Jamie Morin, PhD, a Pentagon’s former director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation who is now vice president for defense systems operations at the Aerospace Corporation, discusses military space operations, protecting US spacecraft and the Space Force with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. Our coverage was sponsored by L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.
Dr. Jamie Morin
Reagan National Defense Forum
Vago Muradian: Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report. I’m Vago Muradian here at the Reagan National Defense Forum here at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, America’s leading gathering of defense, aerospace, technology, business and thought leaders from across the nation. Our coverage here is sponsored by Leonardo DRS and L3 Technologies.
One of those thought leaders is Dr. Jamie Morin of the Aerospace, The Aerospace Corporation, one of America’s great thoroughly funded research and development centers, and you are the Executive Director of Space Policy and Strategy. A former CAPE Director of the Pentagon.
Jamie, talk to us a little bit about space as a whole. It’s an area that has now enormous challenges, enormous potential opportunities. It’s the greatest change we’ve seen from ever smaller satellites to now becoming a much more contested area, perhaps even since the Cold War. Although atmospheric nuclear tests were a different ballgame I think fundamentally.
Talk to us a little bit about both the opportunity and the challenges as space now, whether we like it or not, becomes another front in the great power competition between and among the United States, Russia and China.
Dr. Jamie Morin: So there’s an enormous pace of change right now in the space domain. There’s no question about it. There’s been a lot of focus on rising threats, and the evidence there is pretty clear. There have been clear manifestations of threatening activity being taken in space by nations that are potentially quite unfriendly to the United States.
There’s also though, an enormous opportunity in terms of the ability to bring into what government and national security space is doing every day. A lot of new commercial capabilities. And one of the things that we’re trying to do at Aerospace and that my team working policy is really trying to wrap our heads around is how we can onboard many of those new ideas and capabilities either by making them part of government systems or taking advantage of them as services. And the energy and investment that’s going into the space sector right now, across public and private, and globally, is part of this broad democratization of space, part of the increasing crowding of space, all of which opens up both opportunity and threat for the U.S.
Mr. Muradian: What’s the right way to think about the militarization of space? I mean our adversaries have been doing everything from ground-based systems to [dazzler jam]. But also we’ve had evidence of space-borne systems that seem something other than benign, let me put it that way. Right? The notion of space mines, things operating in proximity that we actually believe may be weaponized at some point as well. And I know most of this is extremely highly classified, so I don’t want to put you on the spot on any of that. But what’s the right way to think about it?
We talked to Senator Kyl, he’s a passionate missile defense advocate, he’s been through his entire career, and was talking again about Brilliant Pebbles. We’re here at the Reagan Library and he was talking about SDI, the Strategic Defense Initiative and the importance of actually space-based missile defenses which may be the best way to intercept in the boost phase some of these threats and maybe do it much more economically.
Talk to us about what the militarized future of space looks like given that it is already, to a degree already militarized, and not completely peaceful in its nature.
Dr. Morin: Space has been militarized really from the outset of the space race. The U.S. and the Soviet Union had simultaneously civil space programs, military space programs and overlap between them, right? I mean military members as their first astronauts and cosmonauts in programs that had both kinds of capabilities. The Russians put up a space station with a cannon on it. In recent years, the canonical examples, of course, are the tests that the Chinese government did of anti-satellite weapons, including one that created hundreds of pieces of orbital debris when they blew up one of their own weather satellites.
So it’s clear that the military, of all advanced militaries, are deeply dependent on space as a force multiplier. It’s not a surprise that you’re now seeing, especially with countries that are concerned about U.S. power, that you’re seeing them make investments to counter the enormous force multiplier that the U.S. joint force has taken out of space capabilities that we demonstrated in the Gulf War and have continued to use in every conflict forward.
So that shouldn’t surprise us. And in an era where great power competition is a real thing, we need to be open-eyed about that, and there will be moves and counter-moves, actions and counter-actions. That doesn’t mean that the U.S. needs to go out and do aggressive things in space that start massive arms races, but we’ve absolutely got to be prepared for that competition and take the actions we need to defend our capabilities.
