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Fri, Apr 06, 2007

Senior Military Officials Testify About Air Force Space Program

Highlight Streak Of Successful Launches, Need For GPS III

Aero-News has learned three senior leaders provided testimony on national security space activities before the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee March 23.

The Honorable Dr. Ronald M. Sega, under secretary of the Air Force, Dr. Donald Kerr, director of the National Reconnaissance Office, and Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, commander of Air Force Space Command, appeared before members of Congress to discuss the current US space posture. Dr. Sega made a point to highlight the continued importance of space capabilities.

"The US relies upon space capabilities not only to meet the needs of joint operations worldwide, but to support our nation's diplomatic, informational and economic efforts as well," he said.

"We've had several achievements across the (Department of Defense) space portfolio in the last year," said Dr. Sega. "On March 8, we accomplished our 50th consecutive, successful operational launch -- a national record. We made significant progress on the Space Based Infrared System, SBIRS. The first highly elliptical orbit SBIRS payload was successfully launched last year and has met or exceeded all on-orbit performance expectations.

"We also launched our first in a series of Operationally Responsive Space tactical satellite experiments, TacSat-2, in December 2006," he said. "In the last year, we've launched eight space test program missions, with a total of 17 Space Experiments Review Board experiments, with four more missions planned this fiscal year."

Dr. Sega also briefed the committee on the progress of space programs under his three priority areas: integration across national security space, "back to basics" and the block approach in space acquisition, and the importance of ensuring the vitality and proficiency of space professionals and the science and engineering workforce.

"I'm pleased to say we've made progress in all these areas, and are starting to see benefits of this approach," he said. "I'd also like to highlight that we're working very hard to ensure continuity of service in our key capabilities, including missile warning, strategic communications, and position, navigation and timing.

"The 'back to basics' approach is focused on mission success in our space acquisition programs," he said. "We bring technologies on as they're more mature, so acquisition cycle time should be reduced, and the cost and schedule risk is reduced."

Dr. Sega provided the example of next-generation global positioning system as how the block approach works.

"The GPS IIIA satellite will go beyond current capabilities of GPS II, and provide a growth path forward for future blocks of GPS IIIB and IIIC, in subsequent increments," he said.

The importance of interagency integration and collaboration across the space arena was another key topic in Dr. Sega's testimony.

"Our goal is to create partnerships within the space community, which we believe are essential to delivering requirements on cost and on schedule, ensuring appropriate funding stability," he said.

Additionally, the officials addressed the committee's concerns about the need for increased space situational awareness, and the protection of space assets from potential threats.

Of particular interest to the committee was China's Jan. 11 launch of a direct-ascent, kinetic anti-satellite weapon that destroyed an inactive Chinese weather satellite. The ASAT test produced more than 1,000 pieces of debris, which could increase the likelihood of interference with space assets in low earth orbit.

"Before we can talk about providing space protection, we need to understand what's going on up there," General Chilton said. "We need to have the tools in place to establish what's being launched, what the capabilities are, the intent, and ultimately attribution.

"Once we have attribution, we can determine the options the US government has to deter, dissuade or stop someone if they've started doing these types of things," he said. "As a result of the Chinese ASAT testing, and since we were able to attribute (the launch) to them, China is receiving diplomatic pressure from around the world. There are tools available outside the military, such as diplomatic pressure, that are available for our country to use; but without attribution, you can't use a single one of them."

From Operation Desert Storm to the war on terrorism, combat operations are very dependent on space capabilities, General Chilton said. It is critical to position, navigation and timing, communications, and real-time intelligence.

"I think we're on the right track," General Chilton said. "We are chartered not only to look at how we support today's fight, but also we have to look to the future as well."

(Aero-News salutes Staff Sgt. Monique Randolph, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs)



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