In an excellent December 2nd Defense News article, the Pentagon’s Under Secretary for Research and Engineering, Dr. Michael Griffin, recalled the 30th anniversary of the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall, ending the Cold War and highlighting the importance of Ronald Reagan’s vision and initiatives that produced the essential ingredients leading to that memorable event.
And he convincingly noted the unwise euphoric view that led the Western powers to allow continuing and unanswered threats to grow, now requiring us to play "catch-up" on a number of technological fronts where our adversaries advanced while our leading capabilities atrophied.
As he observed, our once transformational technologies are now widely available — some even commercially available. Notably, there have been extensions of electronic warfare to artificial intelligence and machine learning coupled to advances in microelectronics empowered by 5G advances and technologies driven to support commercial as well as defense interests.
We need to meet important growing defense technology challenges without commercial counterparts, such as hypersonic flight.
Perhaps most importantly — at least in my view — Griffin observed that space, "once the uncontested lynchpin of the U.S. warfighting advantage," is being challenged by Russia and China.
Personally, I am most concerned by China’s growing space capabilities coupled with its economic power, as illustrated by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s report to congress.
As noted in my November 19, 2019 article, a serious response could, and should, prompt a revival of key Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) programs that were abandoned almost 30-years ago. We were years ahead then, but thanks to the dismantlement of the SDI efforts in 1993, we are behind — because China has exploited SDI advances that we have deliberately ignored since 1993.
A story for another day.
Correcting this mistake should be woven into responding to Dr. Griffin’s description of what we must pursue in implementing the current National Defense Strategy, "a revitalized nuclear triad, microelectronics, cybersecurity, biotechnology, 5G, space, hypersonics, artificial intelligence, directed energy, autonomous systems, networked communications, missile defense and quantum science, among others."
Our goal should be superiority in these technologies, woven into a war-fighting architecture that challenges our adversaries rather than reacting to them, as the key to deterring or winning future conflicts.
And we have no time to waste — since we are indeed playing catchup in a number of these key areas.
As noted above, I am most concerned that we move quickly in the space domain, the military capabilities for which we have ignored for far too long.
And here strong support from Congress is essential. But regrettably, congress seems more interested in chasing "impeachment" causes than in providing for the common defense.
Congress reportedly will be staying in session until the week before Christmas, so there is hope that the National Defense Authorization Act for 2020 may get passed with helpful provisions.
By the way, Fiscal Year 2020 began on Oct. 1, 2019, but Congress has been too busy with other matters to worry about funding the federal government.
But, maybe we soon will know the potential future for a couple of key elements of the innovation called for by Under Secretary Griffin.
First, there are the near-term prospects for President Trump’s Space Force Initiative, which will play an important role in meeting the demands to counter the growing threat from China.
Second, and perhaps most important in meeting Griffin’s vision, is the Space Development Agency (SDA) that, with needed congressional support, can become the needed innovative arm to fully exploit the inherent capabilities of rapidly advancing private sector space technologies to meet our national security needs.
Under Secretary Griffin has noted that the SDA is in trouble, especially because continuing resolutions rather than specified funding for new initiatives have become common practice as congress stumbles in its stutter-step funding for the nation’s urgent needs.
As Griffin noted, "When the things we think we need to do are delayed or prevented by budget battles in Congress and continuing resolutions, it slows us down — and in some cases — prevents us from doing things that we earnestly believe we need to do. The Space Development Agency is one of, but by no means the only, casualty of our current situation."
Griffin says there is bipartisan agreement that the United States needs to reform its space architecture.
But for now, the SDA is waiting for Congress for the guidance and funding needed to pursue the projects on its agenda, including to place 70 satellites in low earth orbit to improve the wartime viability of communications and the means to track threatening missile threats, including hypersonic weapons, to aid our missile defense systems.
Meanwhile, the private sector is exploring the role of large numbers of small satellites for commercial interests, and the military services are interested in exploiting these private sector initiatives. The private sector mindset is fundamentally different than the lethargic Defense acquisition process that threatens to leave us with out-of-date capabilities when new systems are finally operational — thus, exploiting private sector approaches is appealing.
But simply adopting such initiatives requires care, as Under Secretary Griffin has noted. Assuring the viability of critical national security capabilities is more demanding than is meeting the usual requirements for private sector systems.
A possible SDA challenge is to fully exploit the innovative measures of the private sector while meeting those military demands. Such an effort makes sense, provided congress provides the needed funds.
While the competition among several companies already underway can be exploited by the new Space Force in any event, it would be best if there were an effort to "spin-off" benefits from the best of our nation’s technical talent to support our national security without slowing commercial interests.
An appropriately funded SDA could help close that gap.
We once knew how to do such things faster, and we need to learn again. Nowhere is that objective more important than with improving our military space capabilities — especially where we are already playing catchup with the China. And the Space Development Agency is urgently needed to spearhead that effort!
Congress, please help.
Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier and an acknowledged expert on strategic and space national security issues, was President Ronald Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director during the George H.W. Bush administration. Previously, he served as the Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Deputy Assistant USAF Secretary, Science Adviser to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory and a USAF Reserve Captain. In the private sector he was Chairman of Applied Research Associates, a high technology company; member of the technical staff of Jaycor, R&D Associates and Bell Telephone Laboratories; a Senior Associate of the National Institute for Public Policy; and Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Clemson and a PhD from New York University, all in Mechanical Engineering. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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