Prominent among these efforts is a $5.5 billion, five-year funding wedge for space protection activities, many of them classified. Other keys to what government officials call space resilience, Loverro says, include access to allied and commercial space assets, and diplomatic initiatives aimed at avoiding outcomes that nobody wants.
The strategic goal, he says, is to reduce if not eliminate any temptation adversaries might have to try to neutralize the advantages that space affords the U.S. military. Failing that, space capabilities must be able to survive any attempt to take them out.
Loverro discussed space protection, and other space policy challenges, in conversations with SpaceNews Editor Warren Ferster and military reporter Mike Gruss.
Antisatellite weapons have been around for decades. Why is it that the alarm bells are ringing so loudly now?
It’s only been the last 20 years we’ve started to tie space capabilities to tactical warfighting. Space has become far more important in the conventional arms game in the United States. It’s huge and people have noticed.
How could anything be more important than the traditional connection between space and nuclear deterrence?
During the Cold War space enjoyed the protection of what we call the extended deterrent. Our satellites were protected from attack because of the nuclear umbrella that was put over them. They were part of the nuclear thin line, and if they were attacked, nuclear war was happening. Now, it’s something people contemplate in the earliest phase of conflict. So the dynamics have changed completely.
Has there been a surge in antisatellite testing since China destroyed one of its own satellites with a missile in 2007?
There’s been a constant drumbeat of activities, some of which are public and some of which are not public. We understand the leverage space gives us and so do our adversaries. So just as in every other area of warfare where we have found leverage, adversaries attack that domain. The air domain was unarmed until the first pilot took a handgun up in a cockpit one time. Before that, they used to wave at each other because they were just going out on reconnaissance missions.
Can you elaborate on the deterrence component of your strategy?
If you frame a strategy that basically says, “I’m just going to go ahead and make sure I have space stuff left over but I’m going to make sure nobody knows how I’m going to do it,” you don’t deter war in the first place. Space still looks as a tempting and irresistible choice. That just leads to war. It means we can win the war once it starts but it doesn’t help us prevent getting to war. Our strategy is to make sure space is part of the overall deterrence posture of the United States.
Can you give some specific examples of what you’re doing to be more resilient in space?
Let me give you a great unclassified example. You saw the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency released their Commercial Geoint Strategy recently. That’s part of resilience. OK, if you target one or two national technical means satellites, we still have 600 other commercial and foreign satellites we can rely on. If you want to bring the rest of the world in on this battle and target French satellites and German satellites and Japanese satellites and Israeli satellites and Canadian satellites and all the commercial satellites in the world in order to stop the U.S. from using space, that’s a lot harder politically, technically and financially than just taking on the United States.
Is there a broader diplomatic component to this?
Absolutely. We don’t want people shooting at satellites; we don’t believe that’s a good thing for mankind. So we would like to have reasonable agreements with both allies and adversaries about what things we should not do in space. For example, we already know creating a lot of debris in space is dangerous for everybody. We’d like to convince folks that that’s not a good path to go down. Taking down a nation’s positioning, navigation and timing infrastructure is a disproportional response to a regional hostility. Can we get an agreement that that’s something we shouldn’t do?
Can you give examples of international efforts to promote resiliency and deterrence?
We are working with the European Union to get U.S. access to their Galileo Public Regulated Service signal so we can decide if we want to integrate Galileo into U.S. PNT operations. It’s commercial as well. We recognized that allies having access to advanced space capabilities helps us be more resilient. One of the reasons they couldn’t get access was the International Traffic in Arms Regulations were getting in the way. So we loosened up export controls on a whole bunch of space items. We reduced the resolution restrictions not just on DigitalGlobe but on all U.S. commercial remote sensors because we want to create a better business case for them, because that causes them to build more imagers.
You said the Russian Luch satellite, which parked itself between a pair of Intelsat satellites, is a reminder of the need to be more resilient. How can or should the U.S. government respond to this sort of thing?
What do you do when Country X’s ship decides to sail behind a merchant vessel f lagged in the U.S.? Nothing. We take note of it, we consider whether or not there’s any threat to us. If we view there’s a threat, if it was a hostile naval vessel, we would do one thing with it; if it’s a naval vessel from a nation that we are on less than perfect footing with, we might watch it more closely. But we can’t tell people where to sail in the ocean. I can’t tell people where to put their satellites in space, but I can notice it. I can make sure people notice that I’m noticing it and then I have to figure out what it means for me as I design future architectures. If I find that activity to be one that I can’t stand over the long term, how should that reflect on what I choose to put into space? Geosynchronous orbit is a very crowded place. It’s hard to tell somebody not to play in geosynchronous orbit. So should I be putting my most valuable military missions there?
Let’s shift gears here. Do you expect U.S. allies to invest in the Mobile User Objective System program now that you have given them access to the WCDMA payload?
I can’t tell you what our allies are going to do, I don’t know how much Lockheed Martin would charge for another satellite, but it links us. If you’re leveraging each other’s legacy UHF, the technical cooperation is low. If you’re trying to leverage a WCDMA waveform, the technical interaction has to be much greater and as you look at what happens after MUOS, that technical interaction now exists. So now as we go forward, even if we built MUOS as principally a U.S.-only system, the next generation probably isn’t going to be principally a U.S.-only system.
There has been discussion about whether the Joint Space Operations Center’s de facto role in space traffic management is appropriate given the demands on its time and resources. Your thoughts?
