Implementing Competitive Endurance: Space Intelligence
This transcript is from a CSIS event hosted on October 10, 2023. Watch the full video here.
Kari A. Bingen: Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Kari Bingen. I am the director of the Aerospace Security Project here at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. This afternoon we’re discussing space intelligence, threat trends but also how the intelligence community – the space intelligence enterprise is posturing for the big changes in the security environment.
I am very privileged to welcome Major General Greg Gagnon, the director of space intelligence in the United States Space Force; as well as next him Brigadier General Brian Sidari, who’s also the director of intelligence but of the United States Space Command.
So General Gagnon is the deputy chief of space operations. He is a career intelligence officer also steeped in cyber operations. Prior, he was the director of intelligence at U.S. Space Command, so in General Sidari’s seat, and director of intelligence at Air Combat Command. He has deployments in the Indo-Pacific region, Pacific Air Forces in Korea, and a combat deployment into Afghanistan as commander of an expeditionary intelligence squadron.
Brigadier General Sidari, director of intelligence at U.S. Space Command. He’s also a career intelligence officer who has led at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. He has multiple operational tours spanning three theaters and several staff jobs. And he’s also a published academic from the National Defense University. And I learned, a proclaimed pop-culture enthusiast, fluent in movie quotes. So we’ll have to see if we can weave that in here. (Laughter.)
So I’ve been fortunate to know both these generals for several years now. We’ve done panels together, but our panels have always been classified. So I think this is the first time that we have both senior space intelligence leaders on stage together here in an unclassified or non-classified setting. And I think it’s important to have these unclassified conversations, and I very much appreciate your willingness to talk more publicly about what you’re doing. You are bringing broader attention to just the use of space, but also the threats to the space domain. And really, that was the impetus behind CSIS’s work that we’ve done for six years now on our annual space threat assessment, which I have here.
Last February, also here at CSIS, General Saltzman, who’s the chief of space operations, he unveiled the Space Force theory of success, competitive endurance. And when you listen to his remarks and you read through that, you see that intelligence is fundamental to all aspects of that theory. And what has been striking to me, and why I’m so glad both generals are here today, is just how much change is occurring not just in space operations and what’s happening in the domain, but in the field of space intelligence itself. So we’ll talk about the threat. We’ll talk about how the space intelligence enterprise is posturing for this increasingly dynamic environment.
So I’ll leave time at the end for questions. We have folks online. Please go ahead and submit questions via the web interface. And then for the folks joining us in person today, you can scan this QR code above me.
So let me start with the difference between your jobs. You’re both directors of intelligence, one at Space Force, one at Space Command. General Gagnon, what is your job and how is it different than what General Sidari does?
Major General Gregory J. Gagnon: Thanks for the question. And thanks for having the two of us over this afternoon. Our jobs at the daily schedule, and what we read and stuff, can tend to be very similar, but we support different bosses. And the different bosses we have, have different roles. I support General Saltzman, the chief of space operations, and the secretary of the Air Force directly – those two individuals. And in their jobs every day, their job is to organize, train, and equip space forces to compete, and challenge, and if directed win in an engagement against other militaries. So my time horizons – when I read traffic in the morning or read intelligence in the morning – my time horizons tend to be three years to seven years, three years to 15 years, thinking longer term. And I would say that’s probably the key distinctive element between what Sid and I are doing every day in our outputs, is time horizons.
Brigadier General Brian D. Sidari: Yeah, thanks. It’s a privilege to be here. Just like General Gagnon said, my time horizon’s about one to three years. I joke with my boss, who’s General Dickinson, the combatant commander, is I worry about 20 minutes to 20 years, right? (Laughs.) But basically, you know, our days are the same. I get in, read reporting. However, I’m more steeped with the joint force. So my processes are joint processes.
So you know, how do we support the processes and functions of the command, the joint functions, to do warning, to do operations, to do planning, to strategy development? How do I prep my boss for his engagements with the chairman or the secretary of defense, or to the other combatant commanders across the globe? So one, again, 20 minutes to 20 years. So I’ll have conversations routinely with General Gagnon about what I’ve seen and what you need to think for future capability, but also I’m more steeped in one to three year time epoch.
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: I would also highlight that on a Saturday night, or a Friday night, or on a Thanksgiving, his phone’s ringing because he’s a J2 of a combatant command. So it’s a very demanding job. I’m grateful he’s running hard at it. But it’s a 24/7 job about what’s going on in the world and providing warning to your leadership.
Brig. Gen. Sidari: Yeah. So – yeah, I do get a lot of phone calls at night. So the big joke is every time what keeps you up? And I go, the J3 keeps me up – (laughter) – because they have an insatiable need, right. as they plan. But the other one is I go into work every day, so just to stay ahead of it. And so there’s – you know, the world doesn’t stop when we have days off, right? So how do I keep up on what is going on in the strategic environment so that when the boss has a question, my combatant commander and the DCOM have a question, I’m there postured to answer it based on what the record says.
Ms. Bingen: That’s a good way of differentiating, taking more of that longer-term look and you’re now getting the 2:00 a.m. phone calls.
Brig. Gen. Sidari: Yes.
Ms. Bingen: Can I shift that out? Let’s talk about threat trends. You have both been doing intelligence for a long, long time. You’ve watched the evolution of foreign space programs and threats to space capabilities. Can you reflect a bit on what you’ve seen change over your tenure, and particularly in the last couple of years? What do you worry about now that you didn’t worry about five, 10, 20 years ago?
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: I’ll swing first.
Brig. Gen. Sidari: Yes, sir.
