Cecil Haney is quick to mention that while his job as head of U.S. Strategic Command puts him at the center of the Defense Department’s most vexing space problems, he’s still relatively new to the space arena.

“You must remember I’m a submariner by trade, working miles away from my initial domain training,” the four-star Navy admiral said during a recent interview at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado.

The 60-year-old former nuclear submarine squad commander who was born and raised in Washington, D.C., is now headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base in landlocked Nebraska where he’s in charge of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

But global strike and strategic deterrent are only part of STRATCOM’s no-higher-stakes portfolio; Haney’s command also encompasses cyber warfare, missile defense, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and space operations.

Haney, whose space ops purview keeps him in close touch with Air Force Space Command boss Gen. John Hyten, also has taken the Pentagon’s lead in working joint space operations with the National Reconnaissance Office, the formerly secret three-letter intelligence agency that builds and operates the U.S. fleet of spy satellites. Haney co-chairs the DoD and intelligence community’s joint space doctrine and tactics forum with NRO Director Betty Sapp, with whom Haney has worked on space warfare exercises conducted through the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center, or JICSpOC, at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, who has visited the JICSpOC to see for himself the newly opened nerve center for combined DoD and IC space operations, hails Haney as one DoD’s “top space warriors.”

Since taking the helm of STR ATCOM in late 2013, Haney has seen Air Force Space Command launch its first pair of Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program satellites for keeping tabs on friendly and potentially hostile spacecraft, award contracts for next-generation space object-tracking radars and jumpstart the JICSpOC.

But those accomplishments have been tempered by troubling developments, including China’s continued development of anti-satellite capabilities and last year’s provocative in-orbit manoeuvrings of Russia’s Luch satellite, which parked itself between a pair of Intelsat commercial communications satellites for five months before cozying up alongside a third Intelsat craft.

Haney says the U.S. needs to keep closer tabs on what’s happening in orbit.

“Some may have heard Gen. Hyten say in a previous forum that I wasn’t happy with where we are with our ability to see, characterize and understand the domain,” Haney said during a speech the 32nd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs in April. “He’s right, I’m not happy. Given the threats we are facing in space, we must get better.”

Haney spoke with SpaceNews senior staff writer Mike Gruss.


Exactly what kind of information are you looking for from Air Force Space Command that you’re not getting right now?

I’ll put it in a little broader perspective. When you look at how we’ve grown in our ability to fight together and integrate our capabilities operationally, we have a very sophisticated ability. We’re always striving for how can we best and more rapidly get the right information, integrated in the right way so that we can more rapidly apply options to it. Or at least have the decision-space to even think about applying options to it. When I look at space, while we have gone a ways, we still have a ways to go — particularly if you have multiple activities going on at the same time.

Multiple space threats?

Right. Today it’s amazing how many things right now are moving around in space that we’re able to collect data on, catalog, and provide it openly to other nations to avoid collisions.

If we look at the trends today of where our adversaries are going, where they’re discussing their counterspace ambitions and capabilities, we have to also be ready to ensure we can provide that space capability for our joint military warfighter — whether they’re under the sea, or on land, or in the airspace that our airplanes fly in. That’s the piece, when I look at space, how do we get that more common operational picture that gives you the right visualizations for the decisions you need to make, whether at the tactical level, operational level or at the strategic level?

That’s what I mean. I’m not happy means, “we gotta get there.” We gotta get there faster than what we’re doing today.

With the JICSpOC everyone says the No. 1 lesson has been that the Defense Department can’t overstate the importance of working with the intelligence community. What else have you learned?

One is how do we need to organize? What’s the right talent and what are the right tools to be able to see and operate in space? We want to have a peaceful space environment, but we’ve got these other nations that are developing counter-space capabilities that we have to be mindful of.

You can’t just say you’re going to operate your space constellation differently; you’ve got to really go and look at how you would do that and when you would do that.

But before you get to that, how do you even recognize you’ve got a problem in time?

This means indication and warning to sensing whether it is something going on in an orbital regime, or it’s something going on from terrestrial Earth into space, and be able to rapidly assess what’s going on.

