As more nations, businesses and militaries become involved in space, the amount of data that will become available will also increase, as will challenges and opportunities for the Defense Department, a panel of defense intelligence experts said yesterday.
"All the potential information that will be accessible on demand anywhere around the world will be exciting," said Stacey Dixon, deputy director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, during the Intelligence and National Security Summit, Sept. 5, at National Harbor, Maryland.
More daunting, she said, is what resources will be needed to create tools to use and store all that new data.
"We know that we can't expand the number of people to be able to look at everything," Dixon said. "So, it's about really moving towards having that machine/human teaming, which provides a lot of other new challenges in the way we do things."
She also said there will be opportunities to leverage partners — not just for the sensors they have, but for how they see fit to use the data created.
Tina Harrington, director of signals intelligence at the National Reconnaissance Office, said private sector advancements in space will allow the government to focus on "the things that we and we alone need to do, not the things that others can do."
Harrington noted that adversaries will also operate in the new space domain. The U.S. will need to treat them the same way it treats their involvement in air, sea and land — "understanding what adversaries are doing, but we are not going to stop them," she said.
Increased opportunities in space by industry can also be exploited by the DOD, said Maj. Gen. John Shaw, deputy commander of Air Force Space Command.
"The economic engines have been unleashed," he said. "I hope that they are sustained, and that we would simply want to leverage the best of that from a government perspective and realize there are challenges associated ... providing security in that environment, incentivizing further economic investment, but also being prepared for new threats."
One risk of new ventures into space involves concern over the validity of data — ensuring, for instance, that it's not compromised.
Dixon said industry must acknowledge that everyone is a target for somebody else. Transparency in what they're doing about cybersecurity, she said, "will help us as a consumer of the information and the capabilities [they're] providing."
Still, she said, the government must take on the responsibility of validating the data it uses.
Harrington said she's concerned with how data integrity and complexities in the supply chain might affect intelligence-gathering, especially when considering who is manufacturing tools or components of tools used to collect, process and store information.
"Supply chain is probably one of my biggest risk areas ... [given] the number of things that have gone offshore," she said.
For example, Harrington said, if U.S.-based suppliers no longer see manufacturing a particular component as a viable business model, and those components are being supplied by an unverifiable vendor, "that very much hurts us from a government perspective."
It's not just government that needs to be concerned, either, she said. Top-level suppliers purchase subcomponents from their own pool of vendors.
"We want to know they have a trusted supply chain as well," Harrington said.
Despite increased commercial interest in space — billions are being spent in the private sector, and competition for talent in that sector is increasing — Harrington said she's not concerned the allure of money in the private sector will keep new talent from knocking on government's door.
"Young people are really excited about space again," she said. "When we go to these recruitment activities there are a lot of folks very interested in getting into the government side in space."
Dixon noted that 300 interns have recently done work with NGA, and those young people are excited about what they saw.
"Many of those end up converting to government," she said. "There are people who are still interested in coming though and working government missions and will sacrifice the potential money they can make somewhere else for that opportunity."
Both Harrington and Dixon said a different challenge looms — the possibility that changes in the workforce will mean new talent will be interested in moving back and forth between government and the private sector throughout their careers.
"We need to be ready for that, so that it's good for their career and it's good for us," Harrington said.