Space Force ISR Director Reflects on the Successes and Challenges of Standing Up Directorate


Major General Leah Lauderback is no stranger to standing up organizations like the U.S. Space Force’s Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) directorate. In 2019, she was tasked with laying the initial groundwork for the U.S. Space Command’s intel branch. So when she was asked 15 months ago to serve as the Space Force ISR director and to stand up its directorate, she was fully prepared and ready to “go after it.”

On April 2nd, Lauderback sat down with the Mitchell Institute’s Space Power Forum to discuss the successes and challenges of Space Force’s ISR, as well as reflect on the directorate’s stand up process.

Lauderback opened the forum by reaffirming her top priorities as the Space Force ISR director, which include standing up Space Force headquarters, establishing its intelligence center, building up the Space Force ISR enterprise, creating and enhancing the capacity and capability to characterize adversaries, and becoming a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC).

One of her first-year priorities has already been checked off the to-do list. Last January, Space Force was welcomed as the newest addition to the IC, and, as of now, is in full compliance with all IC directives. Describing it as the “first big win,” Lauderback feels that the directorate’s positioning in the IC is “small…but powerful.”

When asked if Space Force would be able to immediately establish itself as one of the more dominant participants in the IC, she responded, “I don’t know that I want to be dominant, but I do want to be on par with other services and with the other agencies.”

As for growing the Space Force ISR enterprise, that will always be an in-process and on-going priority for Lauderback. Throughout these initial months, she has been working closely with Lieutenant General Mary F. O’Brien, the U.S. Air Force’s Deputy Chief of Staff for ISR and Cyber Effects Operations, to ensure that Space Force intelligence professionals are provided the support they need in order to be successful in their respective roles.

When posed with comparing the Space Force and Air Force ISR directorates, Lauderback says that the functions are similar, but the scope and size will vastly differ.

One similarity they share is that they are both members of the IC, and they both must maintain and be in compliance with certain intelligence directives. Also, like the Air Force ISR, Space Force has put a career functional manager in place to professionally develop its ISR talent management framework.

Scope and size are where the two begin to diverge, which, in this case, Lauderback views as a positive during the foundational process. “The other intelligence directorates…are much, much larger than what we will ever be,” she explains. “So, that really helps me to prioritize what it is that we will be able to do on our staff.”

As for challenges currently facing the Space Force ISR, Lauderback acknowledged that there is an inadequate ability to characterize space domain threats with the speed and confidence that is necessary. She explained that detection and assessment of terrestrial adversaries is much more established than those in orbit. “We have it covered looking down. The issue is looking up,” she said. “I want to get after this priority, but we’re just not there yet from a manpower or expertise standpoint.”

To remedy these shortfalls, Space Force will be setting up a Space Warfighting Analysis Center (SWAC) to determine what they have and what they need. SWAC will also be able to ascertain what Space Force will need from a communications and ISR capability standpoint.

Lauderback also addressed the assumption that there is major overlap among space agencies across the various military space enterprise entities. “There’s probably not as much overlap as folks might think,” she said. “Organizations that have an intelligence function and are looking in the space domain…have got a role and a function to perform.” However, she did agree that as Space Force grows, there must be a level of commitment to maintain and deliberately define who does what in the space domain.

Looking ahead, Lauderback is in the midst of planning the launch of the National Space Intelligence Center (NSIC). “I’m excited about this one,” she said. “We have a working group that’s been meeting for a number of weeks now…I am marching towards the goal of January 2022 of actually being able to stand up [NSIC] at an initial operating capacity.”

Reflecting on the past 15 months, she is extremely pleased with her and her team’s efforts in building Space Force’s ISR enterprise from the ground up. “I am very proud of what we’ve accomplished from an intelligence perspective,” she said. “I think we’ve been really successful.”

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