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: So when I pinned on colonel, which is like an O6 in the Air Force at the time, was 2012. And in 2012, as I’m entering being a senior officer, the People’s Liberation Army in the country of China had 41 satellites. Today, they have over 800. Now, I don’t think I’m that old, but that seems like really, really moving fast. So that’s a key determinant when we talk about the pacing threat for the National Defense Strategy. So in that National Defense Strategy in just, what, 11 or 12 years, the People’s Liberation Army has gone from like a cold start to becoming the second-most powerful nation in space.
That’s rather dramatic, in just 11 or 12 years. So that is really kind of the defining feature that I try to communicate to people, because what can you do from outer space? You can sense the globe. You can make weapons engage further with greater precision. You can show people where they are. You can show weapons where to go. All of those things, which used to be a uniquely American and allied capability, are now shared by what could be our potential competitor.
Brig. Gen. Sidari: The only thing I would add, I didn’t grow up as a space intelligence, right? So this is my fifth year of focusing in the threats to space, or what’s going on in the environment – the space environment. So, one, it’s been a rapid learn, right? I had to learn a lot, and learn quick. And it’s good, as we’ve seen the change across the United States government Department of Defense of the focus. I think the other one to bounce on what General Gagnon said, is how the PLA has innovated, right? Failing fast. And so you look and how did they close the technology gap with the United States and our allies? And so that that is really concerning, as we look at that, right? One, how do I innovate? But most important, or, like, a key concept, is fail fast and restart. And that’s been a big change that I’ve noticed.
Ms. Bingen: Well, and on that, so failing fast, China now is at over 800 satellites, some would observe, right, that the United States still has a lot more.
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: We do.
Ms. Bingen: So what are you seeing China focus on? Where are they making the most progress on? What do you make of their commercial space sector?
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: So, before we pivot to that, let’s just look at last year. So the United States has the most satellites in outer space. But over 90 percent of the satellites we put into outer space last year were to do what? They were to provide internet connectivity or communications to the world. So the United States private sector, and the public sector when we’re buying communications, is – the majority of the activity is to allow people freedom of access to information.
Last year, in 2022, the Chinese put up about 200 satellites. A hundred and five of them were to do remote sensing from outer space. So as we are connecting the world for the free access of information, they’re using outer space to kind of spy on the world, right? Different organizing principle and purpose, because what they’re putting in outer space is intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance satellites. So two very different things. And people often say, hey, you put 2.000 satellites up in outer space. Yes, we did. because we’re allowing people’s handheld phone devices to connect them to the world.
Ms. Bingen: And what do you see on their commercial front as well?
Brig. Gen. Sidari: So it’s growing, right? So I get paid not to be the cynic. I get paid to be the pessimist, right? So I don’t see a difference, much – you know, they blend. And you’ve heard it called state-owned enterprise, and a lot of the discussions that go on. But again, you innovate by having a commercial sector, right? The ideas – we don’t have – we don’t have the market cornered on good ideas. And the same applies in any country, right? So you see them failing fast, but you also see them creating kind of a market to help that innovation to go through. And so I call it the marketization of space, but also the commoditization of space.
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: So in 2013-2014 timeframe, so I’ve been a colonel like a year, maybe two years. That’s when the Chinese Communist Party made a senior-level the decision to allow some private enterprise in both space satellites and space launches. And at the time, handful of companies. Today, there’s over 140 private or semi-private – because they could be partially owned by the state – companies pursuing both space launch and building satellites for outer space. And this is important, because it could unlock what we call destructive creativism in the market, which is sort of a capitalistic statement. But they will manage that because the funds driving demand in China are funds coming from the CCP. They come from the state.
The thing that will drive demand in the near future – sort of the next five years – is their desire to create their version of a proliferated communications architecture in space. They have designs for a – what they have announced, as 13,000 satellites to go into multiple orbits as a communications architecture. In order to do that, you create demand on launch, because you need to move the satellites outer space, but you also create a manufacturing demand which can help subsidize all those small satellite builders. And that is something, from a state-owned, directed level, that we see them doing.
I hope this goes much the same way as their real estate market. They’ve built beautiful cities of high rises that have nobody to live in them, right, because what we find is that command-driven economies tend to make poor decisions over time, whereas capitalist economies tend to have the destructive creativism of capitalism, which gets rid of losers and rewards winners.
Ms. Bingen: So they’re making this push on their commercial front, “commercial” in air quotes, because they see the benefits of what space can do for them from a national security and economic perspective. But they’re still making progress on the military front as well, including also counterspace weapons. What does that look like as well?
Brig. Gen. Sidari: I think I would add one more point to that, is when we just look at the – if we look at the satellite in orbit that provides a service, there’s a whole cascading down from the device, right, to the management of how you connect people, interconnect people. And so when you look at China, just the expanse of a country, there’s a need to connect people in western China to the people in eastern China. So when you look at the volume and the potential business case for it, it makes real sense. So it’s not just the satellite, it’s all the interconnection and all the way down to the device level to the average Chinese citizen, right?
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: Yeah. And I will give you one other thing before we pivot towards sort of the offensive use of space capabilities, the need for them to have an organic in-orbit broadband capability is real. Because they don’t want to have to use Western broadband. And let me tell you why. We’ve all heard about the great Chinese firewall. That exists because the government of China controls internet protocol access into the country. If they can build their own state-funded, state-controlled proliferated communications architecture, they can reinforce the information bubble that they have over the people of China. The people of China are 1.4 billion Chinese. The Chinese Communist Party is only 95 million people.
Ms. Bingen: So before I pivot as well, I actually want to pick up on that. So then what does that mean from a Belt and Road perspective? So any other country out there that maybe wants to buy into that service, as opposed to something else?
Brig. Gen. Sidari: So, yeah, that’s a great point.
Ms. Bingen: What do they need to be wary about?
