head of Air Force Space Command worries that tightening defense
budgets and looming force structure cuts could reduce his critical
space and cyber capabilities.
"Because these capabilities are so vital, and the need to maintain
local and global capabilities, space and cyber capability doesn't
really scale well with force structure reductions," Air Force Gen.
William Shelton said Wednesday. "You either maintain global coverage
or you don't."
Space Command must maintain force structure "in this fiscally
constrained environment," he said. The budget "is always at risk," he
said, particularly "at times like this, when there are a lot of people
out there with their budget knives out." But, he added, "this is kind
of a one or zero game. You either provide the kind of coverage needed
to have full capability, or you don't."
At the same time, Shelton warned that
producing national security satellites
and the costs of launching
them are "unsustainable." That limits America's abilities to replace
them and increases our vulnerability should any be lost to either
hostile acts or to accidents.
Shelton focused heavily on programs or proposals to reduce the cost of
space assets, noting that "the satellites we currently employ are
clearly technological marvels. They take years to hand build and
deploy" and are "very expensive. Consequently, we build the absolute
minimum number of satellites, just in time and we don't build spares."
That minimal infrastructure increases the risk of lost capabilities,
he warned. Smaller satellites also would be cheaper to launch, and
could enable putting multiple payloads on a single launch vehicle.
While praising the string of
80 successful launches of national security satellites
and the "wonderful relationship" the Air Force has with the United
Launch Alliance, Shelton said the cost of space launch "is just not
sustainable for us."
They are working to reduce launch cost by a block buy program and by
trying to encourage other firms --
like the recently successful SpaceX -- to get into the space
launch business, he said.
To reduce U.S. vulnerability, Shelton suggested building smaller, less
complex satellites, which would be less expensive. That could allow
his command to put more in orbit. (This sounds a great deal like
Operationally Responsive Space, once-spurned by many at Space
"At a minimum, this certainly would complicate an adversary's
targeting problems" and would provide more protection from "a
catastrophic cheap shot or an unfortunate collision."
Shelton also added his voice to the growing chorus of officials
warning about the increased risk in the cyber domain, "where the price
of admission is low, the attribution of nefarious acts often very
difficult" and the legal and policy aspects are uncertain."
"Millions of probes are launched every day" against government and
private computer networks, he said. "Critical infrastructure is at
Shelton appeared to be anticipating the
battles over defense budgets
that are expected in the next session
of Congress. President Barack Obama, who won reelection Tuesday, has
proposed $487 billion in cuts to future years defense budgets and
reductions in forces, primarily affecting the Army and Marine Corps.