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Breaking out of intelligence silos: SSC seeks to empower decision-making through regular threat briefings

Modern Space Domain

Modern Space Domain

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. --

Scientia potentia est is Latin for “Knowledge is Power.” You might call it Lt. Col. Brian Russell’s mantra. As the Deputy Director of Intelligence for Space Systems Command (SSC), Russell leads a team dedicated to carrying out Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein’s order that every military and civilian member at SSC attend at least one threat intelligence briefing per month.

“Space Systems Command was purpose-built to get ahead of emerging threats to our capabilities in space,” said Russell. “So, it’s absolutely imperative that everyone in every department and every function of SSC be aware of the threats, understand the threats, and use that knowledge to empower and guide their decisions.”

It’s a 180-degree turnaround from just a year ago, when intelligence briefings were required only once or twice a year for many SSC personnel. Today, the intelligence team conducts an average of three briefings a day, five days a week. The intended audiences encompass all of SSC’s enlisted, officer and civilian personnel at all SSC locations, including its Deltas, Geographically Separated Units and operating locations.

As Gen. James H. Dickinson, commander of U.S. Space Command noted in an Op-Ed last year, “We are preparing for the war not yet fought.” As such, decision making based on past experiences must give way to decision making based on what will be. For example, China is actively engaged in space-based kinetic weapons research which would enable attacks on ground, sea, and air targets from space. Russia is developing direct-ascent anti-satellite missile systems capable of destroying US and allied satellites in low earth orbit. It successfully tested the system in November, destroying one of its own orbiting satellites with a missile launch from earth.

While compelling, these facts are just the tip of the iceberg. To stay ahead of the threat from an intelligence standpoint, the intelligence team creates new briefings every month and pushes them out through multiple in-person meetings. The team also creates tailored briefs for specific operational teams. A recent example was a briefing for Space Sensing’s OPIR development team on space domain awareness regarding Ukraine.

“We also take requests,” says Russell. “We want program executive officers (PEO)s and others to ask for specific briefings and we will tailor our briefings to their areas.”

All briefings are oriented to the appropriate classification level of the audience. The only requirement is that meetings be attended in person. Russell says the intention is to encourage two-way dialogue. “We want people in the room to learn, digest and then talk about what they’ve learned, relate it to what they do, ask questions and discuss options.”

In early briefing sessions, a common question was “Why am I hearing this?” and “What does this have to do with me?” Russell has several answers. The first is that everyone in SSC needs to understand that space is no longer a benign environment. The threat is real, it’s imminent, and SSC must move fast to stay ahead of it. The second is that everyone in SSC has a part to play in staying ahead of the threat.

“The maintenance crew that keeps the runway clear is just as important as the pilot dropping bombs on a target. Mission success depends on everyone doing their part,” said Russell.

Moving forward, SSC’s intelligence group will nearly double, growing from its current staff of 48 to close to 90 full time positions. Plans are to have intelligence personnel directly embedded into each program executive office to provide even more tailored briefings and intelligence.

The intelligence team is also working on an additional initiative to help people who don’t have access to classified information better understand the threat.

“We’re going to do this with a quarterly unclassified briefings for everyone in Command,” said Russell. “We’re calling it In Their Own Words and the briefings will be built around unclassified information directly disseminated by adversarial countries.”

China is the first topic in the queue, followed by Russia, North Korea, and Iran. Briefings will be provided to personnel and will be supplemented with virtual discussion. These will be open to all personnel with a Common Access Card (CAC).

The first issue of In Their Own Words is expected to release this month.

“The end goal is to establish a culture of threat awareness and understanding at all levels of SSC,” said Russell. “Defeating the space threat starts here. We are the ones making the decisions about what to buy or build so that ten to 20 years from now our place in space – and our way of life on earth -- is protected.”