Russia has demonstrated a small maneuvering satellite with an apparently successful flight test and some disturbing maneuvers that began in October of 2017. Russia's Ministry of Defense described the satellite as a "space apparatus inspector," a system that might be used to check, repair, or recover packages from orbit. But the US State Department told the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva this month that the satellite's behavior is inconsistent with that declared purpose. A maneuvering satellite can of course maneuver to damage or destroy other satellites. This may be a case of an inherently dual-use technology.
Space-related cyber risks.
The Defense Inspector General audited four important US Air Force space systems and found all of them vulnerable to cyberattack, especially through their supply chains. The systems the IG checked in its Congressionally mandated audit were the Space Based Infrared System (which detects launches and nuclear detonations), the service's satellite control network, its advanced beyond line-of-sight communications terminals, and the Global Positioning System. The Air Force hasn't overlooked the issue of supply chain security, but the auditor found that it addressed it imperfectly and incompletely.
Space-based missile defense.
Under some pressure by Congress, the Missile Defense Agency has outlined plans for space-based missile defense. Sensors of course are unproblematic. Putting weapons in orbit is more difficult and controversial.
Not all Russian threats are hybrid ones.
US attention continues to focus on Russian influence operations in cyberspace, and as midterm elections approach, those concerns aren't unreasonable. Various social media platforms have ejected "inauthentic" accounts, that is, users that aren't who or what they represent themselves to be, over the course of the month. There are many initiatives currently running to not only counter malign propaganda, but also to prevent direct hacking of the electoral machinery itself.
Russian hybrid operations have extended beyond the well-known trolling to active recruitment of disaffected "angry young men" that resembles nothing so much as it does ISIS work to radicalize the incarcerated, the misfit, the underemployed without prospects. But a number of experts have pointed out that Russia has revived more conventional military practices that the Soviet Union practiced during the Cold War. These include large-scale, front-level conventional exercises of the kind that used to coincide with NATO's Autumn Forge exercises. They also include close approaches to US airspace by nuclear-capable bombers.
Chinese operations in the Western Pacific.
China has intensified its operational tempo in the Western Pacific, especially in and around the territory it claims in the South China Sea (with the aid of some artificially constructed islands).
Continuing tension with North Korea.
The relaxation of tensions between North Korea and the civilized world that seemed about to arrive in the wake of the Kim-Trump summit now seems to have been a false dawn. Pyongyang has resumed missile tests, is expressing all manner of dissatisfaction with nuclear arms control measures, and has resumed much of its former confrontational rhetoric. President Trump cancelled a late August visit Secretary of State Pompeo had planned to make to North Korea. It would, the Administration judged, have been pointless at this juncture.
Iran tests a missile as US reimposes sanctions.
US sanctions have, as promised, been reimposed on Iran for the Islamic Republic's continuing efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran has run the first missile test of 2018. The system was the indigenous short-ranged Fateh-110, which has been exported to various users in the region. Iran has also announced major naval exercises which it claims will show its willingness and ability to close the Strait of Hormuz.
Commodity drones as weapons.
The rapid commodification of drones carries with it the potential for new threats. One such materialized in Venezuela at the beginning of August, when a drone exploded near President Nicolás Maduro as he was speaking in Caracas. Analysts differ as to whether this was an attack by a foreign government (as Maduro claimed), an assassination attempt by internal opposition, or a provocation by the regime itself. No one was injured.
A number of reports say that attacks by commercial drones are likely to become more common. It's worth noting that this sort of threat has been anticipated for some time. See the Naval Research Advisory Committee's 2008 Summer Study on commercial disruptive technologies for one example of such anticipation.
The NDAA for 2019.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2019, passed by Congress at the beginning of the month and signed into law by the President on Monday, contains some direction for more American assertiveness in cyberspace. The bill states that the Secretary of Defense has authority to conduct military operations in cyberspace in defense of the US and its allies. "All instruments of national power," including particularly cyber offensive capabilities, are available for use against foreign powers operating against American interests in cyberspace.
The NDAA also addresses deterrence, saying that the US "must develop and, when appropriate, demonstrate to adversaries the existence of cyber capabilities to impose costs on any foreign power targeting the United States." Congress is specifically interested in hearing about specific plans for imposing costs on adversaries, and it wants the Administration to tell it when it needs regulatory or legislative action in support of cyber deterrence. The NDAA desires progress in "advancing technologies for attribution, inherently secure technology and artificial intelligence society-wide."
