Rosen Questions General on U.S. Military Space Operations

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) questioned General David Thompson, Vice Chief of Space Operations for the United States Space Force, about military space operations, policy, and programs during a hearing held by the Senate Committee on Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. During her questioning, Senator Rosen asked General Thompson about Space Force’s efforts to protect our nation’s space program from cyber attacks and their efforts to strengthen the STEM education and workforce pipeline. A transcript of the Senator’s full exchange can be found below, and a video of the Senator’s full exchange can be found here.

ROSEN: Thank you Chairman King and Ranking Member Fischer it’s a really important hearing that we’re having today on U.S. military space policy and programs, and I really appreciate all the witnesses here today for your service.

And so of course we think about our cyber mission as it relates to our space program and it’s is no secret that our adversaries see the value of the space domain and are developing counter-space capabilities to undermine our interests, including via cyber attacks. You have to look no further than the news probably every day about that. A cyberattack on our space systems could result in the loss of data or services that are provided by a satellite, which could have a widespread effect – catastrophic effects – if used against a system such as our GPS systems.

So General Thompson, could you speak about Space Force is working to keep our space-based assets, including satellites, safe from these kinds of cyber-attacks that we’ve seen specifically in recent weeks against in things like the colonial pipeline?

GENERAL THOMPSON: Senator Rosen, you categorized that thread very well. I will briefly tell you things that we are doing to protect our space systems from the cyber threat. The first is existing systems as Mr. Hill explained weren’t really designed with a cyber threat in mind. But we have gone through a series of assessments on all of them and understood the security challenge that we face. And while I’ll call them bold on capabilities we still added cyber defensive and cyber security aspects to them when and where and how we can. The second aspect of that is from here forward is absolutely designing our systems with cyber security in mind from the very beginning. Reverting back to my days as an Air Force member you don’t choose, in an airplane, whether you’re going to have engine or wings you are required both to execute a mission. Cyber security is now a fundamental part of everything we need for our systems. And then the third piece is building out what we call “mission defense teams”. Those are cyber defense teams for every system for every operational organization to understand the cyber capabilities and are highly trained in defense and hunting and finding threats and addressing them and providing that first line of defense. So it’s those three things covering down on the current vulnerability of defense systems designing in cyber security and fielding these teams to protect the systems are three aspects of what I will call cyber security and cyber defense.

ROSEN: Well thank you. I was going to ask you about making sure that you do that in future administration and how you are using machine learning and artificial intelligence but I’m actually going to move forward into talking about a few bills I had in the NDAA since you say you are building up your cyber workforce. So, I have a bill for JRTOC to provide an assisted STEM track for those young men and women that want to serve so they can begin their service in the cyber field in so many ways. We have the PROMOTES Act another piece of bipartisan legislation that is going to do some of those things. So, I’d like to ask General Thompson and Mr. Hill – how could things in the JROTC STEM program help the Space Force carry out its mission and how do you plan to grow the Space Force STEM outreach program so we create the workforce? Because we are going to have to incorporate artificial intelligence, machine learning, quantum computing in all that we do in our future acquisitions as we move forward. So, General Thomas and then Mr. Hill, please.

GENERAL THOMPSONSenator Rosen, STEM is critical to everything the Space Force does we are focused on mission only which means we do operations in intelligence acquisition and cyber and as you understand those are all very focused on STEM training and STEM education and we can’t just wait for STEM qualified applicants to come and ask to join the Space Force. So working with the Air Force on recruiting service, working through the ROTC program, and working through some of those other organizations like Junior ROTC and some other younger STEM outreach programs. We’re doing an outreach program to go to specific areas, look for those areas where those STEM specialties are, and go recruit starting in, for example high school, get that talent interested, offer them opportunities for education either through an ROTC program or civilian through a special college training program, if they choose STEM degrees and commit to a career in Space Force – those are just a couple of things that we’re doing and we have begun to do as part of our efforts

ROSEN: Well thank you. I see that my time is just about up but as we do think about how we have to grow in so many ways we have to have the human capacity in order to fulfill our missions as well so I’m glad you’re looking towards that. Thank you Mr. Chairman.