christmas wish, that we change from gap management and robust the development of our constellations and preparedness to launch them and go back to the future and reposition ourselves to more like we were in 1999. I'll give up improvements in capabilities for that assurance.

The last thing on my Christmas list is a new one. The previous two are things I've asked for before, so it shouldn't come as any surprise. This one comes out of reflections on where I think the tools I think we need, capabilities I think we need, to move the ball forward in this domain of space as we think about contingency planning, as we think about developing requirements, as we think about training young new people in the art and science of defending this domain and making sure our assets are available to us even in time of conflict.

I go back to a time when I was a young captain flying F-15s and I got what I thought at the time was the short straw in a draw to go to St. Louis, then McDonnell Douglas, now Boeing, had built a simulator there. It was a really nice simulator. Big dome simulator, good visuals inside, cockpit right in the middle. The reason I felt I got the short straw is you'd rather fly than simulate any time, and this didn't sound like a particularly good deal. Six weeks away from the flight line, living in St. Louis, and flying a simulator.

What were we doing there? We brought in F-15 pilots from around the country, and then we brought in aggressor pilots -- those skilled and studied in those days in the Soviet threat. Our very very high end exceptional fighter pilots who really studied and took to heart the tactics, techniques and procedures of the adversary.

We brought these two groups together and to the adversaries, we gave the state of the art equipment that we had in our inventory in 1982. We gave them the best missiles. We gave them a numerical advantage. And we gave them these really bright fighter pilots and said you are unconstrained at how you fight with these systems.

The scenarios were often two versus sixteen. Two F-15s versus sixteen bad guys. Some of the bad guys were computer generated. We called them digis. You never wanted to fight a digi because some mad scientist mathematician had programmed these things to fly the perfect airplane. You could not defeat these guys. At best you escaped with your life if you got in a one-versus-one fight with one of the digitals. You'd much rather fight the human being out there.

What did we get to give us an advantage? We got hypothetical systems that were in development at the time. They gave us this new system called ""track while scan"" on our radar, so we could track multiple targets at the same time, or scan and assess multiple targets at the same time we were tracking the target we were going to shoot. They gave us this new AMRAAM that was in development, this new capability of launch and lead missile. They took some of our radar warning receiver information and fused it with some of our radar data and other systems and gave us new displays that help us do beyond visual range engagements to give us a little advantage. Then they turned us loose and we fought each other for six weeks.

What we learned in that process, with the developers in the room, was what worked and what didn't work. What might be a nice technical tweak to the equipment that they were thinking about developing and really hadn't spent a lot of funds developing at the time, they could improve this capability as it was fielded later on.

But more importantly, we learned some new tactics, techniques and procedures because as we evolved with this equipment, the bad guys evolved with our equipment. We got better and better at tricking each other and out-doing each other and developing new ways to fight with these new capabilities.

By the time Desert Storm rolled around, many of these new capabilities were fielded. Many of these tactics, techniques and procedures had become part of the tactics manuals that fighter pilots studied and used in that fight. And the kill ratio speaks for itself. In fact the kill ratio since that time speaks for itself.

That tool, that ability to do modeling and simulation, to adjust, to give operators an opportunity to experiment and fail; to try something new and win; was absolutely essential I think to the development of these capabilities. And it continues today. In fact it has become so powerful that Air Combat Command has taken that simulation capability and replaced some flying time with that simulation time for their men and women who are flying their aircraft today. Oh, by the way, you can jump in a simulator at Offutt Air Force Base and fight somebody at Tindal Air Force Base and be controlled by an AWACS out of Tinker because the simulators are all netted together.

It's this kind of modeling and sim capability that you can also bring to bear in exercises like our Global Lightening Exercise we just had. Wouldn't it be nice if we could set up a model and sim that set up an adversary capability, set up a situation, and challenged our JFCC space operators to handle the situation and make moves, and make mistakes, and not have to worry about their one and only system that they have today that's doing real world stuff, one hundred percent of the time.

I think if we move in this direction, bring these capabilities on, we will gain the same advantages that the fighter community gained in that 1980's time period and continues to gain from exercising, training, and doing acquisition development through these types of modeling and sim capabilities.

Well what do I want for Christmas? Only three things this year, Santa Claus. Only three things. One of them's not for me. One of them's for my component commander.

I want to give General James the situational awareness that he needs to be able to command and control his forces. I want to get him more data through better sensors. I want him to be able to have the tools to fuse that data, and I want him to have the displays available to help him make decisions with that data, to turn that data into knowledge. And I want him to have better intel support and expertise to analyze the situations that he will be faced with.

I want us as a community to stop managing to gaps on our critical constellations and build back the robustness in our launch capability, build back the robustness in our acquisition capabilities and strategies to ensure that these critical capabilities that we have and become dependent on will always be there available for the warfighters of the future.

And I'd like us to take the challenge on to start thinking about how we might field new tools that will allow us to exercise and experiment. To develop TTPs and to practice our tradecraft so that we'll be ready should that bad day ever come. But we have to take actions to protect our precious assets in space, our previous assets on the ground that support them, and the connective tissue through cyber space that's required to make it all work.

It's not too long of a list, Santa Claus. Honest. And really, if you think about it, it's really not that daunting of a list. In fact unlike my daughters who might be contemplating cars or very expensive things, I'm just asking for socks and underwear. This is fundamental stuff. Very fundamental stuff. Not bells and whistles.

Well, oftentimes at a time like this you're tempted, particularly if you've been in the business for a while to tell someone how to solve this problem. But very early in my career I was forced to memorize a quote by George S. Patton, and for those of you who are graduates of the Air Force Academy, you'll remember this, but you'll also forgive me if I've forgotten the precision associated with the quote, so I will paraphrase it.

General Patton said never tell someone how to do something. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

I've just given you my list of what I'd like you to do, and I'm confident that this team is able to do that. To figure out the how and to deliver.

I've reflected as I've read about other leaders throughout our history of how they must have felt at critical moments in their career. I, by no means, have ever been faced with the type of situation which I would describe General Eisenhower had, Ike, on the eve of D-Day. Or General Schwarzkopf on the eve of Desert Storm, whether it be the air campaign, General Horner, or the land campaign. How they slept the night before that campaign. Surely they had confidence in knowing that right was on their side, that they had the moral high ground in the endeavors that they were about to step off into, and that had to give them some comfort, no doubt.

Surely they were confident that by their side they had allies that they could count on in the worst conditions.

But above all, the reason they slept well, I'm sure, the night before is because of the undying and unshakeable confidence they had in the men and women in their command. That is what I have for the men and women in United States Strategic Command. That is what I have for the men and women in our contractor force that will tell us how to solve these problems and help us solve these problems. I have undying confidence that we can solve these what's, fix these issues, and deliver the goods on Christmas morning.

Ladies and gentlemen, I challenge you to roll up your sleeves and make 2010 a turning point in our business.

Thank you very much.

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