U.S. Working Closely with Partners in Space

January 6, 2017


The U.S. has engaged in a series of space situational awareness agreements with a number of international partners and organizations in recent years. As part of these efforts to protect critical assets in orbit — from the myriad debris hurtling through space and orbiting to those trying to purposely deny space capabilities — the U.S. has begun to conduct a series of tabletop exercises with partners in this domain.

“All of us need the best space situational awareness possible and as a result we’ve now begun conducting some tabletop exercises to facilitate closer relationships in this domain, which after all is becoming much, much more contested and congested each and every day,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said at the Atlantic Council in Washington in December, discussing the importance of partnerships.

In fact, these exercises are part of an ongoing series with international and commercial partners to “improve the flow of information between space operations centers in support of launches, conjunction assessments, maneuvers, deorbits, and re-entries,” a spokesman from Strategic Command, the combatant command principally responsible for space, told C4ISRNET.

The participants in these exercises, the spokesperson said, include entities and nations the U.S. has entered into space situational awareness agreements with, which include 11 nations: the United Kingdom, the Republic of Korea, France, Canada, Italy, Japan, Israel, Spain, Germany, Australia and the United Arab Emirates; two intergovernmental organizations: the European Space Agency and the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites; and over 50 commercial satellite owners and operators.

The exercises focus on tactical issues as well as development of tactics, techniques and procedures at the operator level, the spokesman said, emphasizing the importance of shared or common situational awareness of infrastructure to include data-sharing protocols, voice and data networks, a database, tools, a common operating picture, and combined TTPs.

While the exercises occur at the unclassified level and only focus on normal day-to-day situational awareness of launch processing, breakups and orbital maneuver, to name a few — eschewing adversaries or geopolitical rivals — the spokesman said the most recent exercise introduced more complex challenges. This included “the notional employment of an antisatellite weapon to challenge coordination procedures between space operations centers,” he said. “Future exercises will expand upon threats and how an interoperable federated space situational awareness construct could ensure better event understanding (the ability to rapidly detect, warn, characterize and attribute hazards affecting space-borne assets, whether induced by the space domain or by human action/inaction) and facilitate quicker response.”

As for the Air Force itself, a spokeswoman said the service supports STRATCOM in these efforts and enters into separate agreements such as an agreement with Australia for a C-Band radar for space situational awareness from Western Australia, an agreement with Canada for space-based surveillance data via the Sapphire satellite, and an agreement with the United Kingdom for operating the missile warning and space surveillance radar at Royal Air Force Fylingdales, United Kingdom…

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