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US Space Systems Command appoints Jennifer Krolikowski CIO

Including in her remit: A “cyber sandbox for hackers” in space

Colonel Jennifer Krolikowski has been appointed Chief Information Officer (CIO) of US Space Systems Command (SCC). A former lead engineer on the B-52 with flight hours under her belt, more recently she has been heading up the command’s enterprise corps’ “data/cyber coding factory”, Space C2 program, known as Kobayashi Maru. She has also served as director of staff for space, strategic, and intelligence systems, office of the Secretary of Defense and as branch chief for Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) on Joint Staff at the Pentagon.

Among her challenges: bringing more agility and an “enterprise” approach to the field command. (Reading between the lines of some recent public papers and discussions around the otherwise tight-lipped space, SCC along with the broader US Space Force appears to be working to overcome many challenges familiar to IT leaders: legacy technology, outdated waterfall processes, the need for more interoperability, deep silos and sometimes poorly performing heavily restricted devices for employees wanting to work at pace and more flexibly.)

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She has hands-on experience delivering both through her work with “Kobayashi Maru”, the coding factory that provides battle management command-and-control software tools. There she partnered extensively with the commercial sector -- noting in a recent discussion on the merits or otherwise of DOD software factories and their code: “10% of my product teams’ make up are organic, government coders. The rest are augmented by industry members be it a traditional defense prime or non-traditional companies… I use commercial throughout my tech stacks mostly notably in the platform, infrastructure, and data layers. The challenge always comes back to the application layer which tends to be harder to ‘buy something straight off the shelf and use it as is’ given the capabilities being asked for, the security requirements needed to operationalize it, etc...”

What is Space Systems Command?

Space Systems Command is the US Space Force field command responsible for “delivering “sustainable joint space warfighting capabilities to defend the nation and its allies while disrupting adversaries in the contested space domain”.

Its mission areas include launch acquisition and operations; space domain awareness; positioning, navigation, and timing; missile warning; satellite communication; and more. Previously known as “the Space and Missile Systems Center” it became a component of the US Space Force in 2019 (it was previously under the Air Force) and was renamed as Space Systems Command in April 2021.

“I’m happy to share that I’m starting a new position as Chief Information Officer at Space Systems Command!” Col Jennifer Krolikowski posted on LinkedIn, adding: "“I’m looking forward to bringing tech to bear to further our business objectives -- be it on the individual level (let’s bring parity between our personal tech experience and the work experience!) or for mission success. Excited to serve this customer base”.)

The decorated leader, who holds three masters degrees (Aeronautical Engineering; Military Operational Art & Science; Strategic Studies) has been awarded over 15 major honors and was promoted to Colonel in 2017.

Pressure on SCC to deliver

Senior Space Force leaders are ramping up the pressure on field commands to deliver more, faster.

“SSC needs to re-energize its approach to seeing, understanding and rapidly developing while fielding new capabilities to keep us ahead of threats that we see from China and others,” Space Force Vice Chief of Space Operations General David D. Thompson told staff in October 2021: “[Tell us what you need] in order to change policy and regulations, and even work with Congress to change laws that will allow us to move faster.”

He said: "Commercial companies are moving so rapidly. We need to develop partnerships with the commercial sector to understand what they are doing as well as... leverage it to our benefit. We have to put authority and responsibility back into the hands of the senior materiel leaders to give them the authority and resources to stay engaged at a strategic level. But leave them alone to do the business we have trained them to do."

On the Space Systems Command CIO's in-tray...

Among the tasks on the CIO's in-tray is delivering upgraded Space Domain Awareness and "space event management" tools. One project is called ATLAS ("Advanced Tracking and Launch Analysis System").

In a January 21, 2022 release, the SCC said "ATLAS development under this award will include collaborating with mission operators, government and industry stakeholders, using modern software development methods, such as DevSecOps, Agile and User-Centered Design. SSC’s modernization of USSF’s SDA capabilities through ATLAS will enable the decommissioning of the SPADOC system, a legacy space management tool. When ATLAS is deployed, operators and stakeholders will coordinate to make sure ATLAS reaches the operational acceptance milestone to implement the SPADOC decommissioning Minimum Viable Capabilities (MVCs).

"[These] include automated processing and maintenance of astrometric baseline - the space catalog of all known space objects; manual and automated observation association, orbit determination, and propagation of general perturbation and special perturbation; manual and automated uncorrelated track processing; event processing; manual and automated uncorrelated track processing; tasking and calibration; and processing satellite conjunctions. The first MVC set to be delivered is observation processing and association where ATLAS will receive sensor observation messages, process, analysis, and use the sensor data for space domain awareness."

Space hackers ftw

On a slightly lighter note, SCC sponsors the annual Hack-A-Sat competition. This made its debut in 2020 during hacking conference in the world, DEF CON Safemode.

Hackers get to play with non-orbiting satellite emulations built-out with sensors hardware and software, with finalists participating in an “attack/defend” style competition, with each team having to attack the other team’s satellite systems while maintaining their own defenses to protect their own space asset systems. Sounds fun? It's about to get more so: SCC's "ultimate Hack-A-Sat goal", it noted in late 2021, "is to provide a live on-orbit satellite for the hackers to breach in 2023."

As Captain Aaron Bolen, program manager of the project, which has been dubbed "Moonlighter", said: "Moonlighter will be a cyber-sandbox for hackers in space. Think of this as the ultimate cyber challenge for hackers as well as an awesome opportunity for the SSC team to develop, design and launch a satellite.”

There's not been any news on this recently but Hack-a-Sat's social channels have promised that "something big is coming" on May 21-22, 2022 when Hack-a-Sat 3 starts. Stay tuned. Hack-a-Sat FAQs are here.

See also: “It is borderline criminal” — US Air Force CSO quits with a bang