PPD 20 rescinded.
Congressional action anticipated Presidential action. Early this month Administration officials acknowledged that the President has rescinded his predecessor's Presidential Policy Directive 20, presumably in the direction of greater delegation of authority to conduct offensive cyber operations, particularly in response to foreign cyber attacks on the US. Those who welcomed the news think it's a sign of greater US agility in cyber conflict. Critics are of two minds. Hawks fear it won't go far enough to deter adversaries and would like to see an even more active posture. Skeptics who liked PPD 20 fear that scrapping it will make a muddle of coordination and target selection.
Space Force (and other possible forces).
The US Government appears ready to move forward with the creation of a Space Force. Congress will of course have its say, but for now at any rate Space Force seems on track to stand up in 2020. Creation of a new Service would require legislation, but the Defense Department has told Congress it's moving forward with those organizational changes it can make on its own authority. These involve in the near-term the creation of three organizations: US Space Command (a new combatant command staffed from existing Services), Space Development Agency (which would oversee development and acquisition of satellites), and Space Operations Force (described as a "new warfighting community" drawn from all the current Services).
There are several models a Space Force could follow. Creation of a new Service Department seems unlikely in the extreme, but creation of a new Service within an existing Department might happen. Thus Space Force could be constituted within the Department of the Air Force roughly the way the Marine Corps is organized within the Department of the Navy. Others have spoken of a Coast Guard model, in which a uniformed service would have significant peacetime operational responsibilities in addition to its wartime combat role. Or it could be organized as another combatant command, like Cyber Command or Strategic Command.
Its roles and missions also remain to be defined, but early speculation suggests that the new organization will be largely preoccupied with mission assurance.
Progress toward a Space Force inevitably prompted calls from community advocates to create a "Cyber Force" and even a "Subterranean Force," the latter to deal with tunnels and other underground problems operators meet in urban environments. The first proposal most observers seem to think adequately dealt with by US Cyber Command. The second proposal hasn't seemed to resonate with anyone at all.
Launch industry news.
SpaceX and Boeing are looking like winners in new NASA launch plans. They're also widely expected to benefit from the creation of some form of Space Force.
SpaceX's BFR (that's "Big Falcon Rocket," its new heavy lift vehicle) is attracting the interest of Air Mobility Command. There's the possibility of using it to haul cargo to off-earth destinations, to be sure, and articles about the BFR have been lavishly and slickly illustrated with artists conceptions of things like moon bases that look like something out of a How and Why Wonderbook circa 1962, but there are more proximate destinations. Air Mobility Command has noticed that the BFR can be around the world in thirty minutes, and they're seeing a potential alternative to the C-5B in Mr. Musk's big rocket. Lots faster and arguably a bit cheaper.
As US rocket engines are put through the usual developmental hurdles, Russian rocket-maker Energomash has received a contract to deliver six more RD-180 engines to the United Launch Alliance. These are used in the first stage of the current workhorse Atlas V, which flies both military and civilian payloads for the US Government. It will also, initially at least, launch Boeing's crewed Starliner when it's ready for flight. The Russian embassy has made sure everybody notices the purchase, tweeting "Russian rocket engines to continue launching America into space."
But an all-American launch system is getting ready for testing out at the Mojave Spaceport. Stratolaunch Systems Corporation expects to flight test its Scaled Composites-designed Stratolauch later this year. The very large (twin fuselages and "385 feet of crazy," as WIRED calls it) is intended to carry launch vehicles to a high altitude, then drop them for their flight into orbit. It had been billed as carrying the familiar Pegasus system, and it probably will, but Stratolaunch Systems has announced devlopment of three larger and more capable launch vehicles worthy of the carrier's capabilities: Medium Launch Vehicle (optimized for short timelines, flexibility, and affordability), Medium Launch Vehicle – Heavy (able to lift 6 tons to low-earth orbit), and Medium Launch Vehicle – Reusable (a fully reusable space plane, with follow-on versions capable of carrying a crew).
JEDI solicitation and competition.
