By: Clifford M. Theony
Estimated Reading Time: 14 Minutes
In September 2019, Col Kevin Parker’s Air & Space Power Journal article prompted Air Force civil engineers to “Think Differently about Air Bases” and to “Evolve with the Evolving Strategic Environment.” For the past two years, the Civil Engineer Division in the United States Space Force (USSF), formerly Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), has been creating a plan to do just that. Flying, fighting, and winning in the space domain is very different from the air, land, and maritime domains because USSF civil engineers do not focus on airfields and launch and recovery of aircraft. The focus of space mission sites is on distinctly critical facilities and infrastructure that launch mission systems into space or command and control those assets once they are operating in space. The new standards and measures of readiness for critical facility and infrastructure systems created by USSF engineers will radically enhance the ability to measure and improve the readiness of space capabilities presented to the Joint Warfighter.
The USSF Civil Engineer Division and Civil Engineer Squadrons are tackling a growing challenge to provide mission assurance for evolving space platforms by improving the construction and sustainment of resilient infrastructure systems linked to critical space mission sites worldwide. The USSF focuses on three complementary lines of effort: 1) creating improved standards that align infrastructure capabilities (including resilience) with space mission assurance requirements; 2) creating decision-quality risk management data to inform investments in critical infrastructure, and the ability to operate, maintain, and sustain the infrastructure supporting those space missions; and 3) creating an accountability process and mechanism for effective communication of infrastructure readiness and status for distinct mission assurance requirements. These lofty goals are a considerable challenge; nevertheless, progress in these efforts is absolutely essential to meet the intent of the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS).
Infrastructure Readiness: Why do we need it?
The 2018 NDS established “Space and cyberspace as warfighting domains,” and instructs the Department of Defense (DoD) to “prioritize investments in resilience, reconstitution, and operations to assure our space capabilities.” General John W. “Jay” Raymond, who now holds two NDS responsibilities as both the Chief of Space Operations and Commander of United States Space Command, emphasized the NDS intent to invest in space mission resilience during the visit of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment, and Energy (SAF/IE) to AFSPC in June 2018. In his role at the time as AFSPC/CC, General Raymond voiced concerns to SAF/IE about power outages due to their direct impact on his ability to effectively execute space missions. The General further explained that despite the effort of his engineers, space mission sites across the world had experienced unexpected power outages.
Protecting and defending space domain missions requires improved standardization for ready and resilient power projection platforms because space operators command and control assets that rely exclusively on critical facility and infrastructure systems for mission success. Unlike many missions in the air, land, and maritime domains, the ground-based portion of almost all space missions is employed-in-place and delivers capabilities to the joint warfighter from static rather than expeditionary postures. Space power-projection platforms have different, often classified, readiness and resilience requirements to fight in the space domain. For example, engineers building and sustaining sites like Schriever Air Force Base enable execution of combatant command missions without moving forward in an expeditionary posture. Employed-in-place readiness for space missions ultimately requires a robust and resilient infrastructure system-of-systems that places a different demand on civil engineer units or base maintenance contractors.
To meet the intent of the NDS to invest in resilience, AFSPC and now USSF charted a path to deliver improved mission assurance. First, the USSF established a robust resilience standard to guide decisions and determine how resilient its critical infrastructure systems must be and, ultimately, hold space forces accountable per that standard. Next, the USSF templated a widely accepted industry standard created by the Uptime Institute for resilient electrical power and Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems used by the data-center and banking industries. Furthermore, USSF will use the performance standard to establish civil engineer Mission Essential Tasks in the Defense Readiness Reporting System (DRRS) for ground-based space mission systems as an authoritative accountability mechanism.
The USSF and several Air Force missions, like Air Operations Centers (AOCs) and Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPS) command and control nodes, require a ‘system-of-systems’ approach to build robust and resilient backup systems composed of resilient infrastructure components. This setup is far more complex than just back-up generators and uninterruptible power supply systems to provide temporary relief to a utility outage. These infrastructure systems must be built and sustained to continue space missions for long periods. These mission assurance requirements are beyond what many ‘critical’ facilities require. Infrastructure must be able to adapt and overcome natural and human-made threats and mitigate potential interruptions—the same way the banking and cyber industry build their critical facilities. For several space mission systems, a one-second disruption of power (or for intense computing environments—a brief cooling interruption) can cause extended mission outages that compromise mission assurance demands of Combatant Commands and the National Command Authority.
Existing civil engineer programming mechanisms in the USSF and Air Force help move the focus of funding efforts in the right direction to care for the space mission’s most critical facilities. However, the systems that measure mission dependency and facility-failure risks do not directly and adequately address or explain mission readiness issues to mission commanders clearly and concisely. USSF engineers are developing a direct connection between mission readiness and infrastructure status and capability. For the USSF, that means creating an improved way to tell the readiness story that supports efforts to improve infrastructure capability and deliver mission success for the joint warfighter. Ultimately this will lead to years of planning, programming, and building additional facilities or infrastructure. It will also improve the way USSF engineers operate and maintain the infrastructure that delivers space capabilities to the joint warfighter. Implementing a new resilience standard and creating new readiness measures for critical infrastructure systems will move the USSF to eliminate a relative blind-spot for mission commanders—or at least clear up a significant gray zone.
