Lt. Gen. John Shaw, deputy commander of the U.S. Space Command, said today that he sees deployment of AI technologies as vital to accomplishing the service branch’s missions.

Speaking at an event organized by the America’s Future Series, Shaw laid out three big mission cases for AI deployments in response to a query during a Q&A session with Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas.

“Space and cyber are BFFs [best friends forever],” Shaw said. “You can’t separate the two. Space is relying on cyber, cyber is relying on space. Each of those domains depends on the technological forefront of the other.”

“AI is exactly one of those,” he said. “There are at least three ways that I think we will be using artificial intelligence in the future from a U.S. Space Force and Space Command perspective.”

The first mission case, he said, is “space domain awareness” that involves getting a handle on the vast “volume of space that we need to observe and understand.”

“When you just look at the Earth-Moon system and try to understand what is happening in that system, you have what I call a tyranny of volume … that’s a daunting task,” he said.

“It becomes a classic what we used to call a big data problem, but it’s even more than that today,” he said. “We need to use every possible form of data available to us, whether that’s supplied by our government systems or by our commercial partners or allied partners or others to bring that all together, to fuse that, and understand what is happening in our domain, and then apply to that some predictive analytics to give an idea of what’s going to happen in the near future so we can be ready for that.”

“So, I’d start with just understanding and awareness as one big one big use of artificial intelligence,” he said.

Gen. Shaw said a second AI mission case comes from the expected proliferation of platforms in space that will be smaller in size than today’s satellites and operating autonomously.

“We’re going to need some sort of machine learning and artificial intelligence as part of that enterprise, so they know what they’re doing,” he said. “We won’t be able to think that we can control that all by humans, in real time, especially as they get further and further from the planet, and even the speed of light starts to be a common concern for us.”

“We’re going to need them to be really, really smart platforms to do their jobs well,” he said. “Those requirements, again, will leverage artificial intelligence in a large way.”

The third mission case, the general said, involves integrated operations of space-based and terrestrial domains that are contributing to space operations and space flight.

“How do I command and control all of that,” he asked. “That’s a larger military command and control problem and challenge than we’ve ever seen in any other domains or any other activities that we’ve done. When we look and see how that how we would execute that, we’re going to need what AI can bring to bear to do to be effective, given that challenge.”

Gen. Shaw also pointed out that the U.S. will have increasing competition in space from adversaries who will be embracing AI tech in the same ways. That factor, he said, is “all the more reasons why we need to embrace it, understand it and use it as effectively as quickly as we can to ensure that we stay ahead.”

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.