Brig. Gen. Sidari: Well, I think, when you think of globalization, it’s flows. It’s flow of people, flow of information. And we’re talking flow of information. So how do you get – how do you flow information to the people, but then how do you control the information so that it’s consistent or congruent with what you want out there? Which is totally different from Western society, right? So I think on the Belt and Road Initiative, you really have to look at it. And so is it the ability to create a market for Chinese goods? Or is it really to fundamentally change the access of the countries that are part of it?
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: Yeah, and there’s plenty of proof to support his second point, right? So proof to support his second point. What does the CCP do when they have power, or their message has been challenged? What do they do when the country of Australia says COVID came from Wuhan? I’ll tell you what they do. They ban red wine from Australia. They create leverage back to try to cause the Australians to move off that position. What do they do when a Scandinavian country nominates somebody to be a Nobel Prize winner who happens to be a persecuted person within Tibet? Well, they boycott Scandinavian salmon, right? They use leverage and they use power.
If we allow their outer space layer to become the Ma Bell of outer space, they will use that for control and leverage. This is the same story with Huawei. As Huawei makes 5G inroads into Africa, South America, and other countries, as they’re given deals that are hard to walk away from. But if that same concept. Allow us to transport. Allow us to carry your information, because it’s at low cost. When you do that there is no Fourth Amendment. There’s no right to privacy. The agreement made with those companies in Beijing is you will give me your information and I won’t ask.
Ms. Bingen: OK, so on the weapon front, what do you see trend wise with what China’s doing to threaten our, and our allies and partners’, capabilities in space?
Brig. Gen. Sidari: Yeah, so since 2007, right, when the Chinese first tested a direct ascent ASAT against their defunct weather satellite, created all that debris, you look at the capabilities the United States allies and partners have in space to enable the joint force. And so it makes perfect sense. And again, we talked about the technology gap. I think there’s an issue when you look at the resilience of proliferated networks are fantastic, right? Proliferated constellations. Then it becomes needles in the haystack of needles, right? And so there’s inherent resilience when you do that. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t want to look for a competitive advantage against the joint force, right? So you look at asymmetrically how I can take on the joint force. So you do see that across all sectors, that they’re looking at how do they secure their – the PRC –secure their national interests compared to the allies, partners, and the United States.
Ms. Bingen: All right. I also want to talk about Russia, and maybe what China is learning from Russia and Ukraine, and what they’ve done with respect to space. But also what’s been striking to me is, you know, early when Russia invaded Ukraine, they targeted space via cyber means. There have been reports that they are jamming Starlink and other systems. But what’s also been surprising is we’ve been reporting for a long time on other weapons they have –be it laser-dazzling weapons or whatnot. So are we getting any insight into why are they using some things and maybe not others?
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: I think the most – I’ll take it and work backwards, OK? So, like, the most pressing insight to this is that warfare has extended into the space domain. When did the Russian government decide to execute the Viasat computer network attack? They did it days before the ground invasion, right? And their decision to extend warfare to outer space was an easy decision for them, because they saw it as just an extension of warfare. In D.C. and in other venues, sometimes – three, four years ago – it was hard for people to understand that warfare will extend the space. But warfare today does extend into space because our adversaries have made it so.
They’ve created computer network attack capabilities. They’ve built missiles from the ground that can go up to outer space and shoot a satellite. They’ve built lasers that they can use to shoot into the optics of satellites as they’ve gone over. And they’ve also built developed and emplaced satellites in outer space that can do a myriad of different tactics to destroy other satellites. So the first point of this war is that space is now part of all domain warfare from the adversary’s perspective. So that debate about that that would have happened three or four years ago really needs to be put to bed.
The second thing, what would Beijing be learning from this war as it has gone into, like, its second start, if you will? Because we still remember that Russia, after the Olympics, invaded Crimea, right? And then they just started to restart it, what, 19-20 months ago, as they move further into Ukraine. I think what they have seen this time is that they have seen that the Western alliance and those democratic and free countries have come together. So if Putin and the Kremlin’s objective was to fracture NATO, they’ve done pretty poorly. Because what we’ve seen is NATO come closer together. What we’ve seen is NATO countries that used to debate 2 percent as a funding floor now – excuse me – me as a goal, now see 2 percent as a minimum, right? So their exact objectives with regards to NATO about trying to fracture and create disunity in NATO has completely been the opposite. So I think in Beijing, they see that, and that’s worrisome.
Brig. Gen. Sidari: I just look at it – something that we’ve always known, right? The ability to command and control field of forces, we all knew that, right? We learned that in the joint force day to day throughout our careers, and we’re seeing it play out in real time with the Ukrainians’ ability to command and control their forces and the Russians not being able to stop that. I think the other one is to have situational awareness at relevant speed of the battlespace, so you can make informed decisions on how to command and control your forces, again, played out, right? We’ve seen that over 20 years of war in the Middle East when we were engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we’re seeing the same thing, just two different countries do it.
To General Gagnon’s point, the power of an alliance, the power of allies and partners, the power of the global community coming together, I think is very insightful and impactful. I think the other one is the resilience of the space-based architectures. That’s another one, right? So I think those are all lessons to learn. But I would also say, you know, there’s a will of the – of the people that needs to be accounted for. And so we always have to keep that in our lens or our frame when we look at any type of conflict.
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: So there was a another really useful point for capabilities from outer space at the beginning of that war, at the beginning of the second start of the Ukrainian war. The United States government was, you know, saying: Hey, Russia and President Putin are going to invade further into Ukraine. And we were saying it pretty loudly and publicly prior to the invasion. We then flew senior leaders to Europe to convince European governments. And we were able to do that by showing commercial imagery from outer space, OK? In the past, if this was 10 years ago, that would be a highly classified image that I would get permission to show to that foreign government.