Although the USSF civil engineer team didn’t know it two years ago, they have been paralleling Col Parker’s suggestion: “Today’s air bases—what they do, where they are, what is on them, and what services they self-perform—are not ideal for the future. The current state is the result of a legacy force laydown and decades of sub-optimized, evolutionary, and local decisions. Preparing the Air Force for the future will require thinking differently about air bases.” On 20 December 2019, the USSF was established as the sixth service in the DoD to improve the nation’s focus on a space domain that is no longer a benign and permissive area of operations. In the USSF, the future is now, and civil engineers are re-thinking how to build space readiness by preparing critical infrastructure systems to support the evolving missions in the space domain and execute the intent of the NDS.
The USSF is moving toward changing the civil engineer narrative to “fix readiness” instead of “fix infrastructure.” Fixing infrastructure is often the way civil engineers view their role. The “fix readiness” goal will improve an engineer’s ability to communicate infrastructure readiness status so mission commanders at all levels can improve their ability to advocate for resources to eliminate or mitigate unacceptable mission risks. Lists of infrastructure projects and preventative maintenance tasks are how engineers communicate today. Still, that approach has proven ineffective in communicating infrastructure readiness risks, directly affecting mission readiness risk to the chain of command. Ultimately breakdowns in clear, concise infrastructure risks have caused unacceptable mission impacts. To improve risk management decisions in the USSF, across the Air Force, and throughout the DoD, the USSF is establishing Infrastructure Readiness requirements its engineers can pursue and identify once achieved. This process will provide clear measures of risk associated with infrastructure configuration and condition impacting the USSF’s ability to deliver capabilities to Joint Warfighters executing 24/7/365 Mission Essential Functions and Mission Essential Tasks in the space domain.
Critical asset node at Buckley AFB, CO
Infrastructure Readiness: What is it?
The challenge of creating “ready and resilient” USSF installations is substantial and acknowledged as such throughout the Department of the Air Force’s recently endorsed Infrastructure Investment Strategy (I2S). The I2S was signed in January 2019 by the Secretary of the Air Force, Chief of Staff, and Major Command Commanders with a clear message to civil engineers that the Air Force is re-committing to an improved investment strategy for power projection platforms. SAF/IE’s I2S implementation plan lays out a series of objectives and tasks to achieve the intent of the I2S. Several of the objectives identify tasks that give focus to USSF efforts.
To get after the challenge, the USSF is templating the industry standard developed by the Uptime Institute, primarily because ground-based space mission systems have many of the same resilience requirements. In the mid-90s, with the growth of data centers and their dependence on highly resilient and reliable electrical power and HVAC systems, industry developed a tiered standard of performance characteristics for critical infrastructure and facilities supporting data centers. Industry uses this standard to guide construction and sustainment of over a thousand data and banking industry facilities across the globe.
So just what is resilience, and how does it translate into readiness? Building ground-based space mission support infrastructure requires resilient infrastructure performance. Infrastructure must be prepared to respond to and recover from unexpected events with continuous operations and little or no mission interruption. If this sounds familiar to Air Force civil engineers, it should be—Emergency Managers use the same approach. Resilience and critical are relative terms. The USSF must set a standard for what is considered critical and establish a resilience requirement; otherwise, there is no achievable goal to provide focus to a distinct problem and then solve it. The USSF’s Civil Engineer Division gathered space mission program operators and planners for each mission system and created the Infrastructure Readiness Working Group to inform the Infrastructure Requirements Review Board to determine and establish infrastructure requirements for critical space missions.
The Infrastructure Readiness Working Group had three primary tasks to define the problem set:
- Introduce and understand the performance characteristics of the four tiers of the industry standard.
- Execute an exhaustive process to match the capabilities of a ‘tier’ with the Baseline Elements of Information (BEIs) dictated by mission assurance requirements of each space mission system: criticality, time-to-impact mission, and time-to-restore. These BEIs are prescribed in a process called the Critical Asset Identification Process (CAIP) per DoDD 3020.40 and implemented in the Air Force by AFI 10-2402, Critical Asset Risk Management. The services and Combatant Commands validate the BEIs. AFI 10-2402 defines Mission Assurance (MA) as a process to protect or ensure the continued function and resilience of capabilities and assets including personnel, equipment, facilities, networks, information, and information systems, infrastructure, and supply chains that are critical to the execution of DoD mission-essential functions in any operating environment or condition.
- Establish the resilience tier required based on tasks #1 and #2 above for each infrastructure system directly supporting a critical ground-based space mission system.
Throughout the process, the civil engineer team reminded the operators and planners, “We have no engineering requirements.” The goal in this process was and is to establish operational mission assurance requirements that just happen to take the shape of critical infrastructure. The result was a list of resilience requirements following the widely accepted industry standard.
The next imperative is to make these decisions an authoritative mission assurance requirement which will enable USSF civil engineers to plan, program, and execute the solutions to resolve any infrastructure capability or resilience gaps. And finally the USSF must create authoritative guidance and policy, programming projects, and an accountability mechanism to track progress while also discovering new steps.
