Space Is a Place

June 1, 1982

Air Force Magazine: General Henry, could you start by defining “space”

General Henry: Well, to define “space,” first I would say that space is a place. It’s a place where the laws of aerodynamics do not apply, and things in space move in ballistic trajectories or according to the Keplerian laws of motion about planets. And everything we do in space is a function of the kinds of orbits that we have around the earth. We first started to use this place called space as an avenue of destruction in 1945 with the German V-2 rocket. And we used it again in the mid-fifties when we moved into the era of intercontinental and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. It continued to be a potential avenue to the future Armageddon that we all dread. But as we have been putting things into space that stay there, one can argue that perhaps we now have the opportunity of turning this place called space from an avenue of destruction into an opportunity for peace.

AFM: Is that the concept of the deterrence of truth you’ve mentioned before

General Henry: Well, perhaps, and it’s in this context that many, many times over the years we have looked at the use of space for the military forces—the Department of Defense—to find out what the military mission really is. The only practicable military mission that we have come up with yet is still the collection, movement, and dissemination of military information. That is, of course, a very important adjunct to our operating commanders. It’s been recognized by the current Administration, which has given the expression “C3I”—command control communications and intelligence—a priority equivalent to that of the B-1 and the MX and the Trident as part of our strategic modernization. Certainly, if we had the C3I that space gives one the potential to have, we would have strategic options that we do not have today.

AFM: Can you give us some examples of those options

General Henry: The most important example is confidence in what one knows. Today we use the concept of dual phenomenology to be assured that indications are validated. But if one had total confidence that one could communicate, if one had total confidence in the knowledge that one receives through communications, then one’s knowledge and capacity to respond would be increased manifold.

AFM: Resulting in improved decision-making

General Henry: Improving decision-making. War has always been known as a state of confusion. Writers have written about the fog of the war—the confusion of battle. There are those who have said that the winner is usually the one who is least confused. Students of military history generally find that forces have been mispositioned, forces have become lost, or forces have lost communications, or did not have sufficient knowledge of the enemy, and these circumstances, many times, have made the difference between victory and defeat. Space and use of space in this way provide the opportunity to use our forces more efficiently. By using them more efficiently, we can have a greater probability of success.

The other aspect is that we have through the use of space today, a literal explosion of information. You see it on the news at 7:00 o’clock at night; you see it in the weather pictures. As we know, this may or may not make a difference, but it’s becoming more and more evident that the capture of the hearts and minds of people is an important thing to a nation. Space gives us the opportunity, through the providing of information, to assure that truth is known and understood.

AFM: Does using space for communication make a large stream of information available to more people than could have had it before?

General Henry: That is the tremendous potential that space offers. Today we talk about television sets that have 150 channels. We see, in real time, events happening on the other side of the world. We see the time soon when we will be receiving into our homes information beamed directly from satellites. It will be a massive education of the people throughout the world.

AFM: Would you characterize Space Division as a provider of information to its customers? Is that one way to look at Space Division?

General Henry: I would say the better characterization is the provider of the instruments that permit the flow of information to our customers. We provide the instruments that allow the collection, distribution, and dissemination of military information. The deliverable product we provide to our customers is military information, in the form of an electronic bit-stream. Sometimes we generate it and sometimes we repeat it, but our mission in life is to assure that this bit-stream goes to the operating commanders, wherever they may be in the world

AFM: How are you bringing the uses of space or the products of your effort to the people in the field wherever they may be?

General Henry: I have said sometimes in the past that our objective was to bring the use of space down to ships, squadrons, and battalions. That brings up to key points: The first is that every space system we put up is either national in character or serves more than one service. We talk about the Air Force in space, and, to the extent that the Air Force is in space, the Air Force is providing service to more than the Air Force.

Every communications satellite that I have services more than one customer. The navigation satellite program serves the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines; the weather satellite program services the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and so on. A spacecraft on orbit knows no geographic boundaries by definition because it goes around the world and is worldly in nature and knows no corresponding service boundaries.

What we are trying to do is provide the spacecraft with sufficient power and sufficient signal strength so we can move away from the forty-foot, sixty-foot antennas and the very expensive terminals that we have in some of our aircraft, to affordable terminals that are small enough to be used by battalion commanders or squadron commanders or in small airplanes or in small ships.

The Navy is making great strides in this regard today with its fleet broadcast system that operates in the UHF frequency regime. It uses four satellites that we have stationed over the East Pacific, West Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Atlantic Ocean to connect its fleet together. The Air Force uses those same satellites to interconnect its strategic bombers with command posts back home.