But because we could prove this with Maxar imagery, as we all see in space news, defense news and things like that, because we could tell that story, that senior official in a European capital could then take that story and bring it over to their parliament. That same senior official could take that to their version of their national security adviser, and they could share that with their public. That is something we could not do 10 years ago due to the classification of the imagery. So now, because we have unclassified commercial imagery that supports our story, we’re able not to just build public support in the United States. Were able to build public support in the population of our allies. And I think that was kind of a watershed event.
Ms. Bingen: So I want to jump on that point and your discussion and observation on commercial contribution. We are seeing commercial entrants now in areas that were previously only done by governments. And to your point, where that information or even discussion would have been highly classified. So whether it’s imagery, we now have commercial space situational awareness, non-Earth imaging. Talk to us about what these commercial capabilities and maybe the different – the services model that several of them have, what can they do to help? And where do you see – where do you see them fitting?
Brig. Gen. Sidari: Yeah, that is really a great question. And I remember back when I was a young lieutenant colonel, you were a colonel, and I was in the front office –
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: He called me old. (Laughs.)
Brig. Gen. Sidari: Not really old, but older. But the same debate was happening. It was before the Senate Armed Service Committee and the late Senator McCain, right? And so Secretary James was there for SecAf, and it was my boss, General Hyten. And they were talking about how do I set the market for commercial launch? And it was with SpaceX. And so it was the same discussion of how they were trying to get the Falcon-9 and all that stuff. And it was on the Hill. You can read about it. But it’s the same discussion. The same discussion, the market innovated, the market provided these capabilities, because there was a need in the market. And so I don’t necessarily believe it’s revolutionary. I think it’s evolutionary, that we are just using the services that commercial provides, one, to society writ large in the global community, but also, right, we were able to coalesce the global community because we were able to show. And the market set that.
So, yeah. So sensing. So it really resonated with me when you talked about that, because my background is in airborne operations. And so we’d have to fly for disaster relief or humanitarian assistance these big rolls of film, because I can hand the film over. And now you’d have to wait, fly it, bring it back, and then you’d have to make all these duplicates, and then hand it out. Now I can get an image and just share it.
Ms. Bingen: Well and beyond imagery, do you see a place for some of these other commercial capabilities coming online? Space situational awareness, maybe the non-Earth imaging, the on-orbit servicing and inspection?
Brig. Gen. Sidari: Yeah, I think, so I had gone out somewhere. And I had seen a lot of this stuff. And we need to get there, right? We need to get into the research. And how do I do – so, from the joint force perspective, how do I do sustainment on orbit? That’s the servicing? How do I do force protect? How are those joint functions – and they do have application across every domain – so how do I service? Now the commercial sector might be the one to do that first, right? We’ve done it multiple times when we go up and send capability up to the ISS, right, to help work through some stuff. I don’t know the difference. Now, we just have to move a little bit farther to go to geo, if you wanted to do that. But that’s service life extension in satellites, right? So I see a need to do that. And we need to watch that, and we need to invest, one, not so much in dollars, but also the folks that do the research and think about it.
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: I would give you this to think about, just a couple data facts and then sort of reframing of the question. So in 2022, the U.S. government as a whole spent over $400 million on remote sensing from space. That remote sensing from space was executed through the National Geospatial Agency or the National Reconnaissance Office. And that large number has been a key part of the purchasing buy for a number of those remote imaging companies. Those remote imaging companies, to include Maxar specifically, can now do satellite to satellite imagery. And that is part of their portfolio of what they offer. And I think that’s wonderful.
Now, let me reframe it for you. “We” is not just the United States. “We” is our allies and partners. And as we talk about the commercialization of space and new technologies in outer space, there are other allies and partners that have both government sector and private sector research and money involved in that. Our Japanese attaché just walked in. Konnichiwa. Konnichiwa. Astroscale. Astroscale is a Japanese company partnered with the British. And when I was over in London earlier this summer, we were talking about the opportunities of that company, if you will, which is on-orbiting servicing company.
So the things you’re going to see in a purely commercial part of the market is how do we do orbital inspection to make sure the satellite’s working properly? How do we do refueling as we start to move satellite that we want to be able to refuel when they’re on orbit, so that they can move without regret? And when we say “move without regret,” which is really nerdy, what we mean is have enough gas to drive wherever you want, right? That’s basically what we’re trying to say. Because now we spend a lot of money on satellites, on the payload, if that payload is optics or things like that. And one thing that’s marginal cost, that you can reset, is fuel, right? So, so those are the type of things. So as we talk about how the outer space market will change, we have to realize that “we” isn’t just we.
Ms. Bingen: Really good point.
Brig. Gen. Sidari: So I would just tell you, the nerdy part, I call it first mover advantage without second mover regret, right? So from the joint force, we want to maintain first mover advantage, without second move regret. And then the joint force goes to the service and say, give me this, right? I need you to make this.
Ms. Bingen: So I want to shift here a bit and talk about the space intelligence enterprise. We talked a bit about some of the trends that we’re seeing on the commercial front as activities in space. We’ve talked a bit about the threat trends that we’re seeing, particularly from China and Russia. But there is – there is an enterprise, there are organizations, that are talented people that are within your organizations and outside that are supporting all of that activity. So can you maybe spend a couple minutes here talking about what that enterprise is, and how they’re posturing for what we’re seeing as a very different environment?
Brig. Gen. Sidari: Do you want me to go first? So, in the joint side, every combatant command J2 has basically the same – we have the Joint Intel Ops Center, JIOP. We have DIA civilians. And then we have all services. So I have intel professionals from the Marines, the Navy, the United States Air Force, and the United States Space Force. And you’ll see the same in any combatant command. And so it’s really easy to see what we do. It’s in Joint Publication 2.0. And so the joint functions, we do targeting, right? We do order of battle distribution. We do analysis, right? So one to three years of those key topics, or the PIR, priority intel requirements, that the commander and his staff have.
