Military Times reported that satellite imagery of Iran's Imam Khomeini Space Center in the country's Semnan province showed evidence of a large explosion at the launch site. The Planet Labs image released with commentary by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies is dated August 29th, and shows still smouldering "space launch vehicle debris and burn marks." An image from the same source taken on August 9th showed increased activity at the Space Center that appeared to be preparation for the launch of a Nahid-1 satellite. This would have been Iran's third attempt at a launch, the first two having resulted in failure.
Iran publicly acknowledged the explosion, whose cause it ascribed to technical difficulties. On August 30th President Trump tweeted a photo of the accident site with the accompanying message, "The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran. I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One." The Washington Post said that, according to commentary from the Middlebury Institute, the image in the President's tweet looked as if it had been taken by an aircraft as opposed to a satellite. The Institute didn't call out the specific features in the picture that led them to this conclusion, but the sources the Post cited point to the high resolution and apparent angle from which the image was taken as evidence of the possibility that the image was obtained by an overflying aircraft.
On August 16th US Central Command confirmed that Houthi rebels in Yemen had shot down a US MQ-9 Reaper observation drone. The drone was taken down on June 6th by an SA-6 surface-to-air missile. The altitude at which the drone was flying when it was hit indicates to Central Command that the Houthis have improved their air defense capability, and the Command says that they achieved that improvement with Iranian assistance. Military Times sees this and other incidents as indicating the increasing use of drones in the theater as tensions between Iran, the US, and Iran's regional rivals remain high.
Russia's nuclear accident.
An apparently lethal accident in northern Russia on August 8th is thought, the New York Times reported, to have killed at least seven and produced an unknown degree of local contamination. A brief evacuation order was imposed on a nearby village, then quickly rescinded, according to the Navy Times. Russian spokesmen said the accident happened in the White Sea, off the Nenoksa Missile Test Site west of Severodvinsk, where the Russian Federal Nuclear Center had been studying “small-scale sources of energy with the use of fissile materials.” The US confirmed that it had observed evidence of the accident.
Those "small-scale sorces of energy" are thought to be intended for use in a new cruise missile, the 9M730 Burevestnik, which NATO designates the SSC-X-9 Skyfall. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the Burevestnik's development last year. The Skyfall's nuclear propulsion system would give it essentially unlimited range and sufficient energy for unrestricted maneuver at low altitudes, enabling it to evade US defenses designed for ballistic missile defense. (There are US anti-cruise missile systems, but intercepting a cruise missile at low altitude presents a different and tougher problem, particularly with respect to sensors and target acquisition, than does the challenge of defending against long-range ballistic missiles.)
Nuclear propulsion for cruise missiles has been explored before (the US abandoned one such effort, Project Pluto, in its preliminary design stages early in the Cold War), but it's an extraordinarily hazardous proposition that essentially involves an airborne unshielded reactor, with all the obvious risk of foreseeable contamination and predictable accidents, like the one at Nenoska. Defense One offers a brief history and appreciation of nuclear-powered cruise missiles. That said, however, there's some doubt as to whether the Russian system represents a real capability or an elaborate disinformation campaign.
Cosmic AES offers innovative and challenging work opportunities in the space, signals, and cyber domains. We’re looking for talented engineers, software developers, and system analysts. Apply today at www.cosmicaes.com
Arms races and space races.
Foreign Policy points with alarm to the Nenoska accident as a sign of things to come should an incipient arms race among great powers resume with full force. Russian authorities seem willing to discuss an arms race, one which they tell Reuters they're winning, despite last month's mishap in the White Sea.
There's also a new space race on, and in this one the primary competitors are the US and China. Unlike the US-Soviet space race whose big prize was the first landing on the moon (taken by the US fifty years ago this summer) the new space race aims at commercial dominance of those features of the global economy that depend on space. China is said to be in this for the long haul, directing its efforts toward building an infrastructure that it will control, and that the world's business won't be able to do without. Sino-American space rivalry is shaping up to resemble the competition over 5G Internet more than the Cold War's moon race.