AFM: Is the Global Positioning System an example of something with the small terminal

General Henry: The Global Positioning System (GPS) is the classic example. It is a navigation system that has been characterized by some as the most profound development of this decade, because it improves our positional navigation by yet another order of magnitude. That is the third order of magnitude improvement in navigation since I was a second lieutenant. When I first came into the Air Force, our primary mode of navigation over water was celestial, which gave an accuracy of ten to fifteen miles. Then we moved into the inertial systems, which today give us an accuracy of a mile or two. Now if we can field the Global positioning System, we will have positional accuracies of a tenth of a mile, which is a remarkable feat.

We achieve this accuracy with affordable equipment equivalent in size to the TACAN sets that we use today—equipment that can be carried in airplanes with small antennae. I simply do not understand the lack of support for the fielding of such a system, which has such national implications in terms of its offshoot to the civilian marketplace.

AFM: It’s the sort of thing that is a natural for, say, purchase by ship operators, commercial …

General Henry: Every customer we have encountered has been enthusiastic about the potential. The Navy has navigated in fog through the San Diego ship channel on a destroyer, it has used it in its exercises in the Pacific; the Air Force has used it and demonstrated it in Europe, and has accomplished aircraft rendezvous, and has performed instrument approaches. It is not generally understood that, with the few satellites that we have up today—that we have a three-hour per day capability throughout most of the world. The testing continues, working with the Army and the Navy, and I consider it one of our most successful joint service program offices.

AFM: Specifics aside, how would you characterize the Air Force’s space program now—is it still in research and development, is it in operations, or is it a bit of both?

General Henry: Well, I would say that the Air Force today is in a state of honest debate on the use of space. The Air Force, as the most technical service, feels that it is the leader in the use of space; certainly it is spending the predominant share of the DoD budget in space. Yet those who use space constitute all services, all agencies in the DoD, and as a result of that, we have a continuing debate about how the space program should be paid for—whether it should be Air Force money or OSD money. We have a debate as to what space operations are, whether we’re still in R&D or operations.

I liken it to the historical perspective of how long we’ve been in space. We’ve been in space a little over twenty years. How long have we used the air? We’ve used the air, essentially, since 1905. If we add twenty years to 1905, it would be 1925. You will recall in those days that the Air Force was a part of the Army.

Debate goes on today as to whether or not Space should be a separate service. There are those who have proposed that. There are those who have said that we continue to do too much R&D and do not bring spacecraft into a true operational mode. The question is how to do that. In today’s world, when you consider the terrible expense of the way we do business, we do not put many spacecraft on orbit. Each spacecraft is many tens of millions of dollars with a low launch rate, a very high cost per pound, and a very high cost to put on orbit—one needs to build each spacecraft individually in a handcrafted sort of way, and one needs to put them in a way that one has to be sure to do everything possible to do it right the first time.

There’s one thing that I’m sure of: There is no margin for error, and for that reason I have great difficulty distinguishing between research and development and production. Yet we are buying spacecraft in the same way that we buy airplanes, with the same management oversight system, with the same funding system, and I have to say that it is awkward. We have tried, in some instances, to do too much with too little.

For example, we are using boosters today, in the interests of cost-effectiveness, that were built in the early sixties. They are twenty years old and have been in storage since then. We have found that it’s very, very difficult to get the high reliability that you want from a system that was built at its outset twenty years ago with an expected reliability of just 0.9. That means that one in ten could fail. Yet, in the interests of saving money, we are doing that.

We did this on the Atlas program. We have nineteen Atlases left. We found, during the last year or two, that we had not spent enough money refurbishing those Atlases to use them as space boosters. As a result, we have put some spacecraft into the ocean—the last one as recently as last December. Now we are going back and spending the money that we should have spent five years ago.

We are now examining the Titan II fleet with the idea of converting them to space boosters. While I appreciate the economy of using the Titan II as a space booster and I fully appreciate that there are spacecraft that can be properly put in orbit using the Titan II, I would hope that those who are in charge of our budget would not force us once again to stand short on the money that it takes to refurbish those ICBMs into the kind of reliability that we need for a space booster. We should have, in a space booster, a reliability in excess of 0.95, a reliability that approaches that of the Space Shuttle.

AFM: These seem examples of false economies that, in the end, reduce reliability and raise costs in more than just money. There must be a better way, isn’t there?

General Henry: There is a better way. One approach being talked about today is to establish a space appropriation within OSD, which would have the same characteristics as NASA and other organizations that buy spacecraft—basically incremental funding and multiyear funding that doesn’t constrain you to the extent of the full-funding concept we have today.