So we do all that. We maintain situational awareness. And then also for warnings. So I set a high demand on the services of I need these trained people with these competencies. And then I kick it over to the services and go, this is what I need. And so then it comes over to General Gagnon.
Ms. Bingen: Well, and I’ve been fortunate to go out to some of those command JIOCs, those joint intelligence operations centers, whether it be at CENTCOM or INDOPACOM. You see this 24/7 activity, maintaining awareness of the battlespace, the planning, the targeting. How much different is that now for Space Command to take? And just how different is that from maybe what we did before?
Brig. Gen. Sidari: I don’t think it’s different. I think it’s just new. And so we do the same thing. So when General Gagnon’s over in London, I’m taking phone calls at 2:00 in the morning on a – you know, on a Saturday morning. But every combatant command has a Joint Ops Center. And you have the JIOP, you have watchstanders. And so we have intel watchstanders. And so they’re integrated just like every other combatant command. So we’re watching based on our AOR, United States SPACECOM’s AOR, right? We have a defined AOR. They’re watching what’s going on in and then also going up to. And then we also have a requirement of supporting all the other, right? My boss, General Dickinson, supports the other combatant commands –supporting and supported.
And so how do we provide that warning, or that information, or intelligence to the other combatant commanders, just like, you know, General Richardson in SOUTHCOM, or General Cavoli in EUCOM, or Admiral Aquilino in INDOPACOM, right? Because it’s – right, the adversary doesn’t see a line of demarcation. It just happens, right? There’s not a line on the map. And so we do the same thing and we have those discussions nonstop all day. So I have a JIOP commander who’s a Space Force officer. He interacts with all the other combatant command JIOCs daily. Then we have – you know, we participate, just like the National Military Command Center, with the Joint Staff J3. We have those touch points. I talked to General Henry with the other J2s of what’s pressing, and same with Berrier at DIA. So there’s a great cross talk and what’s going on so we understand the changes in the strategic environment and we’re postured to support our bosses.
Ms. Bingen: And what does that look like from the military service side in terms of supporting that paradigm?
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: Well, it’s really something where the United States government about four to five years ago said: I don’t do “or.” I only do “and.” And they said, I need to have a force that is working on Saturday, that’s working on Saturday, that’s working on holidays to make sure that we have the advantage from outer space. And in order to do that, in the Department of Defense, we’re going to stand up a combatant command because they’re going to work it 24/7. But I don’t do “or.” I do “and.” So I also need a service. I need a service that’s thinking 10 to 15 years out. And what does it look like to deliver the type of people, organizations, and kit that it will take to make sure that we always have an advantage in the domain.
And that was kind of the “and” of why there’s also a Space Force. There is a Space Force and a U.S. Space Command. Both are integral to each other’s success. And both were a decision to do “and.” And that’s positive. I will tell you, as the senior officer for the United States Space Force, we have over 1,500 professionals who focus every day on space intelligence. What is it that the aerospace force of the PLA is doing today? What is it that the 50th Combined Army of the Russian Army is doing today? Who looks at that every day? I will tell you, for the forces assigned to the United States Space Force, about 50 percent of what we do is focused on China. About 25 percent-ish, plus or minus, is focused on the Russian Space Force.
And about 25 percent of it is focused either on other countries, kind of like Iran or North Korea space forces, but really also focusing on the commercial sector so that we’re not surprised by commercial sector. Not spying on the commercial sector but paying attention to not only the domestic commercial sector, but also the foreign commercial sector because it is a hotbed of innovation. So that’s how we’re sensing the strategic environment. I would tell you, both of us lead different groups of people. And the difference in what they’re producing is generally about the timelines of the questions they’re answering, which goes back to the beginning of our discussion.
Brig. Gen. Sidari: Yeah, and so then our bosses, right? You started the conversation, we have different bosses. So, you know, I go to the combatant commander, and he works with the chairman, or answers questions in his engagements with the chairman and the secretary of defense. Where you go to General Saltzman and the SecAf, to the secretary of defense. So we have demanding customers who are voracious readers and want to know what’s going on. And then our products, and in the analysis we do, are much different because of the time epochs we have. And so but our staffs cross talk all the time. Like, our senior analysts, or analysts are always talking with your analysts at the National Space Intel Center. Sometimes I’ll read something and send it to your senior analysts, and go, hey, this is what I’m thinking. So it’s – you know, we kind of watch. And I do the same thing for the Air Force and then with the rest of the other combatant command J2s I interact with.
Ms. Bingen: Well, I want to hit on organizations as well, because some of the most visible changes I think we’ve seen in space intelligence in the last year has been on the organizational front. So this summer it was the one-year anniversary of the standup of the National Space Intelligence Center, NSIC – which grew out of NASIC. And we know we have at least a couple alums here. I see Sarah Mineiro in the back, who started her career as a phenomenal space analyst at an NSIC. You had the stand of the 75th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Squadron this summer. Explained as the Space Force’s first targeting squadron. So can you talk a little bit about some of those – what those organizations do? Maybe what are they, why they’re necessary? You talked a little bit about the different time horizons. Also, just the people – you know, what kind of people are you looking for to do that job?
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: So we actually have a 71st, a 72nd, a 73rd, and 74th, a 75th, and a 76th squadrons that do space intelligence. They all do different functions of intelligence, as defined by Joint Pub 2-0. And that was some of the missing pieces for the United States government kind of prior to 2019, before we started to establish a Space Force. Because space and space intelligence support was something assigned to an air squadron as an additional thing they did. It wasn’t the unifying principle of the unit, right? Today, we have established those missing pieces, and we have a few more to go, but they include things like targeting. They include things like exploitation for real-time information, which is the one we just stood up last week, actually. And it’s all those missing elements that from General Sidari and my’s experience as former Air Force officers were things we had, right?
