India executed Mission Shakti (that is, "Power") on March 27th, a test in which a surface-launched ballistic missile shot down an unneeded Indian satellite in a demonstration of a national anti-satellite capability. Thus India joins the United States, China, and Russia as a space power with a demonstrated, kinetic capability to kill spacecraft.
The target is believed to have been Microsat-R, which, depending on which source you consult, was either a weather satellite or an old military reconnaissance platform (maybe something of both). In any case, it was in low-earth orbit at 274 kilometers (or 170 miles) and no longer needed. The hit-to-kill shoot-down, which Prime Minister Modi emphasized was achieved using domestic technology, all of it developed in India under the leadership of India's Defence Research and Development Organisation. The Foreign Ministry's statement on the test said, according to Reuters, that the demonstration showed a "credible deterrence against threats to our growing space-based assets from long-range missiles, and proliferation in the types and numbers of missiles."
Most observers were surprised by the test, although India is said to have held conversations with various friendly nations intimating that such a capability was under development. The country's government did issue aviation safety warnings before the test shot, which signaled their intention to those prepared to see it. Some observers have pointed out that Mission Shakti displayed a capability that had been latent in India's layered air defense system. The test overshadowed what had until this month been the air defense system's high-end, anti-ballistic missile capability, which itself was demonstrated in a successful test last August (Diplomat). As WIRED reports, Mission Shakti is perhaps best viewed as another demonstration of that anti-ballistic missile capability. Its intended audience is thought to be primarily China, secondarily Pakistan.
As has been the case with other anti-satellite demonstrations, many experts object to such testing because it creates a debris field that poses a risk to other spacecraft. The Indian test shot was conducted at a much lower altitude than recent Chinese tests (which made quite a mess) and so isn't thought to be as much of a threat to spacefaring, but as the Verge points out, a lot of people remain unhappy about Shakti's leftovers. US Strategic Command says it's tracking more than 250 pieces of debris from the test (Reuters).
Iran's space ambitions.
Iran's two failed satellite launches this year, both of which carried environmental monitoring spacecraft that failed to reach orbit, drew protests on the grounds that the launch technology is dual-use, inherently adaptable to intermediate or intercontinental ranged nuclear-delivery systems (Foreign Policy). Few other countries are happy about these ambitions. Iran has so far observed a 2000-kilometer range limitation on its missiles, but that's self-imposed restraint that Tehran could quickly shed. Brookings published a study this month advising policymakers on how Iran's missile program might be contained.
US missile defense test demonstrates a salvo capability.
On March 25th the US successfully tested the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System by firing a salvo of two Ground-Based Interceptors from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California against an ICBM target launched down the Pacific Missile Range from Kwajalein (Defense News).
More on Russian GNSS spoofing.
The Center for Advanced Defense (C4ADS) has issued a report on nearly ten-thousand incidents of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) spoofing "in and around Russia" over the last three years. That's a lot, and the tally includes just spoofing, not jamming, which has also been observed. Most of the Russian activity has been observed around Ukraine, particularly in the Black Sea and the vicinity of Crimea, but it's also been seen in Syria and elsewhere. A striking feature of current GNSS spoofing is its commodification: spoofing kits can now be made for as little as $300, which puts them well within the reach of non-state actors. Still, Russia remains the apparent world leader in the field (ZDNet).
Implications of military space operations for industry.
Mission Shakti and other recent testing prompted Zacks, the stock analysis firm, to consider what firms were most likely to be significant players in supporting military space operations. Their conclusions should surprise no one: the big beneficiaries would be, Zacks thinks, the big integrators: Lockheed Martin (especially its Missiles and Fire Control segment), Northrop Grumman (Mission Systems and Innovation segments in particular), Raytheon (Military Systems), and General Dynamics (Mission Systems).
A look at the President's Budget for military space operations.
The President's Budget for FY 2020 is out (Defense One has an overview), and it includes $14.1 billion for military space. Of that amount, $11.9 billion is intended for what the Defense Department calls "investment," that is, research, development, test, engineering (RDT&E), and procurement. Of the investment, $6.1 billion will go toward satellites, $1.7 billion for launch services, and $4.1 billion for space support. Spending on satellites includes $1.7 billion for a GPS 3 satellite and GPS 3 ground systems. Development of the five-satellite Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) constellation would receive $1.6 billion, which would nearly double Congress's appropriation for OPIR in the FY 2019 budget. Satellite communications would get $1.1 billion for programs that include Protected Tactical Satcom, Evolved Strategic Satcom, Enhanced Polar System recapitalization, and on-orbit testing of Advanced EHF communications satellite AEHF-5 and production oversight of AEHF-6.The Air Force gets the largest share of the proposed spending, $10.3 billion (Space News).