The US is said to be taking a strong military interest in cislunar space, a region that analysts say will be crucial to future great power economic competition. That interest is very forward-looking, with much talk of resource extraction and other activities that belong to the future, but the young Space Development Agency has proposed a deterrence architecture with four layers, C4ISRNet reports:
"Space situational awareness sensors" in low-earth orbit designed to observe object immediately beyond geosynchronous orbit.
Two satellites in hight elliptical orbits positioned to detect objects in deep space.
Sensors in lunar orbit.
Three "Advanced Maneuvering Vehicles" able to approach and inspect objects in cislunar space.
There are no plans to arm the Advanced Maneuvering Vehicles. They're envisioned as observers only, but their approach to a spacecraft could also, of course, serve to signal US interest and displeasure.
Ground-based surveillance hasn't been neglected either. WIRED has a report on how the US employs optical interferometers to inspect suspect spacecraft.
The commodification of overhead surveillance and the "Geoint Singularity."
A study by Aerospace Corporation that became public early this month outlines a future in which "realtime Earth observations with analytics are available globally to the average citizen." This means, the study concludes, that "don't look" approaches to concealing sensitive military facilities and operations is no longer feasible, and the the US Department of Defense should instead devote itself to developing better ways of hiding. "Given the advancements in the three critical areas of artificial intelligence, global connectivity, and satellite imagery, a different approach focusing on denial, deception, and misinformation to maintain the element of surprise may be more appropriate and more future-oriented."
The arrival of small satellite constellations is not confined to commercial providers. The Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) system, the coming replacement for the Space Based Infrared System, is projected to involve a relatively small number of expensive platforms in orbit. But C4ISRNet reports that the Air Force is also considering a "proliferated architecture" of small satellites in low-earth orbit as an essential adjunct lending resilience to the effort. The Air Force is taking an incremental approach to addressing funding shortfalls in the OPIR program, Aviation Week reports.
Alternative acquisition approaches.
Defense News reports that the Department of Defense is taking a hard look at legacy programs with a view to reprogramming funds to meet shifting strategic and operational needs. It's said to represent an expanded version of the "night court" effort new Defense Secretary Mike Esper applied to the Army's budget when he served as that Service's secretary.
Space Force updates.
US Space Command, a unified Combatant Command not to be confused with the projected Space Force, was officially established on August 29th. The Command's headquarters will initially be at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, a designation the Colorado Congressional delegation hopes will become permanent. Air Force General Jay Raymond will be the first commander; Army Lieutenant General James Dickinson has been nominated as his deputy, Defense News reports. JCS Chair General Joseph Dunford characterizes the Command's mission as "missile warning, satellite operations, space control and space support." In wartime, Breaking Defense notes, the National Reconnaissance Office will be chopped to Space Command.
Plans for Space Force continue to take shape, with much Congressional deliberation and inter-service discussion of roles and missions. Foreign Policy has an account of the work that remains to be done.
Clouds as the new battleships.
The Defense acquisition system, with its long, sometimes decade-long, development cycles, has long been regarded by reformers as too slow to keep pace with rapid technological advance. It might be looked at as a system designed to build battleships: long-lead-time, expensive items whose development is hedged with detailed requirements and surrounded by litigation. (See any number of NRAC reports rendered over the past twenty years for examples of such complaints.)
Observers might conclude that the Pentagon is transposing many of those features into its cloud procurement. The cloud would seem to offer much of the agility reformers have long advocated, especially with respect to information technology. But a look at the ongoing JEDI saga suggests otherwise. Oracle, which finds itself on the outside, is litigating as if it has nothing to lose, which in the context of this program is quite realistic. And the Hill reports that the Department of Defense Inspector General is reviewing the $10-billion JEDI contract over allegations of impropriety. Moving forward with the project will be accordingly delayed.
Other cloud procurements have been similiarly troubled. The Army's Distributed Common Ground System, for example, represents a tactical cloud, and its troubled history may not be an anomaly.