You’re seeing a very heavy focus on that out of the Department of Defense and have been for the last four years, five years or so. It is a step that’s happening, and we shouldn’t be surprised. Would it be wonderful if space was purely for exploration and scientific activities? Absolutely. But since Sputnik, it really hasn’t been.
Mr. Muradian: Should we make an assumption then that in any future conflict there will actually be kinetic action in space?
Dr. Morin: I would certainly hope there’s not, because kinetic action in space drives enormous negative repercussions for humanity for years to come. It’s not quite like nuclear fallout coming across the earth and making life hard for everybody for centuries, but if we create enormous amounts of orbital debris it’s going to impose a cost on humanity for generations to come.
So war is a bad thing. We need to try to avoid it. If we can’t avoid a war, we should do what we can to avoid having that war extend to space, but we can’t be Pollyannaish and assume that it won’t happen.
The real goal of all U.S. defense investment is to maintain a kind of comprehensive deterrence in which people feel like they will be better off not challenging the United States and our many allies and partners, and instead working peacefully to solve our differences. That’s the goal.
Mr. Muradian: Let me ask you about Space Force. Once we get into this conflict in space, the President has basically given the order to the whole organism that we’re going to do this. The Air Force has saluted crisply and said we’re going to execute the best we can. First thing to do is to obviously create an independent Space Command which some people oppose its dissolution, and folding into U.S. Strategic Command.
But even the latest report from the administration suggests that actually the most important piece of it, the National Reconnaissance Office, would not be part of this initially. And others, including multiple former Secretaries of the Air Force, think it’s just a terrible idea and will just create another bureaucratic and organizational stovepipe.
As you’ve looked at this issue, first is it a good idea? If it’s not a good idea and we’re going to do it anyway, what’s the right way to do it?
Dr. Morin: Vago, as you know, I’ve spent a lot of time in my career both dealing with consequences of reorganizations that were set in motion, and then also kind of conceptualizing how to set up government organizations to focus on key priorities. Whether we’re talking about Strategic Capabilities Office or Defense innovation issues or Air Force financial management.
The most important lesson I’ve taken from that work and that I use now when I’m advising different government agencies on how to organize themselves and run their processes is that there is not a single right answer. You need to first start with the question of what am I trying to maximize? A bureaucratic design can prioritize certain processes or others. Do you want it to be stable and conservative and steady as you go? Do you want it to be rapidly adjusting to an externally changing environment? Do you want it to focus on efficiency? Do you want to focus on it having good interfaces with other activities or standing on its own and innovating creativity? One design doesn’t give you all of those things.
So the first thing that leaders in government need to do as they’re grappling with these kinds of decisions, and this is Congress but this is also the executive branch, is they have to figure out what problems are they looking to solve? Are they fundamentally acquisition issues? Are they fundamentally operational issues? What are the characteristics there? And I think they need to articulate those all very carefully because the choices you make will stick for an extended period of time. And if they don’t, and you have to change them again, you create costs for the whole institution — inefficiencies, ineffectiveness. So you’ve got to make those choices very carefully.
I understand the department’s doing a lot of studying and analysis on this right now. The Deputy Secretary of Defense has been having a lot of senior level discussions. Those are all important steps when you sort of design how you’re doing these things.
Mr. Muradian: The last question. The word aerospace, which finds itself both in your name and ours, so talk to us about the origin of the word and when it first surfaced.
Dr. Morin: It’s really fascinating. Of course people talked about aeronautics from before the dawn of powered flight, and people studied astronomy and studied things in space well before we had the ability to get there. But in the 1950s, late ‘50s, you see this melding of the concept of atmospherics — aero — and space and it’s actually, it’s right around the time that my current organization, the Aerospace Corporation, was created in 1960 by the Air Force to help it manage all of this exciting stuff that’s starting in space. And I guess we took the name and everybody else should be paying us royalties, but because we’re a non-profit we’re not going to ask you for a large contribution.
Mr. Muradian: Well, we’re running this interview, so at least that makes part amends.
Jamie Morin, PhD, the Executive Director of Space Policy and Strategy at The Aerospace Corporation. Jamie, it’s always a pleasure, and I hope you and the family have a great holiday.
Dr. Morin: Thank you, Vago. You as well.