* General says combined space operations would have deterrent effect
* Joining forces in space could save money, narrow coverage gaps
* Concept in line with new U.S. national security space strategy
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado, April 19 The United States is examining the possibility of carrying out certain military space operations with allied countries, in much the same way as it conducts joint air and naval operations, a senior U.S. Air Force general said on Thursday.
"What we know from looking at every military operation that we undertake is that there is value in combined and coalition operations. It's time for us to bring those concepts to space," General Robert Kehler, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told industry executives at a conference in Colorado.
In time, he said, the U.S. military could also extend joint operations to cyberspace, said Kehler, whose command is responsible for U.S. operations in space and cyberspace.
The initiative is in line with the Obama administration's increased focus on international partnerships and collaboration in many areas, including space.
Such efforts could also save money at a time when budgets are declining in the United States and Europe.
Kehler said combined space operations would have a deterrent value by giving potential adversaries far more to consider, but it would also give the U.S. government a quick way to increase its knowledge about what is going on in space.
He said the Pentagon was in "a period of discovery" to determine the value of combined space operations, after which it would brief the respective governments.
The Obama administration released a national security space strategy in January 2011 that called for increased partnerships with other countries, international organizations and commercial firms. It mapped out various areas for possible collaboration, including missile warning and monitoring of the world's oceans.
Kehler said day-to-day operations had already shown the value of working together with other governments, including, for instance, when the Russian Mars spacecraft, Phobos Grunt, reentered the Earth's atmosphere ahead of schedule.
The United States had gaps in its sensor coverage of space, but those gaps could be narrowed if a number of countries joined forces, Kehler said, noting that information-sharing was one of the cornerstones of other combined military operations.
"It makes sense for us," he told the annual conference hosted by the Space Foundation. "It makes sense for all the same reasons that combined operations in every other warfighting discipline make sense."
Kehler noted that the current thinking would not require construction of a physical center for combined space operations, which could be costly. "There are multiple ways we can go forward without creating an investment burden. That allows us to reap the operational benefits," he said.
Kehler had no immediate comment on which countries could be included in any combined space operations.
Washington already works together with Australia, Canada and Britain on satellite programs. It also provides positioning, navigation, and timing services to foreign partners from the Global Positioning System satellites.
In February, Richard McKinney, U.S. Air Force deputy undersecretary for space programs, said Washington was looking for ways to increase international collaboration to save money and increase capabilities in leaner budget times, but he did not specifically mention combined space operations.
In January, the Pentagon said Canada, New Zealand, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands would contribute $620 million toward the $1 billion cost of building and operating a ninth satellite in the new Wideband Global System, a U.S. military communications system built by Boeing Co.