Space Force chief: Satellites are under threat, ‘we have to be ready’

Science

Saltzman: ‘Personnel have to be trained. We have to have operational concepts, we have to have tactics that are validated’

WASHINGTON — Threats to U.S. satellites are becoming more complex and unpredictable, which will require new ways of training and preparing for a possible conflict, Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, U.S. chief of space operations, said Jan. 31.

Saltzman assumed command of the Space Force in November and recently announced his priorities for the coming year, one of which is to field “combat ready forces.”

That means “we have to be resilient, we have to be ready, and we have to be combat credible,” Saltzman told reporters at the Pentagon.

He noted that one of the takeaways so far from the war in Ukraine is that space systems are increasingly essential to military operations, and that satellites and the ground systems used to control them are being targeted. The challenge for the U.S. military is that its satellites are vulnerable, and Space Force operators have not been trained for this new era of anti-satellite warfare.

The Space Force is moving to modernize its constellations to be more resilient against threats but having advanced systems doesn’t ensure a ready force, said Saltzman. “The personnel have to be trained. We have to have operational concepts, we have to have tactics that are validated, the operators have to practice those tactics. We need intelligence to underpin how we’re going to use those systems.”

Saltzman said there is funding in the 2024 budget for these initiatives. “I can’t give you the specific numbers yet. But we are investing in developing what I’m loosely calling an ‘operational test and training infrastructure.’” he said. 

The training and testing infrastructure includes virtual simulators, training ranges and digital twin environments to test equipment in a realistic setting, he said. 

In Ukraine there have been widely reported incidents of cyber attacks against satellite-based communications systems and electronic jamming of GPS navigation signals. But the Space Force has to be prepared to respond to a wider range of scenarios, including the most “stressing” ones likely to be posed by China, he said. “I want to have a lot of flexible options against all the threats, regardless of what is asked of us.”

Saltzman said he supports efforts by Space Force procurement organizations to accelerate innovation in satellites and ground systems. But he said a priority also will be “high fidelity simulators, a virtual training environment, having the range infrastructure to practice this capability, we have to buy all that equipment as well. And we have to buy it quickly.”

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