Concerns about the possible instability of North Korea's regime.
A necessary caution: it's notoriously difficult to get an accurate picture of what's going on inside the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and as Foreign Policy points out, a great deal of misinformation circulates in the media.
That said, in mid-April it was widely reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was either dead, dying, or otherwise incapacitated. It now seems likely that these rumors were false. The Washington Post cites US and South Korean intelligence sources that suggest Mr. Kim and his private train are in Wonsan. TheHill reports that these sources also say that Mr. Kim remains in active control of his government. Premature rumors of death were common during the rule of Mr. Kim's two predecessors in Pyongyang, his father and his grandfather, and it appears that the present stories are equally unfounded.
But the rumors have brought one issue to the fore: there's no clear successor to Kim Jong-un. Military Times has an overview of what the lack of a clear succession plan could mean for regional instability. US, South Korean, and Chinese intelligence and military services are watching the situation in Pyongyang closely. Even given a healthy or at least relatively functioning Kim, North Korea is under stress from the COVID-19 virus. How severe that stress may be isn't clear, but given the country's fragile, sanctions-degraded economy, the level may be high. Should the regime falter, a UPI story says neither the US nor China is likely to intervene directly.
Securing Precision Navigation and Timing systems.
Russia's five-year plan for Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GPS and GLONASS being the most prominent representatives of genus) devotes considerable attention to securing such systems' availability. As C4ISRNet notes, Russia knows something about GPS spoofing and jamming, since it's done so around both the White Sea and the Black Sea. The plan, which secured the agreement of eleven nations (all former Soviet Republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States) is noteworthy for addressing not only attacks by nation-states and independently acting "radio hooligans," but also accidental interference from a wide range of other commonplace civilian activities.
Such concerns are not confined to Russia. C4ISRNet reports that the US Federal Communications Commission on April 20th announced that it had unanimously approved a plan granting Ligado Networks access to the L-band spectrum, a decision the Department of Defense had opposed over concerns that L-band operations could interfere with GPS signals. Ligado wants the spectrum released for use in 5G and other wireless applications. The FCC said its approval included "stringent conditions" designed to avoid the possibility of interference with GPS, and the Pentagon is making the best of what it regards as a bad situation, but the Senate Armed Services Committee has announced its intention of holding hearings on the FCC's decision.
Nor is an interest in jamming satellites confined to Russia, either. Bloomberg Quint reports that Space Force is working on a ground-based capability that would enable it to jam hostile satellites at need.
Planned transport layer constellation will distribute tactical data.
The Space Development Agency has issued a request for proposals to build a twenty-satellite constellation by 2022 that would provide a transport layer between the low- and high-altitude sensing layers, Defense News reports. The new satellites would focus, the Space Development Agency says, on the “tactical data points that need to be given to a weapon system.”
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With thermal vacuum testing having begun on April 16th, the Space Based Infra Red System (SBIRS) has reached a major milestone, keeping it on track for a 2021 launch. That will complete the SBIRS deployment, C4ISRNet says, after which attention will shift to the successor system, Next Gen Overhead Persistent Infrared. OPIR is scheduled for delivery 2025.
Space Force contracts, budgets, and milestones.
US Space Force has contracted with VOX Space, a subsidiary of Virgin Orbit, to place forty-four demonstration satellites into orbit, C4ISRNet reports. The new Service also awarded two IDIQs, each with a potential total contract value of $500 million, to L3 Technologies and Raytheon’s Space and Airborne Systems, to deliver modems that would be used in protected satellite communications. The awards form part of the Army and Air Forces Anti-Jam Modem program (A3M). The modems are intended to be used with the new Protected Tactical Waveform, designed to provide jam-resistant battlespace communications.
In general, Air Force Magazine reports, Space Force acquisition will follow a "portfolio" approach, a concept that may be familiar to those who've worked around Defense science and technology programs. The goal is to reduce risk while facilitating both transparency and rapid fielding of new systems.
Space Force is also continuing work on its doctrine. While that doctrine is still taking shape, it's said (by Air Force Magazine) to reflect the increasingly crowded and dangerous nature of space. It's also said to prominently feature deterrence.
The Service's missions will initially represent more continuity with its parent organizations than they do dramatic change. The Houston Chronicle laments boyishly and girlishly that the initial missions will be "less exotic" than what you (and probably the Chronicle) were expecting.
