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En route to Space Symposium, Deputy Defense Secretary talks milspace with reporters

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work (second from right) at Buckley Air Force Base near Denver. Credit: DoD
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. —  At last year’s Space Symposium, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work gave a speech during a classified session that many attendees described as a “call to arms” for the military space community.

Since then, Work has been an instrumental figure in creating the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC), an venue for the Defense Department and the intelligence community to experiment with closer collaboration.

He also led a reorganization of the Pentagon’s space enterprise, re-designating the Department of Defense executive agent for space as the principal DoD space adviser and naming Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James to the post. 

Work, a former Marine who did a stint at the National Reconnaissance Office in the early 1990s,has traveled to Colorado Springs six times since he became the deputy secretary in April 2014.

On his flight Tuesday  from Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland,  to Colorado to speak at the 32nd Space Symposium, Work spoke with SpaceNews’ Mike Gruss, Breaking Defense‘s Colin Clark and Reuters‘ Andrea Shalal. A portion of that group interview appears below.

What changes led to the creation of the JICSpOC?

 For most of the last 20 years in the post Cold War period we viewed space as a sanctuary. We now believe if we ever got into a war, war would extend into space because it provides our warfighting force with such enormous advantages and all of our potential competitors know that. We now assume our space constellation will be under threat from the earliest moment. If that’s the case, then you have to be able to fight through attacks. You have to look up and know what threats are coming and you have to maneuver and provide to support to the warfighter while under attack. The only way you can do that is having the IC and DoD guys sitting right next to each other and coordinating all of their efforts. The JICSpOC assumes unity of effort, not unity of command.
Are the experiments at the JICSpOC like tabletop exercises?

These are actually where you pretend there is a threat against a particular asset, say a communications satellite. You say, OK, this is the threat, how would you respond? What authorities would we need to respond? Who controls the satellite? Who would ultimately say move it? Is it the IC or DoD? These are the things you have to consider for battle management command and control, what we call BMC2. This will help us define our BMC2 system. It’s the first time you’re doing live experiments.

You’re actually moving satellites?

In some cases, yes. There are some satellites that are up there, as you know, that don’t have a lot of useful life left. We can use those and say, ‘let’s pretend this thing is a satellite. What will happen?’

Will these BMC2 capabilities be part of the JICSpOC or the Joint Space Operations Center?

We haven’t decided. The experiment will tell us. Right now we have the old JSpOC, Joint Space Operations Center out at Vandenberg and then we have this experimental platform that is out at Schriever. I would say resiliency has to extend to our command and control centers, just like it has to extend to space. So having two locations is very, very advantageous.

Last year’s classified speech at Space Symposium was characterized as a call to arms. Besides the JICSpOC, what have you seen as a result of that speech?

The call to arms was really to the space warriors. I wanted them to start thinking as space warriors. In the 25 years where space wasn’t really a threat, we started to think of space as a function. That it was always there, that we just provided weather and [space-based positing, navigation and timing]. You have to start thinking of this as a mission. We have a space tactics and doctrine forum. That’s been very helpful. What you have is a virtuous cycle where the JICSpOC does experimentation and feeds into the Joint Space Tactics and Doctrine Forum. The top space warriors talk about it. Cecil Haney. John Hyten. Jay Raymond. They then say, ‘well, what about this?’ and they feed it back in to experiment with this. We’re actually figuring out tactics and doctrine.

And you didn’t have that before?

We did not have that before.

How does DoD think about the threat to national security satellites differently now?

We have a pretty good idea what our potential adversaries are developing. It’s across the board and it includes jamming, dazzling, spoofing, cyber attacks, on-orbit attacks and direct ascent [anti-satellite] attacks. We can no longer think of space as a sanctuary. You have to think about space resilience, which means the ability for a constellation to survive attacks. You have to think about battle management command and control. And of course you have to remember the whole reason we put stuff in space is to help people on Earth. If you lose that, you lose a big advantage.

Are you confident Raytheon has reached its arms around the problems on the GPS OCX?

I haven’t reached confidence yet. All of our space warriors are all over this problem. We’re not happy where we are. We’re not happy how we got here. Before I say I’m confident, I’m going to have to see more data.  But we have decided that we are going to stick with OCX for the time being. What we have heard from Raytheon and what we have seen has convinced us we should try to get OCX through;  that we will not jettison it. It’s an absolutely critical capability.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said last week he wanted to use U.S. Strategic Command to employ space more in the fight against ISIL. Can you elaborate at all?

 I prefer not to. They have to do with authorities and all sorts of classified capabilities. There’s a whole lot of things we can do using space capabilities. The secretary has been extraordinarily innovative in the use of our capabilities against ISIL.

Do you have the necessary policies needed for the JICSpOC or do you need to revise national security space policy?
Absolutely. This all started with a presentation at the White House by Secretary Carter when he was the deputy secretary. He said, ‘Look, we have serious threats evolving to our space constellation and we have to get after it.’ He caught the attention of the entire national security staff and the president. The president has been extremely supportive from the very beginning and he has told us, ‘You’ve got to get more resilient. You’ve got to protect our assets in space.’ We’ve had several meetings with the president on our space capabilities and strategies.

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En route to Space Symposium, Deputy Defense Secretary talks milspace with reporters

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