Everything that happens in space is not malicious, but you’ve got to be able to paint that picture and know that in real time in order to make a decision.

Within minutes?

In some cases within minutes, yes. Particularly when you look at some of these anti-satellite rocket tests we’ve seen, it doesn’t take very long to get into low-Earth orbit.

You alluded in a press briefing to the possibility of an adversary reaching geostationary orbit, which is some 36,000 kilometers above the equator. Do you believe China’s 2013 missile test was an anti-satellite test to GEO?

Well, anytime you see a capability that reaches into geosynchronoustype ranges, you have to be able to at least explore the options of what does that mean.

So it’s within the range of possibilities?

Right.

STRATCOM is developing a response to these types of potential attacks. Is this the first time DoD is developing a response because the threat has changed, or is this an evolution of previous countermeasures?

We’re looking at it with fresh eyes and new approaches where we can. Today we have much more exquisite sensing. How do you integrate the volumes of data collected by a plethora of land-based sensors or space sensors? How do you integrate what’s important at the time, particularly if another nation decides to take you on in space?

Can what you’ve learned at the JICSpOC transfer directly to the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base?

First of all, my JSpOC is operating today at full strength in terms of providing theater support, space situational awareness and, — you could say— space traffic control, in terms of avoiding collision. We contact the Chinese if we see one of their satellites that may be at risk. We don’t want any more debris up there. We’ve got enough of that to track these days.

I always start this conversation with “my JSpOC is pretty busy out there in California doing the mission.”

But JICSpOC is working experimentation. We’re working to figure this out. That’s why I don’t want to over promise and underdeliver here.

These experiments are helping us with the concept of operations. But when I talk about managing space, it’s bigger than that. It’s tying in to other Combined Air and Space Operations Centers and all the other geographical combatant commands so that we can understand situational awareness from a variety of different things and pull them in so that even from my headquarters and operations center at Offutt I can also have the requisite information I need in order to understand what’s going on, and then, if required, direct courses of action, or seek additional authorities or mechanisms to deal with whatever the problem is.

 “I want to have more dynamic situational awareness that can allow us to be able to see changes as they occur. It’s a very manual process right now, which we’re working to improve,” says Adm. Haney, shown during a visit to U.S. Transportation Command. Credit: USTRANSCOM/PA / Bob Fehringer

“I want to have more dynamic situational awareness that can allow us to be able to see changes as they occur. It’s a very manual process right now, which we’re working to improve,” says Adm. Haney, shown during a visit to U.S. Transportation Command. Credit: USTRANSCOM/PA / Bob Fehringer

There are concerns on Capitol Hill and within the Pentagon about the bow wave of nuclear modernization spending that will hit budgets in the early 2020s. But around that same time, space is also going to go through a bow wave to recapitalize all of the major satellite constellations. Can the Pentagon afford both at the same time?

There’s been a lot of bow wave talk with the nuclear sustainment and modernization we must do in order to have a credible, safe, secure, effective and ready strategic deterrent.

As we look at where we want to go in space, in improvements there, obviously there’s a cost that’s associated with that going forward. In 2017, there’s some $22 billion attributed to that.

I personally don’t like the term bow wave. I use it sometimes, but the real piece is how do we prioritize investments so that we can improve where we need to?

I want to have more dynamic situational awareness that can allow us to be able to see changes as they occur. It’s a very manual process right now, which we’re working to improve.

Does that mean we should expect to see additional capabilities like the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program, which provides neighborhood watch capabilities in space, or the Space Fence, which improves space-object tracking?

It’s two-fold. Sensing is good. Get more sensors. But you’ve got to fuse the sensors in a very meaningful way and then you’ve got to take what’s being sensed and be able to visualize and frame the environment.

So that’s got to lead to frustration with the JsPOC Mission System’s 19-month delay?

To me, it’s frustration with anything that’s slowing the process to getting to where we need to get to.

I’m not here to badmouth JMS because I think we need to put the right demand signal associated with the kinds of capabilities we need from the warfighters into industry. It’s a team sport.