Air Force Magazine writes that Space Force begins accepting applications on May 1st from Service Members interested in joining the new Service. Many will also transition into Space Force over the coming months as twenty-three Air Force units with more than 1800 personnel shift Services. Aviation Pros lists the units that will make the transition:
17th Test Squadron, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado
18th Intel Squadron, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio
25th Space Range Squadron, Schriever AFB, Colorado
328th Weapons Squadron, Nellis AFB, Nevada
527th Space Aggressor Squadron, Schriever AFB, Colorado
705th Combat Training Squadron Operating Location-Alpha, Schriever AFB, Colorado
544th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group Staff and Detachment 5, Peterson AFB, Colorado
Detachment 1, U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, Schriever AFB, Colorado
533rd Training Squadron, Vandenberg AFB, California
National Security Space Institute, Peterson AFB, Colorado
Initially most of Space Force's personnel (apart from the Commanding General) have been attached rather than assigned as organic members of the Service. That will be changing soon. Eighty-six members of the US Air Force Academy's class of 2020 were commissioned into Space Force, the Washington Post reports.
SpaceX schedules its first crewed spaceflight.
May 27th is now set to be launch date for the first crewed flight of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft. Two astronauts will be on board for the inaugural mission, UPI reports.
Asteroid mining, and other openings of the Final Frontier.
President Trump on April 6th signed an Executive Order on Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources. "Successful long-term exploration and scientific discovery of the Moon, Mars, and other celestial bodies," the order reads in part, "will require partnership with commercial entities to recover and use resources, including water and certain minerals, in outer space." But hitherto property rights and space law have been unclear and disputed in these areas, and the Executive Order aims to clear this up. The Wall Street Journal characterizes the Executive Order's principal goal as making "celestial mining an attractive investment."
Northrop Grumman's Mission Extension Vehicle, a satellite that docks with other spacecraft to repair and return them to service, has succeeded in bringing an Intelsat satellite back into service. On April 17th Intelsat announced that Intelsat 901 was back in operation. Northrop Grumman's MEV-1 had docked with the Intelsat craft on February 25th, the first successful docking of two commercial spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit.
Boeing struggles to recover from the 737MAX scandal, performance issues on Government contracts, and a sharp drop in airline orders. Troubled Boeing this month announced organizational and leadership changes as it grapples with problems, Intelligent Aerospace says. Some of those challenges, like the 737MAX crashes and some underperformance on contracts are of the company's own making, but others, notably the effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the commercial air sector, are not. The Washington Post wonders if CEO David Calhoun, appointed in December to pull the company out of its 737MAX troubles, can succeed in turning Boeing around. If not, the company's survival could be in question.
Boeing has sought to cut costs by cutting staff (a first step was an offer of staff buyouts at the beginning of April, the Wall Street Journal reports). Also at the beginning of April the company was looking into the possibility of a bailout by the Federal Government, according to the New York Times, but that it would not accept a bailout if doing so involved giving the Government an equity stake in the business. A bailout was controversial: the POGO project argued against it, and board member Nikki Haley resigned in March when the bailout was first mooted—she expressed a philosophical difference with the company's position. But on April 30th Boeing, while not claiming to be out of the woods yet, announced that it would not seek Federal aid: a bond offering that CNBC put at $25 billion would be enough to keep the company a going concern.
Boeing is not the only aerospace giant to suffer from existential worries induced in part by the coronavirus pandemic. Rival Airbus also warned, in an internal memo obtained by Reuters, that the company was "bleeding cash," and that "the survival of Airbus is in question if we don’t act now.” The immediate action taken has so far consisted of staff furloughs.
Raytheon and United Technologies have completed their merger. Defense News writes that the combined company, Raytheon Technologies, began trading on the New York Stock Exchange on April 3rd under the ticker symbol RTX.
Another sign that Space Force has arrived: it's about to get its own workplace comedy.
Military Times reports that Netflix will soon begin streaming a new workplace comedy, Space Force, starring The Office’s Steve Carrell as the fictional General Naird, the new Service’s (fictional) chief of staff. Lisa Kudrow plays Mrs. Naird, and John Malkovich will be the Service's Chief Scientist.
We don't know much about the plot, other than that General Naird didn't want the job (he'd been hoping for Air Force Chief of Staff), that the members of Space Force are called "Spacemen," and that the General and his family have to relocate to "a remote base in Colorado," with all the attendant fish-out-of-water comedy relocating to a remote base implies. That last part seems wrong, because we've been to Colorado Springs and not only is it not "remote," it's even downright commodious.