The JSpOC does a great job today supporting not just the U.S. but the world in monitoring and alerting all space users of potentially hazardous conditions, possible conjunctions, providing launch window clearance, monitoring and reporting on re-entry events, and multiple other space traffic management-related services. But let’s face it, in any other domain that would not be the day-today role of a defense organization. The JSpOC’s primary role should be to support U.S. and allied military space operations. Those missions include providing space services to warfighters worldwide and assuring we can understand and defend the space domain from attack. But the JSpOC can’t focus on both roles at the same time — that job needs to be undertaken by a civil agency.
Such as the Federal Aviation Administration?
Today I can’t think of anyone better positioned than the FAA to do this job. It’s similar to the kind of role they have in civil aviation and it’s a natural extension of their existing authority for launch and re-entry. Culturally it’s in their wheelhouse. Obviously they are not manned or resourced today to do that job, so if we do decide to move in that direction it’s going to be a long transition. I know some have worried that if we made this move it would cause a transfer of resources from the JSpOC to this new role. I disagree. The JSpOC has a critical role to play in the defense of space and they need both the manpower and the sensors they have today to do that job. We’re talking about standing up a new function of government and that’s going to require new resources.
Congress has sent a clear message of dissatisfaction with the Defense Department’s weather strategy. What’s going on there?
The Air Force led a study in the 2012 time frame and came to a conclusion that was reasonable at the time that DoD needed to concentrate on some specific needs because there were many other collectors around the globe, including U.S. civil partners and other nations, and the requirements were being met for the most part by those systems. There was only a narrow set of requirements including ocean surface vector winds that needed to be met by a DoD system. At the time it appeared that the most cost effective way to get to that program was to not launch the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP)-20 satellite and to go directly to the Weather Satellite Follow-on program. But over time, as people investigated the program more and we understood more about the reliability of the international systems, DoD arrived at the conclusion that flying DMSP-20 was a good bridge to the next-generation program, which was probably going to take a bit longer than people assumed to begin with. That back and forth ended up being communicated to Congress as uncertainty about where we were going. That’s the confusion that’s led us to where we are today. I believe we have a pretty good strategy — I think it’s foolish for the nation to not launch DMSP-20. It’s a perfectly healthy satellite with a lot of capabilities that reduce risk in anything we do.
What’s the plan now that Congress has denied funding to launch DMSP-20?
The DMSP constellation is lasting longer than we thought so we have a little bit of time. We baselined a gap-filler for the Navy’s Windsat satellite so we have a plan to cover the gap in ocean surface vector winds data that we saw approaching, but I think we’re going to have to relook at the international landscape and the internal DoD requirements and then decide what comes after the gap-filler. DMSP-20 gave us a longer timeframe to do that and now I think we’re going to have to answer that question sooner.
Are you concerned about the future of the Defense Department launch enterprise?
Obviously if I said anything other than “yes” I’d have to be lying. But let me temper that concern. I believe United Launch Alliance is in the launch game for the long run. I believe that because of the investments they are making, I believe that because of the commitments they’ve made to the Air Force under the block buy and NASA under commercial crew, but I believe it more because I see Tori Bruno taking an incredibly active role in making ULA a commercially competitive company. You don’t make all those changes and work to take all that cost out of the system if you’re not intent on staying for the long run. If all you’re going to do is fly out the last 20 missions in the block buy, you don’t make any of the moves that ULA has made. I likewise believe that SpaceX is in it for the long run. I see SpaceX making incredible strides in coming back from their accident. I see that SpaceX is actively pursuing Air Force work. So we will have the surety in the long run. The area of biggest concern is whether we have a sufficiently competitive field in the 2019-2023 time frame. But that’s a question of how much we will pay for launch, not if we will have launch.
Congress wants the Air Force to invest in a U.S. replacement for the Russian-made RD-180 engine, whereas the service wants to invest more broadly in a new launcher. What’s the right way forward?
At the end of the day, an engine without a launcher is not much use and a launcher without an engine is not much use. So I think you have to build a launch system. As much as we would like engines to be plug and play, it doesn’t really work that way. ULA needs an engine, but it also needs a launcher. SpaceX doesn’t need an engine. But there are other investments SpaceX needs to make to be a good launcher for national security payloads — pad infrastructure, different mission profiles, vertical integration, things like that. If other companies come into the competition, Aerojet, Orbital ATK or any others that have expressed interest, every one will have a different place where government investments would be most appropriate to get them to the ability to launch DoD satellites as soon and as cheaply as possible. By narrowing the investment path to engine only, you narrow who you can bring onboard, and that typically hurts, not helps, competition. But if we cannot make our case we will follow the law.
TITLE: U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy (2013-present)
JOB DESCRIPTION: Responsible for establishing policy and guidance to assure U.S. and allied warfighters the benefits of space capabilities and to help guide the Defense Department’s strategy for addressing space-related issues. Leads the department’s activities in international space cooperation.
PREVIOUS: Executive director, Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center; deputy program executive officer for space; associate director, imagery systems acquisition and operations, National Reconnaissance Office.
EDUCATION: B.S. in Chemistry from the U.S. Air Force Academy; M.S. in Physics from the University of New Mexico; M.S. in Political Science from Auburn University; MBA from the University of West Florida. He was the top graduate from his class in the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and is a graduate of the JFK School of Government Senior Executives in National and International Security program.
PERSONAL: He and his wife, Stephanie Loverro, have two children, Adam and Kari. He is an avid triathlete.