Space Force continues to take shape.
Some $72.4 million of that budget request would go toward standing up a 200-person Space Force staff at the Pentagon. Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan estimates that Space Force would require a budget roughly equivalent to Special Operations Command's, which comes in at $13.5 billion annually. Space Force's end strength is now estimated at between 15,000 and 20,000, an increase from last month's estimates that regarded a cap of 15,000 as most likely. Three of those 15,000-plus would be, according to current plans, four-star generals, the senior one of which would enjoy membership on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This upward creep has raised some Congressional eyebrows (Defense One).
The inevitable shuffling and jockeying over roles, missions, and equities continues, with the Defense Secretary saying that the new Service wouldn't be taking over Army or Navy space assets (US Naval Institute). The new Service's leadership is expected to be nominated "in weeks, not months," Secretary Shanahan said on March 27th (Defense News).
Defense News has a rundown of the sorts of questions people are asking about the new Service: "While many of the details have yet to be determined — will the service have a bootcamp (unclear), its own service academy (no), their own uniforms (possible) or recruitment centers (probably) — a Space Force would share resources such as an acquisition chief, general counsel and chaplains with the broader Department of the Air Force." However its final organization shakes out, Space Force will probably be the smallest of the Armed Services, less than half the size of the Coast Guard (WCJB).
And the Space Development Agency has been established.
The new organization with oversee the Defense Department's space procurement activities. For now, the Agency will report to the Under Secretary for Defense Research and Engineering, but it's expected to transition to Space Force as that Service stands up. Fred Kennedy, a retired Air Force colonel, will move from DARPA's Tactical Technology Office to direct the Space Development Agency (Defense News). In some respects the new Agency is off to a rocky start. Outgoing Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who'd opposed its creation, criticized in a memorandum as wasteful, as duplicative of existing agencies, and as lacking a clear mission (Defense News).
Moon missions and a new space race.
A return to the moon now bulks large in NASA's plans, at the urging of the National Space Council (Ars Technica). That return is increasingly seen as part of widening space race between the US and China (Times).
Aspects of that moon race have already been privatized. SpaceX launched the Israeli-made robotic lunar lander "Beresheet" ("In the beginning") on February 21st. It's expected to reach the moon on April 11th. Beresheet was built by SpaceIL, an Israeli not-for-profit organization (Business Insider).
Satellite and Internet communications: roaming, ground stations, and information management.
The Air Force's program to make battlefield satellite communications more reliable and more robust in the face of both adversarial jamming and local competition for spectrum has resulted in several prototype systems that can give deployed military units a capability analogous to commercial roaming telecommunications (C4ISRNET).
The Army is looking to the Air Force's launch of the next satellite in its Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) program to help alleviate some of the congestion it's experienced (C4ISRNET). WGS-10 was launched from Cape Canaveral on March 15th (Space News).
Iridium has opened its new southern hemisphere ground station. Punta Arenas (Chile) joins Fairbanks (Alaska), Svarlbad (Norway), and Tempe (Arizona) in Iridium's array of commercial ground stations (Via Satellite).
Russia seeks to extend its program of information control to satellite communications. Any satcom operators wishing to do business in Russia will be required to undergo a rigorous audit and build their ground stations in-country (ZDNet).
That control has already induced some VPN providers to exit the Russian market rather than connect to a government blacklist of banned sites. Moscow's communications authority Roskomnadzor began enforcing the two-year-old blacklist law in earnest during the last week of March. Ten VPN providers were directed to comply: NordVPN, Hide My Ass, Hola VPN, OpenVPN, VyprVPN, ExpressVPN, TorGuard, IPVanish, Kaspersky Secure Connection, and VPN Unlimited. TorGuard, VyprVPN, OpenVPN, and NordVPN have already declared their intent to refuse. Search engines fell under related strictures earlier this year. Google is said to have decided in February to knuckle under (ZDNet).
Moscow says it's being misunderstood, that its intention to establish an autarkic Internet is about protecting communications, not censoring them, but few observers take the Russian government at its word in this matter (ZDNet).
Electronic warfare and cyber operations continue to converge.
