The Pentagon is fast-tracking space weapons and technologies with a sense of urgency in response to concerns that the United States may be falling behind Russia and China. Washington is worried it may not be as good at destroying satellites, jamming networks and introducing new weapons into areas beyond the earth’s atmosphere.
Catching up or surging ahead of rivals in space comes down to a simple, self-evidence concept: speed.
“We need to field operationally relevant space capabilities faster than our adversaries. We have to out compete, out innovate and out hussle,” Lieutenant General JT Thompson, Commander, Space and Missile Center, told The Mitchell Institute in a video series.
Thompson explained that the thrust of the effort involves not only prioritizing innovation but also revamping elements of the weapons acquisition and development process. He described it as “a journey to be more enterprise focused to develop new partnerships and add more innovation into our ecosystem and change our culture from risk aversion to taking smart risks.”
One risk in particular, Thompson added, involves current moves to accelerate the fielding and development of an advanced, new-generation satellite called GPS IIIF. The new variant builds upon the existing GPS III systems, adds a laser Retro-Reflector array, improved resiliency and a fully digital navigation payload, according to Lockheed Martin data. Overall, GPS III systems are reported to bring three times the accuracy and up to eight times as much anti-jamming technology when compared with previous satellites.
Much of the acceleration efforts began in 2018 with what is called a Space and Missile Defense 2.0 strategy which called for increased prototyping and faster developmental timelines.
The idea, Thompson elaborated, is to move quickly to prototyping and experimentation, at times by leveraging computer automation, digital modeling and simulation technologies. Air Force and Lockheed Martin developers have been using digital modeling and automation applications with GPS III F. Such digital engineering enables the integration of newer, faster defensive technologies such as the Protected Tactical Waveform and the Encrypted Waveform.
“We are able to use computer automation to reduce operator workload from three hours to 15minutes,” Thompson said.
Bringing new results to fruition will rely heavily upon innovative methods of systems engineering which help integrate otherwise disparate developmental efforts.
“We’ve got to have an enterprise approach to terminals. We can’t just keep building unique terminals every time we build a new system. We need to have commonality and tight linkage between terminal developers and platform engineers,” Thompson explained.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.