Dr. Lisa Costa, Space Force Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, speaking at Arizona State University.

Dec 07 2022

Q&A: U.S. Space Force CTIO Lisa Costa Is Leading Technical Advances Within the Branch

From actual space to a metaverse-like environment, the Air Force spinoff is looking for advantages in defending the most complex command.

Nearing its third birthday on Dec. 20, the U.S. Space Force is the first new military service created since the Air Force in 1947 — and it happens to take over one of that branch’s responsibilities. Just as the Navy watches over sea-based operations and the Air Force takes to the skies, Space Force’s mission is to defend space. Its Guardians watch for cyberattacks on satellites, collect data about potential adversarial actions and protect space-related activities. Lisa Costa, the force’s first chief technology and innovation officer (and former CIO for U.S. Special Operations Command), works to make sure that Space Force uses cutting-edge technology to operate in its out-of-this-world command.

FEDTECH: Given Space Force’s unique environment and domain, what do you consider to be your IT priority? What challenges does the force face?

COSTA: Space is certainly a unique domain. I like to point out that the U.S. Space Force is the smallest service in the Department of Defense, with the largest area of responsibility. When I arrived at this job, over a year ago now, my charge was leading digital transformation and innovation for the force. When it comes to Space Force information technology priorities, the answer is quite simple: Our Guardians need to be equipped with the right tools and technologies to ensure decision advantage and enable joint warfighter lethality, which includes space warfighters supporting U.S. Space Command, the joint warfighting combatant command for space. Though the answer is simple enough, the path toward the solution is a difficult one.

This brings me to our challenges. Guardians today use antiquated tools, techniques and technologies that limit the Space Force’s ability to support full-spectrum, multidomain operations. We are focused on delivering an integrated mission environment to collaborate, co-create and operate digital capabilities, models, simulations and twins from any user device. We are calling this effort the SpaceVerse. SpaceVerse is Space Force’s version of the Metaverse and will leverage technology being developed in the commercial realm to provide Guardians with leap-ahead capability, including resilient networks, high throughput end devices and infrastructure, allowing them to experience their domain through multiple senses.

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FEDTECH: As a new military branch, did Space Force inherit tech that needs to be modernized or upgraded?

COSTA: The Department of Defense is working on modernization across the board, so yes, the Space Force inherited tech that needs modernization. But, with that said, we are no further behind than any other service and, with SpaceVerse, we are making strides to leapfrog ahead of the next iteration of outdated tech and into the future of augmented reality and virtual reality to enhance data understanding and Guardian reaction times for decision advantage.

FEDTECH: Is your tech still integrated with the Air Force, or are you able to separate the environments and infrastructure?

COSTA: My answer to that largely depends on the definition of “integrated.” We want some level of integration with not only the U.S. Air Force but our other sister services as well. This is why Joint All-Domain Command and Control, JADC2, is a departmentwide effort, and the Advanced Battle Management System, ABMS, is the Department of the Air Force’s contribution to JADC2. Regardless of the color of the uniform our brave young men and women wear, at the end of the day, they all wear the same U.S. flag on their shoulders, so systems must be integrated for joint effects.

All that said, yes, there are still some dependencies the Space Force has on the Air Force. We have a great partnership with Lauren Knausenberger, the CIO for the Department of the Air Force, and her team, and we are continuing to learn where IT roads should diverge and converge between the Air and Space Force’s IT systems.

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FEDTECH: Do you need to think about IT infrastructure differently because your domain is not on land?

COSTA: This leads me back to the first question, because as a unique domain, space makes us think about all things differently, including IT. Guardians experience their domain through data. Fewer than 700 people since the beginning of humankind have experienced the space domain in the real world. And until launching into orbit is as easy as ordering an UberXL, and we have multiple space stations and celestial colonies to house and nourish humans in space, Guardians will continue to experience their domain through data.

Advanced IT capabilities will present space system data to amplify existing Guardian skill sets, situational awareness and decision quality. The right IT will make their digital connection and mountains of data understandable, relatable and flexible to adapt to the emerging situation and deal with the three C’s of space: congested, contested and competitive.

Lisa Costa
As the newest service, born during the digital age, we cannot afford to do things the way they have been done in the past.”

Lisa Costa Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, U.S. Space Force

FEDTECH: What experience do you want new IT workers and Guardians to bring to the table?

COSTA: I think it’s a great start to be digitally fluent. Understand that as the newest service, born during the digital age, we cannot afford to do things the way they have been done in the past. We are too small of an organization and our responsibilities are too vast. We must use data to make smart decisions and we must use tools like artificial intelligence and machine learning to help us.

We kicked off a program last year called the Software Development Immersive (SDI). Once our Guardians complete the program, they are called “Supra Coders” and provide organic software development knowledge and experience to their units. SDI graduates are adaptive problem-solvers who support software mission requirements for weapons systems and mission applications. This program allows us to build internal digital literacy while keeping USSF units digitally connected and operating at the speed of the most advanced technologies. This is a program we are very excited about, and with 52 Supra Coders to date and a plan to train more than 90 this fiscal year, we are looking forward to a time when Supra Coders lead, manage and operate highly functioning, integrated and autonomous teams.

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FEDTECH: Does Space Force have different cybersecurity issues because it’s new, or because its domain is space?

COSTA: Nope, just the same issues as everybody else. Just because we are a new service does not mean we are new to operating in space and just now interested in cybersecurity. Before the standup of the Space Force, our sister services acquired capabilities, trained personnel and operated space systems with efficiency and effectiveness. Once established in December 2019, our task from the American people was to increase our efficiency and effectiveness, because that is what the American people and our joint warfighters deserve. And we continue to work on cybersecurity issues; in fact, within Space Operations Command is an organization called Delta 6. The men and women who work within Delta 6 assure access to space and provide defensive cyberspace capabilities for space mission systems. And although Delta 6 retains the mission for defensive cyberspace operations, more and more cyberdefense teams and mission defense teams are being integrated into other Deltas and other space mission sets.

Our first Chief of Space Operations, Gen. Jay Raymond, said, “I am not confident that we can achieve victory, or even compete, in a modern conflict without space power, and I am not willing to lose in order to learn.” As the Space Force chief technology and innovation officer, it is my and my team’s job to lead digital transformation and innovation for the force. Delivering SpaceVerse will be a great first step, but we have a long way to go, and we must move quickly so that if it ever comes to a conflict or competition in space, we do not learn our lessons the hard way. Semper Supra!

Courtesy Photo/Space Force
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