We had an entire wing of 5,000 people who did real-time exploitation of stuff collected from the air layer, right? So now we’re working through that for things collected for the space layer, right? What do you need to do to ensure that you can deliver space superiority? What is the information you need to have? Now what most people don’t appreciate is as intelligence professionals, you just don’t, you know, open up the internet and pull that stuff out. You got to actually go collect that information, analyze that information, report out that information, and then see if it met your customer’s need or your commander’s need, right? And then run that whole cycle again.
So all of those things is what we’ve been building in the Space Force. You know, people only see the quarterback and the wide receivers. They don’t see the linemen. They don’t see the tight end who creates options. Those are the things that we’ve had a build in the Space Force.
Ms. Bingen: And having had a chance to go out to Dayton and see the work NSIC does, as well as some of these other elements, it is phenomenal what those linebackers and tight ends do. So thank you for highlighting that.
I also want to talk to just strategic competition. You know, one takeaway from the chief’s theory of success is this focus on staying in a constant state of competition to avoid escalating a conflict. So I’m struck that this – our space intelligence enterprise, they need to be postured for more dynamic warfighting, but also postured for this day-to-day strategic competition, left of bang, per se.
So I want to tie this in with a question from one of our audience here, Michael Darrah, who’s one of our CSIS military fellows; is: China frequently uses gray zone tactics to compete and disrupt international norms without crossing into the line of – without crossing the line into combat. So what might Chinese gray zone tactics look like in the space domain? And then also, how is our intelligence enterprise thinking about that competition in the gray zone?
Brig. Gen. Sidari: Wow, that’s a really good question. So on the U.S. side we call campaigning, right? How do I campaign to stay on a conflict? And, right, so I’m constantly –I’m constantly in competition, and I’m campaigning to reduce it. The one is you have to watch the operations, right? One is, when you talk U.S. campaigning, we’ll talk of operations activities or investment. So how do I use that lens? And then how do I use that lens to look at how the adversary – so in this case, China – what are they doing to support their force? And then, what do I need to do to protect the joint force’s access to space and space services while denying the adversary’s use of the same, right?
So it’s how do I set up for my indications and warning? And how – right, I don’t really care how a satellite functions. That’s for NSIC and those folks there at the National Space Intel Center and the broader IC to tell me how it works. I want to gain insights to what the adversary’s doing with that satellite and how it affects the joint force, either in the maritime, the ground, or – right? I want to understand that, and how do I gain insights? Because that’s how I tell the – that’s how I go to tell the boss this is important, we need to pay attention, or, hey, you, you might need to call the chairman, something’s going on. So it’s, how do I maintain constant vigilance? Do I have the right collection in? Do I have the right analysts that are trained to look and tell me what’s going on so that I can start my warning up through the J3 and forward?
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: When someone shows you who they are, believe them.
Brig. Gen. Sidari: Yes.
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: Hmm. This is the Fiery Reef. I’m in the South China Sea. There’s nothing to see here. This is the Fiery Reef. I’m in the South China Sea. I’m placing dirt on top of this coral reef. There’s nothing to see here. This is the Fiery Reef. I’m putting an airfield on the Fiery Reef. There’s nothing to see here. This is the Fiery Reef. Don’t worry. These aren’t real weapons, right? When someone shows you who they are, believe them. That’s the gray zone tactic. They play on our desire to believe them. This is an SJ-21. This is in geospatial orbit. Don’t worry. I’m just grabbing this defunct satellite and throwing it out into graveyard orbit, and then coming back into position very rapidly. Don’t worry. There’s nothing to see here.
Ms. Bingen: I want to hit on space denial. So the theory for success talks a little bit about this. The Department of Defense issued a space policy review last month that discusses the need to deny adversaries the use of space against us. General Gagnon, you talked earlier about the hundreds of remote sensing satellites that the Chinese are putting up, in particular. So can you shed some more light on this, and why now this this more open discussion about denial? And then what does this demand from space intelligence, that maybe we hadn’t done before?
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: OK. Yeah, the demand is rather exponential on space intelligence, because we need to really manifest the transition from a benign environment of space, which is where kind of we’ve used space for, you know, 50 years, to a position where we need to prevent strategic surprise. So the first tenet of the CSO’s theory, right? Avoid strategic surprise. The second tenet, of course, is to deny first mover advantage. You deny it by providing exquisite warning at the beginning, buying time for your leadership to make decisions, also a key intelligence principle. And then the third thing, you enable responsible counterspace campaigning by the entire joint force in a way that provides advantage to the joint force.
It would be dereliction of duty to not inhibit the adversary’s ability to see us, and sense us, and target us in time of war, because we’re supposed to protect our forces, our ships, our sailors, our Marines, our soldiers, and our Guardians. And we have to be prepared to provide options, if directed, to prevent them from being struck. The space layer, just like the cyberspace layer, just like the air layer, just like the ground layer, and just like the subsurface layer in the sea, is all part of warfare. You have to think holistically as you do target system analysis to counter adversary command, control, communication, and targeting. And space is just part of that for the PLA.
Brig. Gen. Sidari: Yeah, so I think, right to that point, is there are responsible behaviors. And we’ve talked both, right? We don’t have the market cornered on who can go there. And so it’s just the same with your Fiery Reef, right? So I think there was a – was it the Philippine Navy was resupplying their ship, and, you know, there was those images of – that’s not responsible behavior in the maritime domain. So but everybody’s got access and can operate there.