But Colorado Springs or not, the uniform that appears in the publicity shots is pretty convincing. Space Force for-real has stuck with traditional Air Force uniforms so far (with some easy patch modifications on the combat utilities), but Space Force for-TV may have some ideas worth considering.
The Class A coat seems to have retained Air Force Shade 1549 (or maybe a slight throwback to Uxbridge Blue; it's hard to tell from the photos we've seen online), but the shirt beneath the coat is a dark blue, almost black, as is the tie, and the ensemble looks both snappy and military. The insignia generally track Air Force usages, but instead of the mirror-silver “U.S.” on the lapels, Space Force for-TV uses a tri-colored bar with two sky-blue patches flanking a central patch of a lighter color that appears to hold some sort of design.
Task and Purpose gives the for-TV uniform two thumbs up, and makes a point of noticing that the show got the ribbon rack right. Not only are the awards displayed correctly, and in the right order, but they’re plausible as well, given the character’s backstory. And Mr. Carrell’s haircut looks properly regulation, too.
Space Force is expected to begin streaming over Netflix on May 29th. The show is up for one ten-episode season. WIRED seems to have liked whatever they've seen of it.
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting China, Iran, Japan, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Russia, and the United States.
Space and Missile Systems Center awards $500 million contracts to Raytheon, L3 Technologies(Aerotech News & Review) The Space and Missile Systems Center awarded Raytheon Company – Space and Airborne Systems and L3 Technologies Inc. two indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity multi-award contracts with ceiling values of $500 million each, totaling $1 billion, for development and production of Protected Tactical Waveform-capable modems, over 120 days ahead of schedule, March 27, 2020.
Raytheon and United Technologies complete merger(Aircraft Interiors International) Raytheon Technologies Corporation has announced the successful completion of an all-stock 'merger of equals' transaction between Raytheon Company and United Technologies Corporation
Airbus warns staff on jobs with its 'survival at stake'(Reuters) European planemaker Airbus issued a bleak assessment of the impact of the coronavirus crisis, telling the company's 135,000 employees to brace for potentially deeper job cuts and warning its survival is at stake without immediate action.
Atlas AI Raises $7M in Series A Round Led by Airbus Ventures(Via Satellite) Atlas AI, a geospatial intelligence company, has raised $7 million its Series A round led by Airbus Ventures, with participation from Micron Technology and existing investor The Rockefeller Foundation. Also on Tuesday, the company announced that Lewis Pinault, partner of Airbus Ventures, has joined the company’s
Drones Take Italians' Temperature and Issue Fines(SecurityWeek) Heat sensors are taking the temperature of citizens in Italy and sending the information to a drone operator, who stares at a thermal map on his hand-held screen -- shining orange and purple blobs.
Cybersecurity: DOD Needs to Take Decisive Actions to Improve Cyber Hygiene(US Government Accountability Office) “Cyber hygiene” is a set of practices for managing the most common and pervasive cybersecurity risks. The Department of Defense’s cyber hygiene is critical as threats to its information and networks increase.DOD has had 3 cyber hygiene initiatives underway. These efforts are incomplete—or their status is unknown because no one is in charge of reporting on progress.DOD has also developed lists of its adversaries’ most frequently used techniques, and practices to combat them.
FCC unanimously approves spectrum plan Pentagon rejected(C4ISRNET) The Federal Communications Commission unanimously approved a long-standing application from Ligado Networks to operate in the L-band spectrum, overriding concerns from the Department of Defense and other government agencies which were concerned the company’s plan will cause damage to the Global Positioning System, sources said April 17.
Space Force Preps New Acquisition Ideas(Air Force Magazine) The Space Force is wrapping up its report on how to build a successful new military space acquisition enterprise, posing 10 recommendations to Capitol Hill.
23 Air Force Units Will Become Part of the Space Force(Aviation Pros) Twenty-three U.S.-based Air Force units focused on space operations will move into the Space Force in the coming months as officials build up the military's newest branch, Pentagon officials announced Tuesday.
The Space Review: Space Force: the struggle continues(Space Review) Amazingly, the coronavirus crisis has not had any effect on the political and bureaucratic fight over the new US Space Force. The conflict currently includes issues such as creation of a Space Force National Guard component and a new Space Force intelligence agency.
Report on the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) Cloud Procurement(Inspector General, US Department of Defense) This report presents the results of the DoD Office of Inspector General (OIG) review of the DoD Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) Cloud procurement process and our investigation into allegations that former DoD officials engaged in ethical misconduct related to the JEDI Cloud procurement.