- Create Authoritative Guidance and Policy: the Civil Engineer Division is writing comprehensive USSF instructions establishing the use of this industry standard for its critical assets ‘living’ on infrastructure. These instructions will establish the use of industry’s performance characteristics to guide infrastructure construction and sustainment and thus deliver the resilient infrastructure performance ground-based space assets demand.
- Program Projects: the next challenge for USSF engineers is to create a program of projects to “build the Air Force we need,” as stated by former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. Secretary Wilson was directly addressing the number of operational squadrons needed to fight in a near-peer competitor conflict. However, the intent of the message also rings true for infrastructure requirements. USSF engineers must also evolve to deliver space operations’ facility and infrastructure mission assurance requirements. USSF engineers must be able to confidently and clearly explain to mission commanders that their infrastructure meets (or does not meet) their mission assurance requirements. Furthermore, without a list of projects and associated mission risks, any solution only addresses infrastructure, not readiness. Without a list of projects, engineers cannot help mission owners identify the solution to the unknown risks they take, and ultimately make informed risk management decisions to accept or mitigate those risks.
- Create an Accountability Mechanism: to hold the USSF accountable for delivering the right level of combat support to the combatant commander, the USSF must have a way to measure the resilience standard in terms of readiness. The USSF has beta-tested new Mission Essential Tasks for infrastructure readiness to describe gaps in infrastructure resilience directly impacting the readiness of space missions. USSF engineers will soon begin reporting on Mission Essential Tasks in the DRRS using a distinct infrastructure performance standard, which will provide the transparency that, until now, has been missing for Space Wing Commanders.
Infrastructure Readiness: How do we know when we have it?
The Mission Essential Tasks, as drafted, has three measures that are primary ingredients in the Uptime Institute’s standard. Each build upon the other to tell a Wing Commander if the infrastructure is ready:
- Configuration (or Topology). Does the configuration of the system-of-systems critical infrastructure directly connected to the space mission system perform in accordance with the industry resilience tier and meet the mission assurance requirement?
- Sustainment. Do the responsible engineers (a Civil Engineer Squadron, Base Maintenance Contractor, etc.) sustain the infrastructure according to the industry standard (for now—are all components in the system-of-systems meeting a Condition Index of greater than 85, or fully functional, per the BUILDER Sustainment Management System–SMS)?
- System Testing. Are all critical infrastructure systems (not just the generators) tested under ‘live’ or ‘full’ load at the prescribed frequency (annually, quarterly, monthly, etc.)?
Signing of 2020 NDAA established the USSF as a separate service in the DoD.
Infrastructure Readiness: Challenges Ahead.
There are many challenges ahead, and the USSF knows it is a 5 to 10-year journey to provide capability and transparency for Infrastructure Readiness. These challenges include changing the way the engineers communicate requirements, many of which are classified. Also, building infrastructure readiness may seem to some to conflict with the Air Force’s desire to become more efficient in infrastructure resourcing and management. However, due to the rapidly evolving space domain area of operations, civil engineers must provide the infrastructure that keeps pace with the shifting mission assurance requirements. Some may perceive some infrastructure readiness requirements as wasteful. However, military effectiveness must be the priority to move the Space Force toward eliminating or mitigating unacceptable infrastructure gaps in capability and resilience. The old axiom “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” will not suffice; achieving readiness requires investment in infrastructure that may, on the surface, appear to have no issues. The reality is the current support infrastructure may not meet the mission assurance requirements because there was never a distinct and clear standard.
Despite the challenges, USSF engineers continue to move out. The policy and guidance are being written at the same time civil engineer Squadrons learn about the new standard, how and where to apply it, and how to program and build the infrastructure and facility solutions to close gaps. As USSF engineers embark on this effort, they acknowledge the hurdles and challenges which exist around every corner but remain focused on driving past the roadblocks. The importance of the space domain and its growing threats motivate the force to keep moving forward. Some leaders ask if there is utility for this type of infrastructure standard beyond the space mission. Air Force Cyber Command began incorporating the same industry-standard several years ago. The RPA support mission and AOCs supporting all Combatant Commands also have similar infrastructure resilience requirements. Setting a high standard to meet military mission needs for critical space mission systems provides focus and unity of effort to USSF engineers. Ultimately, infrastructure readiness transparency will deliver improved investment of limited fiscal resources to meet the intent of the Infrastructure Investment Strategy and the 2018 NDS. For the USSF, that means building and sustaining critical nodes of ready and resilient infrastructure residing on installations to deliver space capabilities to the joint warfighter, the nation, and allies.
Lt Col Clifford Theony is currently serving as the Deputy Chief, Civil Engineer Division assigned to the United States Space Force. He graduated from The Pennsylvania State University’s Air Force ROTC program and has served at the Squadron, Field Operating Agency, Major Command, and Combined-Joint Task Force levels. He has commanded two Civil Engineer Squadrons and deployed five times serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, and Qatar.
Feature Image Source: RADAR Site, Thule AB, Greenland
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed or implied in this article are those of the author and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Department of the Air Force, United States Space Force, or other agencies or departments of the US government.