AFM: Would that be independent of each of the services and be fenced off in DoD somewhere?

General Henry: Well, if we had a space appropriation, it is essentially a defense appropriation. There are those who argue against that because it denies a flexibility in the budgetary process, but, on the other hand, one can always move the fence. If we did such a thing, it would allow our space programs to compete with each other, and to assure that as we meet the necessary constraints (since budgets are by definition limited), we can adjust our priorities in relation to each other.

The problem that we have today is that, in the budgetary process, space programs compete in a fragmentary sense with airplanes and missiles and so forth. That forces us into a situation where we lose touch with the correlation of the individual programs to each other. We have reached a point in the maturation of space activity where a relationship between space systems is now important, because we are now in a phase where the use of space in war is becoming an important thing. As a result of that, we have got to ensure that space systems will be available in time of war.

If we want space systems to be available in time of war for communications, weather, navigation, or whatever, then we are going to have to start to buy space systems in a way that accommodates and permits combat attrition as well as peacetime attrition.

AFM: Does that suggest “spares in orbit,” continuously?

General Henry: Precisely. It suggests that we need to, in a strategic sense, define a force structure on orbit which includes orbital sparing. But we also need to, in addition to that, correlate individual systems with each other so that there is sufficient interdependence, that you have resilience in your force structure. We are now at a stage where we can talk seriously about developing an orbital cross-link—where satellites are connected electronically to each other. If you do that, then you can build on orbit a structure that gives you the kind of resilience you have in your communications systems on earth today.

For example, if I’m in Los Angeles and I’m talking to you in Washington, I may be going through a satellite, I may be going through St. Louis or Houston or Chicago, but it’s of supreme indifference to me because I know you’re going to answer the telephone. That’s the kind of communications structure we can have on orbit that allows me, if I’m in Washington, to talk to the Indian Ocean, and it is of supreme indifference to me whether I go east or west or north or south to get there.

AFM: And you can still talk if someone, either nature or some other force? …

General Henry: Yes. Nature or whatever. You will have combat attrition, so you must have some confidence that that network will still survive, because you have alternative paths. And you have multiple terminals. It’s important, I think, to remember that a space system is sort of—I use this analogy—like a three-legged milkstool. The three legs of the space system are the spacecraft, and the bit-stream, and the terminals. Without any one of the three, a space system is totally worthless.

The bit-stream is an electronic warfare problem. The terminals, if we can make them small enough and affordable enough so we can buy many, many of them, then we’ll have survivability and resilience in the terminal structure. Then in the spacecraft, if we can make them affordable enough, and make enough of them, interconnect them and make them interdependent or have a relationship between them, then we will have the resilience and depth to collect that information we talked about.

AFM: So that’s another way of coping with actual or potential threats to operations.

General Henry: Yes. And again, we should not go to space unless it’s the only way we can do a job, or can do it better, or it’s cheaper. The global movement of information seems to be the one thing we can use space for that we have not learned how to do on earth.

AFM: What do you see as the military threat from an enemy in the near and far term in space?

General Henry: Well, first of all, there is some speculation and discussion by those who talk about a warfighting capability in space. I’m not sure I know how to do that. I’m not sure anyone knows how to do that. The warfighting capability we have today in space is the ICBMs moving through space to get from Point A to Point B. perhaps someday we will have the technology for an antiballistic missile system. In theory, and I emphasize the word “theory,” the easiest way to destroy a ballistic missile is as it comes out of the atmosphere on the way up. That could be done from space, using beam weaponry, in theory. The problem is we don’t know how to build the beam weaponry.

We probably could short-circuit the national treasury two or three times trying to do that, and so that concept is probably in the far term. Certainly, the Soviets have demonstrated an antisatellite capability at low altitudes. So one can enter into debates and arguments about the extension of sovereignty upward. Today’s sovereignty extends, say—to 100,000 feet or whatever—but no one has quarreled with sovereignty extending up to 100 miles. I would hope that no one would ever call for sovereignty to extend above 100 miles. If you take the sixteen-inch globe in your office, and measure 100 miles above that globe at the same scale, it’s about half an inch—obviously we could have a sovereignty issues at 100 miles.

That is a near-term threat. A far-term threat, of course, is the destruction of satellites wherever they may be. Despite the fact that there’s almost nothing between here and a satellite that’s 22,000 miles over the equator, that 22,000 miles is still 22,000 miles. And if you take that same sixteen-inch globe, that 22,000 miles is, in scale, about four feet from the globe. So getting there isn’t that easy. Getting to the right place is not that easy. Certainly, it is within technical feasibility.

