Lamborn signals continuity in House’s space focus, toes tighter nuclear line

Representative Doug Lamborn, Congressman for Colorado’s 5th District, meets Col. Steven Behmer during a visit to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, July 15, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Niall Bradshaw)

WASHINGTON — Representative Doug LambornThe Colorado Republican, who is expected to become chairman of the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee next year, recently made it clear that congressional space controllers will continue their longstanding focus acquisition of space reform.

However, he has also taken a somewhat harder line on nuclear weapons, which the subcommittee is also responsible for — for example, citing his “disagreement” with the Biden administration’s repeal of the Navy’s nuclear weapons Sea Launch Cruise Missile (SLCM-N) program.

During a Politico-sponsored conference call Wednesday, Lamborn said that for space, he is “focusing on acquisition; we have to be faster and more agile.’

He went on to reiterate the conventional wisdom in Congress, and more recently in the Space Force, that the military space architecture must move away from its current structure based on a small number of large, high-power satellites to a larger elastic one of which consists of a large number of smaller satellites arranged in different orbital modes.

“Instead of sophisticated and expensive, but vulnerable, huge satellites that perform many functions very elegantly, we should have, say, a constellation – a disaggregated set of smaller satellites that can do the same thing, but can be easily replaced if some of they are brought out in the conflict,” he said.

Lamborn noted that the changes in military space force development should in and of themselves facilitate faster production while reducing the enormous costs associated with today’s satellite systems. (For example, five Next-generation overhead permanent infrared communications (The Pentagon projects that missile warning system satellites will require $12 billion between fiscal years 2023 and 2027.)

Lockheed Martin's Next Generation Infrared Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (NGG) Early Warning Satellite.

Lockheed Martin’s Next Generation Infrared Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (NGG) Early Warning Satellite.

The need for change in the sclerotic and byzantine process of mastering space was a major factor in Congressional support for the creation of a space force – support under the leadership Representative Jim Cooperof Tennessee, who stepped down as chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Alab., is now expected to take the reins of the House Armed Services Committee.

Cooper — who is stepping down this year after saying the Tennessee Republican Party is successful gerrymandered away in his Nashville district — told Politico that “we still have a lot of work to do” on fixing the space acquisition, but that “Space Force is making progress.”

Still, Cooper expressed some concern that the service still has three separate divisions responsible for developing and deploying satellite systems: the Space Systems Command, the Space Capabilities Office and, since October, the Space Agency.

“My concern is that we need to have three, but I’d rather have redundancy than have satellites that aren’t spaced enough,” Cooper said. He also cautioned against an acquisition strategy that relies too heavily on what is now available on the commercial market, rather than focusing on maintaining military space technology at least a decade into the future.

“My goal is not just to be good buyers from the commercial market, because remember, the United States is on the verge of not being the largest market in the world. And some of our companies will be tempted to serve the biggest market in the world, which is not us,” he said, clearly referring to China.

“So what we really want is technology that is a decade or more ahead of the commercial sector,” he explained. “It’s very difficult today because people can become billionaires if they go ahead and bring it to market. Who would turn down the chance to become a billionaire with their invention?”

Nuclear department

USS Virginia

If funded, the naval cruise missile would provide low-yield nuclear weapons available to attack submarines like the USS Virginia, pictured here. (US Navy)

On nuclear weapons, Cooper and Lamborn expressed strong support for the expansive and expensive weapons of the Biden administration. nuclear modernization a program that essentially continues the path originally laid out by President Barack Obama.

“We need to continue the modernization started under Barack Obama. I applaud him for that,” Lamborn said. “It takes some money, but these weapons are getting old — some of the components can’t even be replaced anymore because they’re old and outdated.”

Emphasizing that the goal is not to create new weapons, but to modernize the existing arsenal, Lamborn said the key is to maintain the reliability of US nuclear forces.

“We have a nuclear umbrella that around 30 countries depend on us for, so reliability is a big issue for everyone, let alone potential adversaries. We must have this deterrent based on the reliability of our nuclear plant,” he said.

At the same time, Lamborn chided the Biden administration for its plan, enshrined in the newly released Review of the nuclear positionto cancel the SLCM, citing its utility as an intermediate rung on the nuclear escalation ladder and thus help deter nuclear-armed adversaries.

“I think that’s a mid-range ability that we should at least have in the toolbox. If you have an all-or-nothing approach, it can lead to awkward situations,” he said. “Having a medium range, like a lower yield nuclear cruise missile from a submarine, at least says to the adversary, ‘Okay, I have more doubt that I’m going to get what I want.’

Lamborn said he expects the ongoing House-Senate negotiations on the National Defense Authorization Act of 2023 to end with some means of research and development authorized for SLCM-N, but limited to the cost of ensuring its operation.

The House Armed Services Committee’s version of the NDAA would give the Navy $45 million for the effort; their colleagues in the Senate planned for $25 million.

“It’s a good interim status,” he said. Lamborn signals continuity in House’s space focus, toes tighter nuclear line

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