So how do we how do we get the discrimination of what’s responsible and what’s nefarious? And what’s that warning? And what are the timelines? And that’s where I put the demand back on the services to have trained people and capability so I can – so I can get, from my perspective, to warn the combatant commander: Hey, this isn’t going – something’s going on. We need to be postured and we have to look so that we stay before, right? We stay before conflict. And so to campaign in there, right, and still compete. And so that is a big lift. But just like you said, right, there’s many activities going on. It’s how do I make sense of what it is at the speed of relevance.
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: So Kari also has a deep background in intelligence. And we were all taught, you know, threat is capability plus intent. And we monitor adversary or potential adversary capabilities over time. And that’s how I can give you those great statistics. But what can change in a weekend is intent. That is the hard thing to discern, as you’re trying to understand threats and risk. And that’ll continue to be a challenge.
And I have those discussions all the time. There’s – threat, risk, and hazard are all different. So we have to be very precise in our language. And so a threat, sometimes you’re really tasked at talking risk, right? So that’s for the policy community and operational community. I could talk to the threat side, right? And we know this. Last time I was on the Joint Staff, Ms. Bingen was INS. So we’d have to go up and talk to her all the time. But that’s – we need to be precise in our language. You’ve heard me talk joint force. You hear me talk about joint functions. And so we need to be precise when we talk to our senior leaders what’s going on, so they can make feasible, acceptable, and suitable decisions because we’ve given them options to respond.
Ms. Bingen: Well, and we see tangible – systems are tangible, whether they be satellites or they be particular weapons. Your point on intent, trying to understand an adversary’s decision calculus, understanding how space capabilities fit into their overall warfighting doctrine, that’s been tougher. How are we doing as an intelligence enterprise and getting to that, I’ll say, kind of tougher nut to understand?
Brig. Gen. Sidari: Now, that’s an easy one, right? (Laughs.) So we talk all the time. We were sitting in the back, and I had the opportunity to officiate a retirement ceremony. And, you know, I was in the car. What did I listen to? Probably eight hours of podcasts. And so it was real easy. So I didn’t have to read a book, but, you know, I listened to Pekingology from here at CSIS, and I have listened to General McMasters, some of his. We trade books. I think we need to read more. We need to read more and pay attention.
I spend – I used to joke I think I read maybe four hours a day, maybe a week and my last job. And then I replaced General Gagnon. I’m probably six hours a day reading, because you want to understand the environment, right? You need to understand the strategic environment where we operate in. But you also need to understand what happened in the past, right? Because you read history and you write the future. And so the history, or the past, will tell you how somebody did it. It’s a great starting point. And then you realize how they’ve evolved, and anybody’s evolved. And really, it’s how do I educate and how do I read, because those are some great insights, so.
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: So, Kari, one thing I share with kind of senior policymakers is space war isn’t a thing. War is a human endeavor. Warfare will extend into space, just like it extends to cyberspace, just like it extends to the air, and it extends to the ground. But war will continue to be a human endeavor. So when you are trying to assess intent, it’s not in any way unique to the space domain. The space domain is simply one of the domains of warfare. And, you know, weaponry in space will still trace back to a senior leader’s decision, and their intent, and their decision calculus.
Ms. Bingen: I want to –
Brig. Gen. Sidari: It’s funny, we were talking about this before. And I go, oh, the four things about war – because I’m a big Clausewitz, right? And so war is human, war is policy, right, politics. It’s unpredictable. And so how do we go through and discuss it? Because warfare is always changing. And so the characteristics of war. And so it’s really interesting, because we don’t spend enough time to reflect. And that – you know, historians maybe didn’t have it right, but it’s a good place to start.
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: And I’ll give you one other thing that hampers our thinking –dichotomous logic. War/peace, right? That goes back to our audience’s question, right? Working below the level of warfare to do, what? Achieve your security objectives. Because at the end of the day, achieving your security objectives is your ends. War is just a means.
Ms. Bingen: Great point. OK, I want to hit a couple audience questions here before we run out of time. The first one I’m going to bundle from Ed Drolet and Peter Marquez about intelligence sharing with allies and partners. What systems are being modernized or developed by the Space Force and Space Command to improve integration and interoperability with partners? And then, are there – is there anything we’re doing in terms of sharing threat information with allies and partners in a timely manner?
Brig. Gen. Sidari: So from the combatant command, we share information or intelligence, right, based on established relationships. So using the DIA systems, right, we have communication back and forth, we have telephonic, voice. We do VTCs. And I routinely with my partners have discussions one on one, and we share what’s going on in the environment. And so can it get better? Sure. Could it be faster? Of course. But then sometimes you don’t even know who to call or the phone won’t connect. And so we practice that. And I routinely, monthly or bimonthly, have a discussion with a partner, or I’ll send notes back and forth. And sometimes I have to sign a memo, right? And I put the memo and I send it out so it’s in the system. But we do have those discussions.
Ms. Bingen: Can I talk also about the relationship with the broader intelligence community? Space Command, NRO, Space Force as well, but I want to talk to – talk about it in the context of tasking. This came from Steve Jordan Tomaszewski at AIA.
So with the upcoming space-based moving target indicator in development between the Space Force and the NRO, how will tasking and direction of where to use the system be handled across the Department of Defense and the intelligence community? And maybe you can comment on that broader IC-DOD relationship in space.
Brig. Gen. Sidari: So I’m not a part of the IC, right? He is.
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: Yeah. So we’re the 18th element of the intelligence community, as one of the service intelligence entities, if you will. If you take the 18 elements of the IC, nine of them are Department of Defense. So that tends to be center mass outside of sort of the Central Intelligence Agency. One of the things that’s new-new is the establishment of a new service, right? And we’re four years old in a couple of months. And that’s causing, you know, people to look at what is the purpose of the service. And of course, our purpose is to secure our national interests in, from, and to space.