The Army's I2CEWS unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord is seen as representative of how that Service will complete its transition to multidomain capability. The Army hopes that the organization will operate under "mission command" as opposed to centralized, top-down command-and-control. Ability to work independently under ambiguous and chaotic conditions to accomplish a mission flexibly is held to be key to multidomain dominance, Auftragstaktik transposed to a cyber key (Army Times). I2CEWS is expected to be able to operated below the threshold of armed conflict, in that section of the spectrum of conflict that's now coming to be known as the competition phase (Fifth Doman). The Army's multidomain task forces will have a theater, that is, a regional, focus (Fifth Domain).
GPS rollover coming.
GPS time is set to rollover on April 6th (Geospatial World). The Department of Homeland Security has issued advice for all who use GPS to obtain UTC time on how to handle potential issues the rollover might present.
Contracting and acquisition notes.
Federal procurement authorities struggling to field innovative technology as quickly as operators need it, have typically focused on three approaches: novel acquisition vehicles (usually Other Transaction Authorities), swift introduction of commercial-off-the-shelf products, and rapid prototyping. The Air Force this past month took a mixed approach with its inaugural Pitch Day, held in New York City on the 6th and 7th of March, selecting fifty-one small companies for awards that totaled $8.75 million (SIGNAL). The awards were made under Phase One of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Phase One awards are relatively small, $150,000 over a six-month period-of-performance, but this can amount to significant support for a young company working on rapid prototyping. A Phase One award can lead to Phase Two, which normally amount to $1,000,000 over two years. Phase Three carries no direct monetary award, but rather the sponsoring agency undertakes to find buyers for the technology the SBIR company has developed. The Air Force pitch approach was unusual in that it borrowed from a well-known venture capital practice, and in that it picked its winners quickly.
The Air Force hopes to build what Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Will Roper calls a "big idea pipeline." The problem he sees is that large, infrequent Air Force procurements leave innovations produced in the research and development process behind as orphans, having no transition path to fielding. "We don't do enough big ideas, enough prototypes, enough diversifying, because the frequency of our awards is too slow," he told the Air Force Association. He advocates smaller, more frequent acquisitions and rapid prototyping (Federal News Network).
On the other end of the scale are large contracts, like the litigation-troubled but very ambitious $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud contract (C4ISRNet). The hope is that JEDI will enable the Department of Defense to realize the sorts of savings, efficiencies, and quick service upgrades commercial enterprises have found in cloud services. The companies competing for JEDI places are players in that large commercial market. JEDI will be delayed by investigations, and some observers think the delay would be well spent in working out such matters as interoperability with allied forces.
Traditional programs of record are also looking for novel ways of inserting new and promising technologies into their procurements. The US Army has been emphasizing cybersecurity and cyber operations in its major programs, and these all need to accommodate advances in this quickly shifting technological field (SIGNAL).
After an IT system is acquired, it still needs authority to operate, a designation that warrants a system as being sufficiently secure from cyberattack to be used without exposing organizations to undue risk. The Air Force is fast-tracking the process, now making it possible to gain authority to operate in less than a week. The process had hitherto often taken months (Nextgov).
Rather than clean up satellite debris, better to have it burn up on reentry.
One approach to orbital debris is simply not to leave any, and to make sure that none of it reaches the earth's surface once the satellite is decommissioned or defunct. SpaceX, which plans an extensive constellation of Starlink Internet-carrying satellites, says it's redesigned the spacecraft so that they'll be completely consumed in the atmosphere when they're deorbited (IEEE Spectrum). One of the company's lawyers said "After extensive research and investment, SpaceX has now developed a system architecture that will be completely demisable." Commentators say any advance in safety is to be welcomed, but they think achieving zero risk a very tall order.
A guilty plea, and notes on insider threats.
Personnel security is important in the aerospace, communications, and security sectors, and not just for reasons of contractual compliance, as importance as those might be. It's also important because companies in those sectors are themselves often the targets of espionage, and insider threats are a constant risk. A case in a Baltimore Federal Court this week provided a sobering object lesson in what damage a rogue insider can do.
Former NSA contractor Hal Martin, described by friends and neighbors in Glen Burnie, Maryland, as an inveterate pack rat (and described by defense counsel as a hoarder who couldn't help himself), changed his plea to "guilty" Thursday. (Baltimore Sun). Mr. Martin was not charged with espionage, but rather with twenty counts of "unauthorized and willful retention of national defense information." The prosecution did not present any evidence that he had given the fifty terabytes of classified information squirreled away in his home, car, and person to any third parties. Mr. Martin had until this week been expected to maintain his initial not-guilty plea into his June trial (Wall Street Journal).
