Wed. May 22nd, 2024

Pentagon space policy chief weighs in on disputes over battlefield intelligence

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May21,2024

WASHINGTON — John Plumb, the outgoing assistant secretary of defense for space policy, weighed in on the simmering roles-and-missions debate over how the Defense Department and intelligence community should collaborate to deliver timely battlefield intelligence to military commanders. 

In an interview with SpaceNews, Plumb pointed out that his office is not in charge of determining that division of labor. “That’s above me,” he said.

But Plumb said agency leaders need to sit down and resolve the ongoing tug-of-war between the military’s demands for rapid access to raw data from space-based sensors and intelligence agencies’ processes for vetting and analyzing that information before dissemination.

There are persistent challenges in aligning the Defense Department’s urgency for direct satellite tasking and seamless data flows with the intelligence community’s processes, Plumb said. 

“It’s a foundational principle that I think DoD and, I hope, the entire U.S. government agrees with, that information has to flow at an operationally relevant speed,” Plumb said, adding that a combat pilot in a cockpit doesn’t have time for analysts to scrutinize satellite data before receiving it.

‘Significant disagreements’

Plumb stressed the need for information to reach warfighters quickly, and insisted that he is not criticizing intelligence agencies that operate differently than the military. 

He noted that “there are some pretty significant disagreements at the moment about what is the right way forward for moving data around.”

The issue is gaining attention as the U.S. military and intelligence agencies develop a new satellite constellation known as Ground Moving Target Indicator, or GMTI, to track moving targets. A debate is underway over who should task those sensors.

There is tension between the military’s desire for direct access to data and the intelligence community’s role analyzing that information before sharing insights. The military also wants timelier access to commercial satellite imagery for the battlefield, rather than going through the intelligence agencies that are responsible for procuring imagery. 

How this gets resolved is still unclear, Plumb said. He questioned why the GMTI mission the Air Force handled with aircraft should shift to intelligence agencies “just because it happens to fly from space.” 

“That’s old-think,” said Plumb.

He partially blamed outdated policies from the early 2000s that fail to account for the Pentagon buying commercial space services to rapidly move data.

Chirag Parikh, the National Space Council’s executive secretary, said at the GEOINT Symposium last week that the council is examining the issue on how to satisfy military needs for swift data access and intelligence agencies’ efforts to ensure information is properly analyzed.

Plumb said the disagreements should be settled between the defense secretary and the director of national intelligence, not escalated to the president. He noted that the defense and intelligence cultures frequently clash on processes.

“DoD processes and IC processes don’t match up,” he said. “They are different … now we’re in a place where these lines are blending. I think it’s creating friction points.”

Commercial is ‘the way of the future’

Plumb is stepping down just weeks after the release of the Pentagon’s commercial space integration strategy, which he championed.

He expressed confidence in its implementation, highlighting guidance issued by the Secretary of Defense. “Integrating commercial solutions is the way of the future. It is the smart thing,” Plumb concluded.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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One thought on “Pentagon space policy chief weighs in on disputes over battlefield intelligence”
  1. Do you think the disagreements between the military and intelligence agencies will be resolved soon?

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