Chief of staff highlights importance of space to Air Force mission

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Ben Gonzales
  • Defense Media Activity-San Antonio
The Air Force's highest ranking uniformed officer spoke on the value of space and the emerging medium of cyberspace during the Air Warfare Symposium and Technology Exposition Feb. 18 in Orlando.

"Virtually all aspects of military operations are affected in some way by the capabilities provided from (space and cyberspace), and it's difficult to overstate their importance to the success of our Armed Forces," said Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff.

"From precision navigation and timing, to global satellite communications, to space-based surveillance and missile warning, our space assets provide us with an unparalleled degree of accuracy, connectivity and situation awareness," the general said. "Our exploitation of cyberspace and advanced information technologies enable us and the Joint team to properly command and control our forces - binding virtually all of our advanced capabilities together into precise, increasingly networked, and better synchronized operations."

Speaking to an audience of more than 500 attendees at the Air Force Association-hosted event, General Schwartz addressed the increased dependence on space and cyber, and the risk of that reliance.

"Because our nation's diverse interests - diplomatically, financially, economically and militarily - exist around the globe, we have an enduring need for robust space and cyber systems and the inherently globally-oriented capabilities that they afford," he said. "From an Air Force perspective, space and cyber power enable our ability to provide global mobility, global strike, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, communications, and many other critical capabilities on which the Joint team relies on us for operational effectiveness.

"Our substantial dependence on space and cyberspace creates vulnerabilities that are potentially exploitable by our adversaries; an outcome with profound strategic implications," General Schwartz said. "Therefore, our efforts to protect these interests in space and cyberspace must be as ambitious as our reliance on these domains. We must be able to deter and defend against attacks on our space and cyber capabilities, and fight through any degradation, disruption or even denial of these vital capabilities."

Threats to space and cyber capabilities pose some of the most significant challenges to the nation's national security, said the 1973 U.S. Air Force Academy graduate. Those who pose these threats must be deterred or, if necessary, compelled to stop.

"Attacks on our space and cyber capabilities are potentially more consequential than what would occur from a purely military perspective," he said. "Because of this, we need to expand our definition of what constitutes a threat to our space and cyber capabilities.

"We must also consider a broader scope of adversaries," said the general with more than 4,300 flying hours in Air Force aircraft. "The list includes not only rival nation-states, but also potentially any number of non-state, sub-national and even individual actors that can threaten the advantage we currently enjoy from space- and cyber-borne capabilities."

Access to space is widening, involving more actors who benefit from, and increasingly rely on space, the general said. "The proliferation of missile and rocket technology, miniaturization techniques for smaller payloads, and other technological advancements are enabling more governments, as well as commercial space providers, to provide launch and satellite services more affordably. This has the ultimate effect of lowering barriers to entry, and suggests that we must always be vigilant in discovering further challenges, to be sure, but also opportunities for deterrence options."

Space and cyberspace also offer opportunities for economic and industrial growth, political leverage and other enablers of national power and influence, General Schwartz said. "Correspondingly, our efforts to stave off potential interference of our space assets gain other possible avenues of deterrence. To address these challenges, we must continue to focus attention on enhanced space situational awareness.

The general said that the Air Force's ability to conduct this vital mission not only helps us to characterize threats as either an intentional act or some other hazard in space. The result is our ability to recognize anomalies and evaluate options for taking action.

"This enhanced situational awareness not only will provide our nation with the ability to evaluate our adversaries' space orders of battle and clarify our understanding of their intent, but also to detect, mitigate and otherwise respond to threats to our space assets. Increased space situational awareness capabilities will also bolster our space cooperation with key international partners and allies."

Current realities continue to suggest the inevitability of contested space, General Schwartz said, noting that in December Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley ordered a top-down evaluation of the Service's management of military space responsibilities. The review is needed, the general said, given that the last significant restructuring took place in 2001. Since that time there are many new legal and regulatory requirements, as well as new agencies and authorities, impacting national security space. The goal is to ensure that "from the Pentagon to our space wings and centers ... appropriate structures and relationships are present to address various challenges."

"Our overall approach for the future must be capabilities-based. Instead of an emphasis solely on protecting satellites, we should also focus on preserving -- through appropriate redundancies -- the force-enhancing capabilities that our space systems provide," he said.

"While we continue to pursue our efforts on operationally responsive space -- to build reliable and responsive operational enablers, and focus them 'on timely satisfaction of joint force commanders' needs,' -- true agile responsiveness should emphasize effectiveness in meeting operational demands irrespective of whether the solution is space-based or otherwise," the general said.

The general concluded his speech by calling attention to the people behind the highly-technical mission -- some 46,000 total force Airmen and contract employees "from acquisition to operations to logistics" -- who are dedicated to supporting the space mission.

"While space and cyberspace certainly showcase our innovation and advanced technology, let us not forget that it is our Airmen, through their daily professional efforts, who make it all happen."