The Department of Defense has reworked and clarified some aspects of its multi-billion-dollar JEDI cloud solicitation. Many of the clarifications were clearly aimed at addressing industry concerns that the solicitation was prepared with Amazon in mind as the prospective prime contractor.
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting Afghanistan, China, Estonia, the European Union, Georgia, Iran, Japan, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea, NATO/OTAN, Poland, Russia, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Venezuela.
US warns Russia, Syria against chemical weapons use(Military Times) Senior U.S. officials warned the Russian and Syrian governments Tuesday against chemical weapons use in Syria as forces allied with its President Bashar Assad prepare for an offensive on a rebel stronghold.
Iran test-fires ballistic missile for first time in 2018, officials say(Fox News) For the first time in more than a year, Iran test-fired a ballistic missile in a brazen display of defiance months after President Trump pulled the United States out of a landmark nuclear deal and days before his administration slapped new sanctions on the Islamic Republic, three U.S. officials with knowledge of the launch tell Fox News.
DOD updates JEDI cloud solicitation(FCW) The Defense Department submitted several changed documents to its mega cloud program proposal, including changes to requirements in security, points of presence, pricing and small business information.
SAIC wins $255M space contract(Seeking Alpha) Science Applications International (NYSE:SAIC) has won a $255M contract to provide systems engineering and technical assurance work that supports various space-related activities.
Booz Allen lands $885M Pentagon AI contract(Fedscoop) Government contracting giant Booz Allen Hamilton has landed a five-year deal worth $885 million to help the Department of Defense and the intelligence community “rapidly employ artificial intelligence, neural and deep neural networks.” The contract calls upon Booz Allen to aid the Pentagon in dealing with, and using, the “unprecedented amounts” of reconnaissance data that exists …
How the Air Force data strategy is evolving(C4ISRNET) Lt. Gen. VeraLinn “Dash” Jamieson, the deputy chief of staff for ISR, explains the genesis for the Air Force’s new “Next Generation ISR Dominance Flight Plan,” which lays out the service’s goals for the next 10 years.
Reorganizing the missile defense enterprise(Defense News) Make no mistake: The first time someone isn’t looking, Army budgeteers will probably try to use the additional funding to buy trucks rather than THAADs, and Navy budgeteers will try to buy hulls and Tomahawks rather than SM-3s.
Detect Nukes In Flight With Electron Beam Technology(Breaking Defense) So, I asked, could a sufficiently high-powered neutron beam not just detect a nuclear warhead from a distance, but actually disable it? Dent, who worked on the Safeguard missile defense system as a young Army officer and later on Reagan's Star Wars initiative for SAIC, pondered a moment. Then he said: “Could it fry the electronics ? Yes, it could."
The United States and North Korea: Back to Square One?(Atlantic Council) US President Donald J. Trump on August 24 abruptly cancelled Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s planned trip to North Korea. Explaining his decision in a tweet, Trump wrote : “because I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to...
Mattis sees future US space opportunities with Brazil(Jane's 360) Mattis said he sees future opportunities with Brazil for advanced research, particularly in space. Brazil has a healthy appetite for enhanced space partnerships, but regulatory problems loom. US Secretary of Defense James Mattis sees future opportunities for advanced research with
Trump is right to prepare for a war in space(Times) A mysterious fireball hurtled towards earth a month ago and thumped into the ground close to a base that serves as the eyes and ears of America. Scientists reckon it was a meteorite that narrowly...
5 Unanswered Questions About Space Force(Defense One) As Pentagon leaders plan changes to the U.S. military’s orbital-operations organizations, analysts wonder whether they have done all their homework.
Congress—Not Trump—Will Decide Whether to Create a Space Force(The National Interest) “The constitutional framework appears to contemplate that the role of establishing, organizing, regulating, and providing resources for the Armed Forces belongs to Congress, while the President is in charge of commanding the forces Congress has established using the funds Congress has provided,” CRS concluded.
Experts Weigh the Future of the Pentagon’s Space Force(USNI News) The Trump administration’s push to create a U.S. Space Force could be more like a Space Corps– similar to the Marine Corps – or a separate combatant command, a panel of national security experts predicted on Monday. Speaking in Washington, D.C., Brian Weeden, the director at the Secure World Foundation, some leaning toward a Space Corps …