One of the other purposes is to be a trustworthy ally and partner to our other sister services. So exploiting our domain to the benefit of the other services is absolutely paramount for us. We’ve been doing it for decades with missile warning. We provide the best missile warning in the world. No one comes close. We’re able to track missiles and share that information all the way down to the tactical level of any formation in the United States Navy or even into coalition armies, right? It’s world class and it’s exquisite.
There are other elements inside the joint force where we want to be able to provide that type of chain of custody over a target. And as we move forward, we’re working to make that type of future, where a fielded commander in, say INDOPACOM, or maybe in the European Command, will leverage their space force component to their combatant command to deliver space services inside the joint force formation. And that’s what we’ve been building towards.
Brig. Gen. Sidari: So I also – every combatant command has national agency reps. We’re no different. So I have representatives from IC elements that are in – they don’t work for me. They’re representatives from the parent organization of General Dickinson, the commander. But we all sit there, to include DNI Haines, right? She is the senior rep that’s assigned to the command. And so we have those discussions. So it’s great crosstalk. So when the service develops that space base layer and it’s available for the joint force to use, we’ll use the same joint processes that we use for collection management. And then, you know, the defense collection managers, we work through them. We worked through the national intel manager for space, and DNI. So it’s really – it’ll be transparent. But it’ll be newthink, right? New thinking on how we go about that. But that’s really the service.
Ms. Bingen: I’m going to end on one question here that I really liked from Madeline Chang, who’s one of our next-generation fellows here at CSIS. And she’s in person today. What is the most personally meaningful aspect of your work?
Brig. Gen. Sidari: Wow, that’s a really hard one.
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: I’ll let you go first so I can think.
Brig. Gen. Sidari: Yeah. Thanks. (Laughter.)
I just had this discussion with Lieutenant General Kruse about three weeks ago. And so he was my wing commander when I was a squadron commander, and he – every now and then he’ll call and check in. And he goes, how’s it going? And I go, I have the best job in the world. And he goes, what do you mean? He was the INDOPACOM J2 for Admiral Harris back in the day. And I said, look, we have a righteous mission. We have fantastic people that are doing fantastic work, incredible work that gets to the president, the secretary of defense, and chairman. And I just had this discussion with the vice chief of staff for space operations earlier. There’s not been a day I don’t like coming to work, right? Three tours in the Pentagon. I had a couple of those days. No, the people, just the brilliance.
And, like, we joke because, you know, space was like Fight Club, right? You couldn’t say space, and you had to be behind these closed doors, and all this. But we can talk about it. And these kids are so, so smart, and the way they piece together information to go there, that it makes you really proud of what they do. So I don’t think there’s a better job than being a combatant command J2 just of what you – the problem sets you touch on a daily basis, even if it’s two in the morning on a Saturday. But the interaction you have with all the other joint directors in the command, and then it goes right to the - you know, my four-star boss, or it goes to the chairman or SecDef any day. And so that really gives – you know, I think it was General Hauck used to call it mastery, purpose, and autonomy. They’re really much smarter than us, right? And so, yeah, long-winded one, but it’s pretty cool.
Ms. Bingen: General Gagnon?
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: He’s got a great job, so. (Laughter.)
Brig. Gen. Sidari Yeah.
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: There’s a lot of purpose.
Ms. Bingen: As one who used to have it.
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: Yeah. There’s a lot of purpose and there’s immediate, like, feedback on everything you do.
I would tell you that for me, taking more of the longer view, it’s very rewarding to be able to sort of, like, frame out the house that will someday be a much larger Guardian intelligence house, and then see people kind of live out their dream, like they want to serve. So I’ve had the opportunity to go to West Texas, where we do training with the Air Force for our intelligence Guardians, spend a day with them, and just see how fired up and excited they are to be putting on a uniform and to serve their country, and then just in a little way to help them on their journey, kind of do that.
And the other thing I would highlight is – and I’ve been highlighting this at each of my stops – there’s many ways to serve, OK? Inside Guardian intelligence, a third of our force is our enlisted force, a third of our force is the officer corps, and a third of our force is civilian, so.
Brig. Gen. Sidari: Yeah. You brought it up earlier. So when you were talking about the new squadrons and organizations, my previous job we were doing all the budgeting and justification to build that. So to see you stand those up and the service stand them up – because we took it for granted growing up. But to see how the Space Force and the Guardians are building that capability makes you really proud. For all that hard work and frustration when you’re doing budgeting drills and things, justification docs, but to see you actually have the ceremony. Because we were at the National Space Intel Center when they stood up, or all these new squadrons, it makes you really proud.
Ms. Bingen: Well, I do – I want to thank you both for joining us today. But more important, I want to thank you both for your leadership in building that foundation, being that mentor and leader to so many Guardians, civilians, the private sector as well. I very much like – we did figure out how to weave in a movie quote. So space, it used to be like Fight Club. I guess maybe we’re shifting away from that, so no longer like Fight Club.
Brig. Gen. Sidari: Like TPS reports, or – (laughter).
Ms. Bingen: We can talk about it now.
But is it – we are at such a pivotal time, and I was very fortunate to get a front-row seat seeing just those phenomenal space intelligence analysts, the engineers across the military and the civilian ranks, and the partnership with the private sector and the amazing things that they were doing. So thank you both, and to your organizations, and the space intelligence professionals. Thank you for what you do. It’s phenomenal to get to talk to you to today about them.
Brig. Gen. Sidari: Thank you.
Ms. Bingen: Thank you.
Maj. Gen. Gagnon: Thank you.
Ms. Bingen: Thank you, everyone. (Applause.)