A fourth space power.
India executed Mission Shakti (that is, "Power") on March 27th, a test in which a surface-launched ballistic missile shot down an unneeded Indian satellite in a demonstration of a national anti-satellite capability. Thus India joins the United States, China, and Russia as a space power with a demonstrated, kinetic capability to kill spacecraft.
The target is believed to have been Microsat-R, which, depending on which source you consult, was either a weather satellite or an old military reconnaissance platform (maybe something of both). In any case, it was in low-earth orbit at 274 kilometers (or 170 miles) and no longer needed. The hit-to-kill shoot-down, which Prime Minister Modi emphasized was achieved using domestic technology, all of it developed in India under the leadership of India's Defence Research and Development Organisation. The Foreign Ministry's statement on the test said, according to Reuters, that the demonstration showed a "credible deterrence against threats to our growing space-based assets from long-range missiles, and proliferation in the types and numbers of missiles."
Most observers were surprised by the test, although India is said to have held conversations with various friendly nations intimating that such a capability was under development. The country's government did issue aviation safety warnings before the test shot, which signaled their intention to those prepared to see it. Some observers have pointed out that Mission Shakti displayed a capability that had been latent in India's layered air defense system. The test overshadowed what had until this month been the air defense system's high-end, anti-ballistic missile capability, which itself was demonstrated in a successful test last August (Diplomat). As WIRED reports, Mission Shakti is perhaps best viewed as another demonstration of that anti-ballistic missile capability. Its intended audience is thought to be primarily China, secondarily Pakistan.
As has been the case with other anti-satellite demonstrations, many experts object to such testing because it creates a debris field that poses a risk to other spacecraft. The Indian test shot was conducted at a much lower altitude than recent Chinese tests (which made quite a mess) and so isn't thought to be as much of a threat to spacefaring, but as the Verge points out, a lot of people remain unhappy about Shakti's leftovers. US Strategic Command says it's tracking more than 250 pieces of debris from the test (Reuters).
Iran's space ambitions.
Iran's two failed satellite launches this year, both of which carried environmental monitoring spacecraft that failed to reach orbit, drew protests on the grounds that the launch technology is dual-use, inherently adaptable to intermediate or intercontinental ranged nuclear-delivery systems (Foreign Policy). Few other countries are happy about these ambitions. Iran has so far observed a 2000-kilometer range limitation on its missiles, but that's self-imposed restraint that Tehran could quickly shed. Brookings published a study this month advising policymakers on how Iran's missile program might be contained.
US missile defense test demonstrates a salvo capability.
On March 25th the US successfully tested the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System by firing a salvo of two Ground-Based Interceptors from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California against an ICBM target launched down the Pacific Missile Range from Kwajalein (Defense News).
More on Russian GNSS spoofing.
The Center for Advanced Defense (C4ADS) has issued a report on nearly ten-thousand incidents of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) spoofing "in and around Russia" over the last three years. That's a lot, and the tally includes just spoofing, not jamming, which has also been observed. Most of the Russian activity has been observed around Ukraine, particularly in the Black Sea and the vicinity of Crimea, but it's also been seen in Syria and elsewhere. A striking feature of current GNSS spoofing is its commodification: spoofing kits can now be made for as little as $300, which puts them well within the reach of non-state actors. Still, Russia remains the apparent world leader in the field (ZDNet).
Implications of military space operations for industry.
Mission Shakti and other recent testing prompted Zacks, the stock analysis firm, to consider what firms were most likely to be significant players in supporting military space operations. Their conclusions should surprise no one: the big beneficiaries would be, Zacks thinks, the big integrators: Lockheed Martin (especially its Missiles and Fire Control segment), Northrop Grumman (Mission Systems and Innovation segments in particular), Raytheon (Military Systems), and General Dynamics (Mission Systems).
A look at the President's Budget for military space operations.
The President's Budget for FY 2020 is out (Defense One has an overview), and it includes $14.1 billion for military space. Of that amount, $11.9 billion is intended for what the Defense Department calls "investment," that is, research, development, test, engineering (RDT&E), and procurement. Of the investment, $6.1 billion will go toward satellites, $1.7 billion for launch services, and $4.1 billion for space support. Spending on satellites includes $1.7 billion for a GPS 3 satellite and GPS 3 ground systems. Development of the five-satellite Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) constellation would receive $1.6 billion, which would nearly double Congress's appropriation for OPIR in the FY 2019 budget. Satellite communications would get $1.1 billion for programs that include Protected Tactical Satcom, Evolved Strategic Satcom, Enhanced Polar System recapitalization, and on-orbit testing of Advanced EHF communications satellite AEHF-5 and production oversight of AEHF-6.The Air Force gets the largest share of the proposed spending, $10.3 billion (Space News).
Space Force continues to take shape.
Some $72.4 million of that budget request would go toward standing up a 200-person Space Force staff at the Pentagon. Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan estimates that Space Force would require a budget roughly equivalent to Special Operations Command's, which comes in at $13.5 billion annually. Space Force's end strength is now estimated at between 15,000 and 20,000, an increase from last month's estimates that regarded a cap of 15,000 as most likely. Three of those 15,000-plus would be, according to current plans, four-star generals, the senior one of which would enjoy membership on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This upward creep has raised some Congressional eyebrows (Defense One).
The inevitable shuffling and jockeying over roles, missions, and equities continues, with the Defense Secretary saying that the new Service wouldn't be taking over Army or Navy space assets (US Naval Institute). The new Service's leadership is expected to be nominated "in weeks, not months," Secretary Shanahan said on March 27th (Defense News).
Defense News has a rundown of the sorts of questions people are asking about the new Service: "While many of the details have yet to be determined — will the service have a bootcamp (unclear), its own service academy (no), their own uniforms (possible) or recruitment centers (probably) — a Space Force would share resources such as an acquisition chief, general counsel and chaplains with the broader Department of the Air Force." However its final organization shakes out, Space Force will probably be the smallest of the Armed Services, less than half the size of the Coast Guard (WCJB).
And the Space Development Agency has been established.
The new organization with oversee the Defense Department's space procurement activities. For now, the Agency will report to the Under Secretary for Defense Research and Engineering, but it's expected to transition to Space Force as that Service stands up. Fred Kennedy, a retired Air Force colonel, will move from DARPA's Tactical Technology Office to direct the Space Development Agency (Defense News). In some respects the new Agency is off to a rocky start. Outgoing Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who'd opposed its creation, criticized in a memorandum as wasteful, as duplicative of existing agencies, and as lacking a clear mission (Defense News).