The US Space Force Needs Help

Protecting US weapons systems is now a very important focus for the US Space Operations Command, however there aren’t enough cyber operators to monitor the many electronic platforms and systems. 

“We really need to worry about our weapons systems…because every weapons system talks to another weapons system that talks to another system. So we have to make sure that we are secure,” Maj. Gen. Douglas Schiess, the commander for US Space Command’s Combined Force Space Component Command, has announced.

Speaking at the US Air & Space Forces Association’s annual conference, Schiess said “I need to make sure my cyber systems are ready to go at a moment’s notice and that they’re not going to keep me from doing the mission that I need to do.” 

Space Command's mission is to defend protected satellite communications systems, including Advanced HF and Milstar and on GPS.  The importance of secure GPS communications for military use is amply demonstrated by the bitter criticism of Elon Musk following his recent action to withhold Starlink communications from Ukrainian forces in Crimea. 

Cyber workforce needs are a challenge felt across the US Defense Department, which published a strategy last month. Last week, the Pentagon released an unclassified summary of its cyber strategy, which highlights workforce needs and names China and Russia as adversaries, since both countries “have embraced malicious cyber activity as a means to counter US conventional military power.” 

The Pentagon’s cyber strategy document refers to the White House’s National Cyber Strategy and mentions weapons security twice, vowing to “modernize our cryptographic algorithms across weapons systems, data links, and networks” to deter malicious cyber activity and protect critical weapons systems by developing a holistic approach to “rapid information-sharing and analysis” of threats to the defense industrial base.

Schiess said Space Operations Command focuses its cyber efforts on mission defense and that cybersecurity must be ingrained in new systems as they are developed by Space Systems Command, instead of after the fact. 

Space Operations Command has also prioritized which systems they’d like to have cyber operators for. “As we bring on new systems, hopefully they come with the cyber defense package. But as we have legacy systems…we still have to defend those,” Schiess said. “

This presents Schiess with the challenge of finding adequate numbers of skilled personnel. "We are building up our cyber operators. We do not have enough, but over time, as we continue to grow in the Space Force, we will continue to bring” more on. The command is also looking at the delineation between space, intelligence, and cyber operators to ascertain whether they could essentially do the same job. 

“What's the difference between a cyber operator and a space operator, and can we have them do the same thing? What’s the difference between an intel and a cyber operator? So we will continue to look at that,”  Schiess said.

US Air & Sapce Forces:      US Government:     DefenseOne:     WhiteHouse:    DNYUZ:     Image: SpaceX

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