The sky's the limit at Defense
- By Gregory Slabodkin
- Nov 24, 1997
"If you look at what drives the engine of the information age, I would argue that
it is driven by space. In the information age the lines of communication will no longer
run on the surface of the Earth but they will run into space," said Air Force Gen.
Howell Estes, commander of service's Space Command, at the MILCOM '97 conference this
"And while it's interesting what's going on in the military, the real explosion is
getting ready to happen in commercial space," he said.
Worldwide, more than $77 billion was spent last year on space-related activities. By
2000 that figure will be up to $121 billion. And in 1996 through 2000, the world will
spend $500 billion on space.
Last year, for the first time in the history of space launches, more money was spent in
the commercial sector on space than by the military--a trend that, Estes said, will
There are 500 satellites operating in space, 220 of which are owned and operated by
United States organizations. That total number of satellites will triple over the next 10
years, Estes said.
This year, 76 commercial satellites will be launched worldwide and in 1998 more than
120 launches will take place.
DOD satellites support military activities such as weather forecasting, missile
warning, navigation and communications. DOD runs many satellite systems, including the
Military Strategic and Tactical Relay system (Milstar), the Global Positioning System and
the Defense Support Program.
Designed for strategic communications during nuclear war, the high-frequency Milstar
system is a joint service satellite communications system that provides secure,
jam-resistant worldwide communications to military users. DOD will launch the first of
four Milstar II satellites next year.
GPS is a constellation of 24 satellites that give navigation data to military users.
DSP satellites are part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command's early warning
system to help protect the United States and its allies by detecting missile launches,
space launches and nuclear detonations.
Wideband communications is a growing area for the military. The Defense Satellite
Communications System consists of five satellites in geostationary orbit and is considered
the only worldwide, wideband, multichannel system. DSCS operates in super-high frequency
to relay voice, video and digital data between military terminals and command stations.
But the high-cost, high-orbit military satellites require extensive ground support for
command and control. To offset the costs, DOD will replace them with smaller, lower-cost
satellites in low-Earth orbit, Estes said.
The Air Force will launch five wideband DSCS replacement satellites in 2006. In the
interim, the service will launch three commercial Ka-band and X-band satellites to bolster
the aging DSCS.
The Global Broadcast Service will also rely heavily on commercial capabilities, such as
direct TV technology, to make vast amounts of intelligence and information available to
the warfighter 24 hours a day.
DOD in March will launch the first GBS system on a Navy Ultra-High Frequency Follow-On
satellite developed by Hughes Space & Communications Co.
GBS will provide the space links needed to support the Navy's Information Technology
for the 21st Century initiative. IT-21 is based on uninterruptible connections between
naval land and sea facilities, which the two-way GBS communications will provide.
Adm. Archie Clemins, commander of the Navy's Pacific Fleet and the architect of IT-21,
said the GBS satellite launches over the next couple of years will serve the needs of the
Under IT-21, the Navy is equipping the Kitty Hawk carrier battle group in the Western
Pacific with wideband satellite terminals and high-speed LANs so the ships can take full
advantage of GBS.
"The UHF Follow-On satellites that have the GBS transponders will go a long way
toward satisfying us for the next two or three years, but not beyond that," Clemins
Another GBS satellite launch will take place in November 1998 over the Atlantic Ocean,
followed by a launch in 1999 to cover the Indian Ocean. The three satellites will provide
near-total Earth coverage.
But what the combination of satellites follow after that--military or commercial,
geostationary or low-Earth orbit--is a decision DOD officials will make during the Program
Objective Memorandum-2000 budget process, Clemins said.
Information assurance is as big a problem in space as it is on Earth. And protecting
what's in space is becoming a bigger problem as the number of commercial space assets used
by the military grows, Estes said.
"Somewhere along the line somebody who chooses to do us and our allies harm is
going to take this thing and put it at risk," Estes said. "What if somebody in
the next 10 years does something to a satellite that the United States has in space and
the satellite quits working? What do we call that? If we know who did it, what are we
going to do about it?"
The problem DOD faces in such an attack is that there are no clear rules of engagement
in space for that kind of warfare.
"If we wait until something happens and invent [rules] on the fly, we're going to
be in trouble," Estes said.
The military needs to put sensors on selected mission-critical space systems so that
DOD can tell when those systems are under attack, Estes said.
"I am convinced, although I have no proof of this, that at some point in the past
somebody has tried to do something to a U.S. satellite, and we haven't known what has
occurred," he said.
More worrisome than a calculated attack on America's satellite systems is the year 2000
problem, which could disable DOD satellites.
"I will be very candid with you and say that we're not going to catch everything,
even though we're working hard," Estes said.