Mr. Martin was employed by Booz Allen Hamilton to work under a contract the company had with NSA at Fort Meade. Retrospectively it's easy to say that both organizations should have seen warning signs in his behavior. Neither Booz nor NSA is slipshod, naive, or inattentive, yet Mr. Martin packed away highly classified information over the course of more than ten years. Any company that does sensitive work might do some introspection. Would you have caught the pack rat before the FBI opened that shed in Glen Burnie?
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting Brazil, Chile, China, India, Iran, Israel, Russia, and the United States.
Contracts Awarded in Minutes Not Months(SIGNAL Magazine) The average amount of time to award contracts and pay companies via government credit card following a successful pitch was 15 minutes; the fastest occurred in only three minutes.
Mercury Systems Receives $25M Integrated Subsystems Order for Electronic Support Application(Mercury Systems) Mercury Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ: MRCY, www.mrcy.com) announced it received a $25.0 million follow-on order from a leading defense prime contractor for integrated radio frequency (RF), mixed-signal and FPGA processing subsystems for an advanced electronic support application. The order was booked in the Company’s fiscal 2019 third quarter and is expected to be shipped over the next several quarters.
Iridium Unveils New Ground Station in Chile(Via Satellite) Iridium Communications unveiled its new southern hemisphere ground station, located in Punta Arenas, Chile. The addition of the Punta Arenas teleport network site adds geographic diversity to Iridium's ground stations as its only southern hemisphere site, establishing a new layer of network redundancy for the
Amazon Hits the Ground Running(Via Satellite) Jeff Bezos has certainly created a fair share of satellite industry buzz with Blue Origin. But now, the Amazon founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is looking to add a ground game to his space portfolio with the roll out of a new Amazon Web Service (AWS) platform.
AWS Explores Industry Ties for New AWS Ground Station(ExecutiveBiz) A senior official at Amazon Web Services has said the company is working with industry partners to promote and expand the services of the new AWS Ground Station that gives customers the ability to download and process data from multiple satellites and during weather disturbances, Via Satellite repor
Can ‘Wi-Fi in the sky’ work outside of Afghanistan?(C4ISRNET) The Air Force is considering expanding the use of a unique communications technology that has helped soldiers stay in touch despite mountainous terrain to other areas where communications may be difficult.
Mars helicopter bound for the Red Planet takes to the air for the first time(TechCrunch) The Mars 2020 mission is on track for launch next year, and nesting inside the high-tech new rover heading that direction is a high-tech helicopter designed to fly in the planet's nearly non-existent atmosphere. The actual aircraft that will fly on the Martian surface just took its first flight and…
DISA wants to keep cyber attackers locked in web browser(Federal News Network) Steve Wallace, a systems innovation scientist in the Emerging Technology Directorate at the Defense Information Systems Agency, said the agency soon will choose vendors to develop a prototype to protect the network and data from attacks that come through web browsers.
Boeing delays by months test flights for U.S. human space program: sources(Yahoo News) Reuters reported last month that NASA has warned Boeing and rival contractor SpaceX of design and safety concerns the companies need to address before flying humans to space. Boeing's first test flight was slated for April but it has been pushed to August, according to two people with direct knowledge
GPS, Nex-Gen OPIR dominate space investments(SpaceNews.com) Of the $14.1 billion space request for 2020, about $11.9 billion is for investments — which the Pentagon defines as a combination of RDT&E (research, development, testing and engineering) and procurement.
Air Force requests $11.7B for Next-Gen OPIR in FY-20 FYDP(InsideDefense.com) The Air Force’s fiscal year 2020 budget states it will need $11.7 billion over the next five years for the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared program -- a significant increase from last year’s projection that appears to reflect a refined cost estimate for the key space-based missile warning program.
A Budget for a Better America(White House) Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2020 contains the Budget Message of the President, information on the President’s priorities, and summary tables.
US military steps up cyberwarfare effort(GCN) Cyber Command's campaign against the Russian Internet Research Agency indicates a priority shift from reacting to electronic intrusions into military networks to engaging in active operations that seek to stop enemies from achieving their objectives.
FAA proposal aims to ‘streamline’ regulations for future space launches(TechCrunch) On Tuesday, the FAA and Department of Transportation published a proposal that greases the wheels for the commercial space industry, long bound by outdated regulations that were not created with a modern vision of private spaceflight in mind. Last May, the Trump administration signaled its intentio…