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Kehler: Spherical battlespace is new theater of operations

  • Published
  • By Capt. Ben Sakrisson
  • Air University Public Affairs
The world is no longer flat and information is no longer static. Neither can military operations confine focus to one area of a conflict while remaining oblivious to interconnections with the larger picture. It is time the view of the battlefield is turned upside-down. This is the message of the commander of Air Force Space Command.

Speaking in a crowded conference hall March 31 at the 25th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., Gen. C. Robert Kehler laid out his vision of the redefined theater of operations -- the spherical area of operations.

"I am going to define that as an area starting at the geostationary distances from the earth and extending down," General Kehler said. "I think for far too long we have looked at our conception of future battlespace by standing on the ground and looking up -- I think that might be the wrong way to look."

While the concept of always seeking the high ground is as old as military doctrine itself, seeking to understand this newly-defined area is a daunting task.

"The spherical battlespace is constantly changing as on-orbit objects transverse across a volume that is 6,000 times larger than the airspace of the earth below," General Kehler said.

The seemingly trivial decision of what domain to cover, in fact, results in a great degree of study and debate on the extent of a given space that should be covered by a single asset.

"In our headquarters, we're combing through the different layers of space, high altitude, air and terrestrial to better understand how a degree of adequate redundancy and complementing capability can be achieved to preclude an overinvestment in one domain which creates vulnerability for our operating forces," said Lt. Gen. Kevin T. Campbell, commanding general of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command and commander of Joint Functional Component Command-Integrated Missile Defense of U.S. Strategic Command.

While the connection between space and cyberspace may be unclear to many outside of these career fields, to those within the space community, the connection is clear.

"Nearly 100 percent of the product from space is information," said Col. Sean D. McClung, Air University's National Space Studies Center director.

To this end, the vital cyberspace link to troops in the field is connected via space assets.

"Space capabilities provide intelligence that would otherwise be lost, warnings that would otherwise be undetected, and communications that would otherwise be impossible," General Kehler said.

Perhaps one of the most difficult pieces of the puzzle to get right, though, is the determination of how many assets are required from private industry at a given point in time and how to balance the need for increased bandwidth in a contingency against the need for operational security.

"You have to have a way to talk about capacity reallocation and reprioritization. When you get into a real hot battle what happens is, unless you have already planned it, there is no capacity," said Richard DalBello, Intelsat General Corporation Legal and Government Affairs vice president, the largest provider of satellite services in the world. "If this stuff is not worked out in advance, it is not going to be worked out in a conflict." 

Likewise, with respect to space-based assets, the ability to determine with certainty and react in a timely manner to threats in their orbital paths is still in its infancy.

"Straight-line thinking no longer works; objects are always in motion," General Kehler said. He further advocated for better situational awareness in both space and cyberspace.

The effort to build a national space situational awareness architecture is underway, though it is not yet up to full operational capability. Currently, "we have space situational awareness, [but] it is not as good as we would like it to be," said Col. Dustin A. Tyson, the Pentagon's National Security Space Office Space Control Division chief.

The future goal with the development of a national SSA architecture, according to Colonel Tyson, is to "evolve SSA from what we have a tendency to do today, forensic, to predictive knowledge." Once this critical process is complete, the military will be one step closer to having advanced warnings of possible collisions in space rather than investigating the cause in the aftermath. In the spherical area of operations, that determination is made at 11,000 meters per second.

(Editor's Note: This is the second article in a series of reports from the 25th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.)