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US Navy will upgrade warships to add unnamed space capabilities

Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz Carrier Strike Groups in the South China Sea Feb. 9, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Elliot Schaudt)

U.S. Navy ships will get new space capabilities in future upgrades as the service looks to increase its contribution to the military’s space efforts, Navy officials said Thursday.

“The Navy absolutely is planning as part of the upgrades to the ship’s systems to have tremendous increase in space domain awareness capability,” said Rear Adm. Michael Bernacchi, the director for strategy, plans, and policy at U.S. Space Command. He spoke during the Navy and Space panel at the 36th Space Symposium, being held in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The plan is to upgrade more than 30 ships over the next few years, up from one ship today, as well as to the Aegis Ashore systems that provide missile defense. Bernacchi believes by that time the Navy will become a “significant space player.”

The upgrades will allow for “independent space domain capability, tracking of objects in the background, which doesn’t take away from any of its other capabilities. So that is a huge upgrade,” he said.

Bernacchi was not clear what “objects” he was referring to, but did say he is constantly talking to the Missile Defense Agency because they are fielding the systems.

One possibility for the lack of specificity on the “objects” or the system upgrades might be due to the tight secrecy the military wraps around its space efforts. Breaking Defense reported last week that the Pentagon has been working for months to declassify the existence of a secret space weapon program so it can demonstrate its capabilities. Bernacchi even complained during the panel that “everything is classified” about space, and said the military eventually needs to work towards a better balance.

The upgrades to the ships and the Aegis Ashore will also be integrated in the Navy’s networks, connecting ships located across the geographic combatant commands.

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