But again, if one talks to threat and the practical threat, are the terminals or the bit-streams the easier target? And again, if you have resiliency on orbit, how much capital national resource must a nation expend to go after those satellites? Is it worth it to go after those satellites? Is it worth it to go after those satellites with that kind of resource?

AFM: So it seems we’ve been preoccupied with the craft and haven’t really devoted much attention to the bit-stream or the terminals, in the debate at least.

General Henry: Perhaps so. And I think that when one talks to survivability, one must talk to the total system and how it’s going to operate. In fact, I have asked that the program management direction I receive include guidance on systems survivability because some survivability requirements are stronger than others. I’ve asked for guidance and money, depending upon the requirements, in each segment of survivability—spacecraft, the ground terminals, and the bit-stream.

AFM: Do we have an industrial base that allows for resiliency in providing the components of this triad? Is there enough industrial capability to handle increased numbers of spacecraft and terminals

General Henry: In my opinion, yes. We buy, certainly today, at an inefficient rate. The tendency today is to buy spacecraft just at sufficient rates to maintain minimum requirements on orbit. We buy in fits and starts, which makes our spacecraft so much more expensive. We develop a subcontractor base and then, while deciding whether or not to buy another spacecraft, we lose that subcontractor base. So we have to pay to get it restarted again—and with that lack of stability, just as we have had with many of our aircraft programs in the past—we are paying far more for spacecraft than we should.

I do not have a single program where I have spacecraft in the barn to launch in an emergency. I don’t even have launch vehicles that are untagged, if you will. Happiness, for Space Division, would be having spacecraft at a continuing production/ and that is not a high rate of production, but a production that is a recognition of the expected mean mission duration and allows for a little depth on orbit.

The classic example of how not to do it is reflected in our weather satellite program, where we had asked for seven spacecraft over a five-year period, predicated on a very limited expected mean mission rate on orbit, and ended up with three. That is an example of a budget process based on the assumption of a 100 percent success rate and, in fact, the assumption of better than predicted success.

AFM: But that belies reality and experience, doesn’t it

General Henry: Yes, it does. We have generally done better than expected on orbit. We have spacecraft on orbit that were expected to last thirty months and they’re almost five years old and still going strong. We have spacecraft on orbit that were expected to last eighteen months and gave us thirty months, and once we start counting on that, then we start to get in trouble.

AFM: There’s a debate or suggestion that the Air Force take over the Shuttle mission, and also that the Air Force establish a Space Command. Could you comment on both of these please

General Henry: Well, I would say that I recognize the debate on the Air Force taking over the Shuttle mission. Certainly the Shuttle is terribly important to the Air Force, because it is the first space booster that can be used by the military, as well as civilians, that has designed into it the reliability that a space booster should have. Historically, we have never had the kind of redundancy required to give us reliability. I think that the most important thing to remember about the Space Shuttle is that it is very proposed titled “The National Space Transportation System” and, as such, it is a national investment. Any decision about whether or not the United States Air Force, or any military organization, should take over the National Space Transportation System, has to be, by its very nature, a political decision, and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the viability of a political decision.

I would only note that access to space is not cheap, reliability in access to space is not yet easy, and it is not yet simple. The very fact that we are doing with the Space Transportation System is a reflection of the national character of the system. It is far from the routine that one associates with buying a 747 or B-52 or anything else that the Air Force does in an operational sense. So a military management of that space transportation system is first, by definition, a political decision and, second, that decision must take into consideration the inordinate complexity and the manpower intensiveness of this system. This system is a remarkable system, yet my children will someday look at that system in a museum and marvel at the primitive nature of it, just as today I look at the Mercury capsule and marvel at how we were able to do what we did with that capsule—we must remember that.

With regard to the debate about a Space Command, I would only say that space is different. Certain functions have to be kept together, specifically the development and building of a spacecraft, the integration of that spacecraft onto its launch vehicle, whether the launch vehicle is an Orbiter, or a Titan, or an upper stage of some kind—its launch or orbit, and its on-orbit support. We have a network around the world today called the Satellite Control Facility that provides field maintenance of all of our DoD spacecraft, and it is just that. We have, as a result, the teamwork within Space Division, between those who man the tracking stations and are program officers and those who man the launch pads and are program officers, that is a teamwork that works—that gets the job done.

