Like cyberspace, space remains a critical enabler of America’s military power. Whether for navigating Navy destroyers through narrow straits, or guiding smart bombs to their targets, the military relies heavily on a strong presence in space. For this reason, potential adversaries, according to Secretary Gates, are investing “in weapons geared to neutralize our advantages.” This is true of China’s military modernization, which the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has said is “very much focused” on the United States military.
A central effort to overcoming America’s vulnerabilities in space is an Air Force program known as Operationally Responsive Space (ORS). ORS seeks to transform the archaic way America builds satellites today through the use of miniaturized, mission-focused satellites that can be launched on demand and used to construct large constellations that are more difficult for adversaries to target.
During the House Armed Services Committee mark-up last week, an additional $23 million was added to the ORS budget, bringing total funding for the program to $132 million. Although this figure is still short of the $197 million that was budgeted for ORS this year, it is a positive sign that Congress recognizes the role ORS has to play. In an environment of increased budget pressures, ORS offers a promising path forward on space that can be both strategically beneficial and cost-effective. When the Senate marks-up its Defense Authorization bill this week, it should look to provide the entirety of the Air Force’s $103.4 million unfunded requirement for ORS.