Recommendation: The Air Force should create an open-architecture, application programming interface to facilitate the bidirectional exchange of a wider array of data, algorithms, and documentation with a growing number of external entities.
The Air Force is moving in the direction of more openness and data sharing, although some users still desire access to more information. Once they have been restricted from distribution, either by classification or International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), data and algorithms are often difficult to disseminate to the wider community, even after the restriction may no longer be relevant (e.g., the 40+ year old SGP4 model). The committee found no legitimate justification for continued restriction of such algorithms. These restrictions are inhibiting algorithm development and innovation with no apparent benefit to national security.
Recommendation: The Air Force should review its information distribution policies and work with external customers toward the objectives of (1) more freely sharing data products, algorithms, and documentation and (2) ensuring that such information is timely, accurate, useful, and actionable. Items historically restricted because of International Traffic in Arms Regulations, classification, or other national security or liability concerns should be reevaluated. Although the committee recommends a system-wide review, it also recommends consideration of the following specific examples:
• Examination of whether there is a valid justification for restricting the distribution of Simplified General Perturbations 4.
• Distribution of propagated ephemerides, which would provide users with greater insight into pending conjunctions and facilitate the further decoupling of Air Force systems from those of its external customers.
• Publication of collision probability, which would benefit some members of the owner/operator conjunction assessment community.
The Air Force is correctly anticipating a continuation of the increase in its workload. The evolution and expansion of its mission responsibilities and the growth of the orbital population are likely both to continue and to lead to increased demands on AFSPC. Meanwhile, the existing system is manually intensive. The current software architecture, obsolete hardware platforms, and security-driven network isolation (e.g., the Sneaker Net, called that because it requires someone to physically carry the data) are all contributing factors.
Recommendation: The Air Force should automate routine processes to the extent possible to minimize manual intervention, decrease operational workload, and reduce possibilities for error.
Air Force staffing and training shortfalls could threaten the viability and scope of ongoing programs. The JSpOC is understaffed for operating the existing system and has difficulty retaining the necessary expertise to fulfill its mission. Training materials are insufficient, the training process is long, and frequent military reassignments make long-term retention of expertise difficult.
Recommendation: The Air Force should review personnel recruiting, retention, promotion, and training policies and practices so that Department of Defense military, civilian, and contractor staffing levels and expertise are budgeted for and maintained in space situational awareness mission-critical functions including the Joint Space Operations Center.
Recommendation: The Joint Space Operations Center algorithm and model developers should fully communicate the results of their work and their development activities, such as in appropriate peer-reviewed publications and conferences, so that users gain greater insight into and understanding of the underlying assumptions associated with catalog activities.