I would be sad to see us forced into, for organizational reasons, the customer-developer relationship that we have today on the airplanes. The operator is dealing with the bit-stream and what is terribly important to the operator is the quality of the bit-stream and the nature of that bit0stream so that he can have affordable terminals. And then the next most important thing for the operator is that he has confidence that the bit-stream will either go up or come down as he wants it, in the way that he wants it, whenever he wants it. The way to generate that confidence is to participate and develop the strategy—what I call the orbital strategy—and then in turn the launch strategy and the procurement strategy that make it all come true. And then the development and the establishment of requirements in the terminals so he can do what he has to do.

AFM: Presently, that’s a teamwork effort, isn’t it?

General Henry: Yes. And it’s becoming more and more a multiservice effort. I think one of the fundamental parts of the debate is the joint nature of whatever organization evolves. And, of course, another factor in the debate is whatever organization evolves—should it or should it not remain within Air Force Systems Command, a command that is organized for development and acquisition in the classic role of airplanes. I emphasize again that space is different. One of the most awkward relationships that Space Division has with its management responsibilities is the fact that it is awkward, trying to buy space systems under a system originally designed for the procurement of quantity units for our operating forces.

AFM: You mentioned management. Are you getting enough qualified Air Force engineers to manage your programs?

General Henry: No. My toughest problem today is the experience of my management. I am getting lieutenants, forty-one percent of my work force are lieutenants; my shortfall is in middle management. In my contracts arena seventy percent of my buyers, contracting officers, and procurement clerks have less than three years’ experience, and forty percent have less than one year of experience. So I am working with an experience shortfall that is putting Space Division through one of the most difficult times in its history. The experience shortfall is occasioned by the exodus from the armed forces that we all know happened. It’s also occasioned by the national shortfall of engineers, a national shortage, and it’s compounded by the difficult circumstances of living in the Los Angeles area.

AFM: Those conditions, or circumstances, are really fierce of young people, aren’t they?

General Henry: Well, they are tolerable for young bachelors coming out of college, whether they be male or female. But for the thirty-year-old who has small children, or the forty-year-old who has children in high school, it is intolerable. My ability to recruit is limited by that. The people are excited about the mission, but they say they are unwilling to put their family through the trauma and the culture shock of moving to Los Angeles where housing is so nearly unavailable and unaffordable.

AFM: What sort of commuting time do your people have?

General Henry: Many of our people spend three hours a day commuting. That’s so they can live in affordable housing.

AFM: Is it conceivable that Space Division would move to another area?

General Henry: It’s entirely conceivable. It’s a matter of whether or not we can afford it. We live and work in some very high-priced real estate near two Los Angeles airports. There are many advantages to our being there because many of our contractors are there, but on the other hand, it is expensive.

AFM: Aren’t many of your contractors having the same problems?

General Henry: Many contractors are having the same problems. There’s no quick and easy answer. The best thing that has been brought forth so far is the variable housing allowance. But unfortunately, the variable housing allowance is calculated on what our people could afford last year, rather than calculated on the marketplace. As a result, the variable housing allowance that we receive its insufficient. It always lags behind. It’s not enough.

AFM: If there were one thing you were remembered for in your tenure, your stewardship at Space Division, what would you like it to be?

General Henry: Well, I guess the one thing that I would like for it to be is that we did reach the threshold of taking advantage of space to make the lot of our soldier, sailor, and airman an easier one. I am convinced that we can use space to do that. I’m convinced that we can use space to do that. I’m convinced that if the soldier, sailor, or airman knows where he is, and if he knows where the enemy is, and if he can communicate with his friends, then his opportunities for living and winning are greatly increased. I hope, in due course, the nation will recognize that and give space the budgetary importance it deserves.

The first indication is showing up in the new Milstar program, a very high-priority communications program for all of the armed services. But as we do that, we need to define in a better way our relationship with NASA on the Space Transportation System. Because whatever direction the political administration may take for the eventual management structure of the Space Transportation System, it is important that we do things today to preserve options for the administration.

What I sense happening today, which has been difficult to achieve in the past, is a sense of partnership with NASA—a joint venture, if you will—which will give options toward the future and allow both the civil and military use of the Space Transportation System. We need to take that in the proper perspective and use the Space Transportation System wherever it can be used best and use expendable boosters, if you will, where they can be used best for the proper mix of economy and utility.

AFM: Do you see the Air Force and NASA moving more toward the joint venture concept you’re talking about?

General Henry: Yes, I do.

AFM: So that lays the foundation or the groundwork for whatever direction the political decision takes, doesn’t it?

General Henry: That’s correct. It leaves the options open for whichever direction. If the political choice is that we have some kind of a government-owned contractor operation—à la Sandia Corporation—or continued NASA management, or transition to military management, those options all remain open.