The top echelon of the United States’ civilian and military leadership offered unflinching assurances April 9, that America’s superiority in space will endure even as competition – and the stakes – for primacy intensify.
In remarks to more than 1,500 government, military, industry and international leaders at the 35th Space Symposium, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan set a tone on at least one dominant point that was followed in quick succession in speeches by Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein.
“The threat is clear,” Shanahan said. “We’re in an era of great power competition, and the next major conflict may be won or lost in space.”
Because of actions by Russia, China and other nations, “space is no longer a sanctuary – it is now a warfighting domain,” Shanahan said. “This is not a future or theoretical threat; this is today’s threat. We are not going to sit back and watch – we are going to act.”
Wilson and Goldfein echoed and amplified those themes while also offering details for how the Air Force is meeting the new dynamic in space.
“America is the best in the world at space, and our adversaries know it,” Wilson said. Rather than becoming complacent, Wilson said the Air Force’s comprehensive approach is grounded in “a clear-eyed assessment of the world as it is.”
Wilson also highlighted how the Air Force is driving the change to field tomorrow’s capabilities faster and smarter by using authorities given to the service by Congress. That includes flattening the Space and Missile System Center organization and using the “speed as demonstrated” approach as employed by the Space Enterprise Consortium.
For Wilson that “clear eyed” assessment also extended to the upcoming debate in Congress and within the administration that will produce the critical details on the Space Force, a new 6th branch of the military.
“Different missions will require different solutions. One size does not fit all,” she said.
She and Goldfein highlighted changes the Air Force has already instituted that include revamping the acquisition process to make it faster and more nimble. As part of that effort, Wilson announced that a “Pitch Day” event devoted specifically to space will be held next year in Los Angeles. It follows one in March in New York in which 51 contracts, valued at $8.75 million, were awarded in a single day. Most were completed in 15 minutes, the fastest being awarded in less than three minutes.
“To further develop the force, we are graduating our first class of Schriever Scholars and expanding education on space to include junior officer, enlisted and international students,” Goldfein noted on the advent of new training efforts focusing on space.
Both emphasized the need to collaborate with allies and industry. “We prefer the power of collaboration over coercion,” Goldfein said to draw the comparison.
A sufficient budget, delivered on time also helps Wilson said in thanking Congress for its action on the current fiscal year budget. Space is a prominent fixture in the White House budget proposed for fiscal 2020. That budget calls for a 17 percent increase on space, pushing the total to $14 billion.
Such speed and innovation is crucial, Wilson and Goldfein said, since the United States is no longer alone.
“China is militarizing commercial space technologies and incorporating counter-space technologies into warfighting strategies,” she said. “Russia is developing ground-launched missiles, directed-energy weapons and sophisticated satellites to advance their counter-space capabilities.
“We must be able to leverage innovation in the commercial space industry to stay at the forefront of technology and ensure our access to space,” she said.
Goldfein touched on similar concepts but presented them through the lens of a warfighter.
“The ultimate objective is to make the prospect of conflict so painful for an adversary that they should prefer dealing with the secretary of state rather than the secretary of defense,” Goldfein said.