In-Transit Visibility and Space Domain Challenges
Intermodal In-Transit-Visibility (ITV) and asset visibility terrestrial challenges experienced by transportation professionals would translate to a space ITV-asset visibility shortfall in the emerging contested space domain, requiring mitigation to maintain Multi-Domain Operational (MDO) dominance. An examination of the background, ITV-asset visibility challenges, logistics management prioritization, space piracy, and recommendations highlights why these tasks are vital to maintaining space dominance moving into the future. History points towards the requirement of logistics and transportation professionals to plan for space logistics.
Background and Problem
Space logistics is a vital yet underdeveloped arena in humanity’s future presence in space. As famed American aerospace engineer and space architect Wernher Von Braun described in 1960, “we have a logistics problem coming up in space. I think it is also safe to state that many of us have not realized the enormous scope of the tasks performed in the logistics area.”
The 2017 US National Security Strategy (NSS) outlines that the US considers “unfettered access to and freedom to operate in space to be a vital interest. The United States must maintain our leadership and freedom of action in space.” Logistics support in space will determine the success of a sustained human presence and freedom of action in space, as observed in the complex ground to space logistics support to the International Space Station.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently awarded multiple million-dollar studies to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to examine “adapting supply chain logistics to support interplanetary material transport and transfer.” The study also ties into an effort by MIT in their Space Logistics Project to develop an “interplanetary supply chain that will be required to enable sustainable space exploration of the Earth-Moon-Mars system and beyond.”
Organizations like the Space Logistics Technical Committee and Space Transportation Technical Committee point towards a growing need to focus on integrating space logistics capabilities to support spacefaring operations. Each committee seeks to provide “continuous improvements in existing space transportation systems, access to the impact of new technology for the next generation of space transportation systems.”
Both the private and public sectors are accelerating efforts in conducting space operations and exploration with entrepreneurs like Elon Musk with SpaceX and the establishment of a new military branch, the US Space Force, in 2019. The US Space Force highlights the need for developing supporting supply chains for a battlefield that exceeds imagination in size. Famed American theoretical physicist and futurist Dr. Michio Kaku described a need for humanity to become extraplanetary to avoid extinction as he cited how the US will send astronauts to Mars and beyond by the 2030s. ITV-asset visibility challenges in space, however, must be first addressed.
Space ITV and Asset Visibility
Maintaining ITV and asset visibility on Earth is a current challenge that would be intensified in the vast, unforgiving regions of space. On land, asset visibility includes the entire “Department of Defense (DOD) global supply chain, binary code, the electromagnetic spectrum, worldwide telecommunications, local and wide-area computer networks, and the integration and standardization of logistics data among the services and the domestic and international commercial sector.” ITV of forward-moving supplies across extended lines of communication on Earth faces constant shortfalls as seen during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom when faulty communications, poor data capture, and limited system availability resulting in frustrated or lost cargo. These ITV and asset challenges would only be amplified in the space domain, requiring the integration of supply support systems and new technologies to bridge the shortfall while focusing on the prioritization of logistics management in space.
Logistics Management and Prioritization
The prioritization and resourcing of transportation asset management via the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and other enabler support must integrate to support space transportation and logistics requirements. The US Space Force could serve as a critical enabler for the management of the assets while providing an integration capacity among the other strategic enablers. An example of this enabler integration is DLA “providing support to the US Space Force and US Space Command (USSPACECOM) as each refines future requirements for protecting the US and allied interests in space.” DLA has provided the US Space Force with critical communications equipment while serving as a vital supplier for priority space operations equipment. The interagency coordination enables inventory asset recovery prioritization and timelines as the US Space Force prepares its supply chains for space operations.
Pilferage by our near-peer adversaries and space piracy in a growing contested space domain to include non-state actors remains a threat faced by space logistics supply lines. Soon, our adversaries will possess the capacity to hold our “critically important national security satellites at risk. Russia is modernizing its counterspace capabilities to defeat a wide range of US space-based capabilities, while seeking to secure freedom of action in, through, and from the space domain.”
The risk of space piracy and pilferage against both public and private entities transporting supplies and equipment in space will require interagency collaboration, resources, and assets led by the US Space Force for mitigation measures. The inevitable outcome is that space piracy will become prevalent soon as nations develop interplanetary colonization strategic objectives. Finally, “spacefaring nations are likely to become more aggressive in the pursuit of national interests in outer space because of the Earth’s dangerously-crowded orbit and the recognition that space mining might become a real commercial enterprise in our lifetimes.”
The Secretary of Defense must direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, in collaboration with the military services and strategic enablers, to continue the implementation of solutions to the identified space logistics management, ITV-asset visibility, and piracy challenges via human capital, information technology, and contracting resourcing. The continued relationship integration between US Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) and USSPACECOM is required to project and sustain the joint force in the space domain via the development of joint space logistics capabilities requirements across doctrine, training, policy, and leadership development solutions within the Joint Capabilities Integration Development System (JCIDS) process.
The doctrine and policy solutions must include space transportation logistics support role requirements for all strategic enablers within USTRANSCOM. Professional Military Education (PME) requirements must include joint force education for space logistics and capabilities integration support. Training below the strategic level must emphasize additional skill identifier courses like the Space Enabler course to prepare all servicemembers for the joint integration in space operations, transportation, and logistics.
The adaptation and streamlining of movement processes like the emerging single Transportation Movement System (TMS) as a materiel solution across the JCIDS process for space logistics must be developed. Having all cargo in the Defense Transportation System (DTS) visible and communicated into one single information system will assist in bridging the identified shortfalls as the US partners with the commercial space industry.
Public-private partnerships will define future space transportation logistics as the commercial space industry partners with NASA and other public organizations at the strategic level, as outlined in the 2017 NSS. US priority actions in space remain to promote space commerce while developing an integrated strategy across all space sectors that support American space leadership and innovation. The 2017 NSS also outlines US priority actions via public-private and joint partner cooperation in space to include the enabling of “human exploration across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities.” Therefore, transportation logistics support in the space domain must be prioritized to align with US strategic national security interests and enable the public-private cooperation required to maintain freedom of action in space.
Private-sector space companies like SpaceX, Boeing, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin will continue to seek the commercialization of the space domain for mining operations, exploration, and colonialization. As a result, capabilities development solutions in the JCIDS process must include support to the private space industry as industry risks often equate to DOD risks, which require mitigation to maintain a strategic comparative advantage in the space domain.
Finally, the joint integration of space capabilities must continue to be fused into the unified command plan structure as the Army of 2028 strategy moves towards the objective of MDO dominance to include the space domain.
In conclusion, ITV and asset visibility challenges on Earth experienced by transportation professionals translate to clear shortfalls in space, with the emerging contested space domain requiring mitigation to maintain dominance in an MDO environment. The problem background, ITV-asset visibility challenges, logistics management prioritization, space piracy, and recommendations showcase space as an emerging primary MDO and exploration medium requiring support.
The US space posture will be predicated on strategic space lines of communication modalities with access, basing, and overflight requirements similar to that on Earth. The character of space logistics will continue to develop to meet the needs of the warfighter. The imperative for the DOD must remain to sustain the strategic comparative advantage-relationships with commercial space partners, project power across all domains, and deter near-peer adversaries in the space domain.
By MAJ Matthew Mayor, USA, MAJ Ryan Bellman, USA, and MAJ Joshua Choate, USA
Photo Caption: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo by NASA/Bill Ingalls.
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