So, long lead-times, very high total contract value, contentious requirements, great concern to avoid impropriety (and its appearance), lots of litigation. What might have represented an opportunity for rapid insertion of new technologies is looking a little haze gray, as if we're buying USS Cloud (without, of course, the sixteen-inch guns).
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting China, Iran, Israel, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Russia, the United States, and Yemen.
‘GEOINT Singularity:’ There’ll Be Nowhere For DoD To Hide EXCLUSIVE(Breaking Defense) "[A]dversaries could track the movements of U.S. and allied military equipment, detecting patterns of training and operations; hyperspectral imaging can identify chemical compositions; short-wavelength infrared imaging can see through clouds; and SAR sensors can image at night. When determining risks to national security, one can define it as the risk of being seen or detected."
Trump Confirms Missile Exploded During Testing in Russia(Wall Street Journal) President Trump on Monday appeared to confirm reports that an advanced nuclear cruise missile had exploded during testing in Russia, saying on Monday night that the U.S. was “learning much” from the incident.
Uncle Sam Wants YOU To Compete For Army Network Upgrade: CS 21(Breaking Defense) Gone are the days of a stately, deliberate, laborious acquisition process in which the Army would plan out the future in detail before going to industry. "We’d almost always guess wrong," said Maj. Gen. David Bassett. “Eventually we’d deliver yesterday’s technology tomorrow.”
ONR C4ISR RFP is days away(Intelligence Community News) The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) intends to issue a solicitation for research and development titled Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C…
Air Force to present hosted payload Industry Day(Intelligence Community News) On August 14, the U.S. Air Force posted an Industry Day invitation. Responses are due by 3:00 p.m. Pacific on August 28. The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) Hosted Payload Office (…
Look inside Virgin Galactic’s shiny new Spaceport America(TechCrunch) For a couple years now Virgin Galactic's Spaceport America was more aspirational than functional, but now it's been built out with the necessaries for commercial spaceflight — mainly coffee. The company just showed off the newly redesigned space from which it plans to launch flights... sometime.
Satellite system to speed up space services(Manufacturers' Monthly) Global aviation company Airbus successfully launched the EDRS-C satellite. The SpaceDataHighway network that will transform how information is transmitted.
DIA Aims for MARS as its Moon Shot(SIGNAL Magazine) The director of the DIA describes how his organization is bringing together stovepiped intelligence into a single entity known as the Machine-assisted Analytic Rapid-repository System, or MARS.
DOD tries to take control of the JEDI 'narrative'(FCW) The Defense Department's CIO shop is trying to control the narrative on the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure procurement, a massive cloud computing acquisition that has generated intense scrutiny because of its size, scope and a hard fought lawsuit from one of the companies eliminated from the bidding.
The ‘SAFE’ replacement for a popular Army file-sharing tool(Fifth Domain) The Defense Information Systems Agency launched a new secure file sharing site Aug. 15 as part of an effort to replace a popular tool run by the Army that had far exceeded what its creators had intended and become the go-to site for sending large files.
Integration Is C5ISR Center's Core Calling(SIGNAL Magazine) The Integrated Tactical Network is the name of the Army’s envisioned future network, and integration is the name of the game for one of the service’s premier research and development centers.
Competition to Build 5G Networks, Hypersonics Focus for Pentagon Research Chief(USNI News) The Department of Defense has made significant progress in the past 15 months in offensive and defensive hypersonic capabilities to counter developments from China and Russia, its chief engineer said Tuesday. Now, the Pentagon is aiming to make the same kind of progress in developing 5G networks and microelectronics. “I want to be the offense” …
US Military Eyes Strategic Value of Earth-Moon Space(Space.com) The protection of trade routes and lines of communication are traditional military responsibilities, and this will continue to be true as cislunar space becomes "high ground" — a position of advantage or superiority.
Oracle’s Hail Mary Appeal Against JEDI(Breaking Defense) Oracle says a federal judge called the procurement "unlawful" -- but that word doesn't actually show up once in his 60-page ruling. And that isn't Oracle's only problem.