Kendall highlights space’s importance, need to ‘transform’ operations and thinking for the domain

  • Published
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

Presenting a robust case for operating in – and defending – space, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said April 5 that “transforming” without delay priorities, practices and spending for the domain is necessary to adequately adapt to a theater that is more volatile yet also increasingly essential to the nation’s security and everyday life.

“Space is a warfighting domain now,” Kendall bluntly told an audience of senior government, industry, military and commercial space officials during his keynote address at the 37th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“We need to transform our capabilities because we no longer can put up expensive and easily targeted systems in space and expect to operate with impunity; that era is over, it’s been over for a while,” Kendall said.

Not surprisingly, Kendall listed China as the “pacing threat,” with Russia also demanding unblinking attention.

“China’s long-standing and extensive modernization program is the greatest challenge to the Department of Defense’s and the Department of the Air Force’s ability to perform its missions,” he said. “Although China is the Department’s pacing challenge, we also regard Russia as an acute threat.”

“Both countries have recently challenged agreed-upon international norms and behaviors in outer space. Our Space Force must be capable of protecting our assets, so we can continue to support the joint force, maintain our nation’s infrastructure and support our international partners’ space capabilities.”

That circumstance is one reason Kendall said he and U.S. Space Force Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, have locked arms on the priorities for space and how to accomplish them.

In discussing those efforts with Raymond, Kendall said, “we shared an understanding of the need to transform our capabilities in space to meet our pacing challenge. China, China, China.”

“Our shared priorities for the Space Force are to determine how to transition to a resilient and robust space architecture and how to counter our potential adversaries’ growing space-based support to terrestrial operations and how to do this as fast as possible,” Kendall said.

If that description was vague, Kendall quickly made it granular.

“The fundamental problem we see is the growing threat to America’s ability to project power to deter aggression and, if necessary, defend our interests and our allies,” he said.

“That growing threat takes the form of a variety of threats to the space-based systems and services our nation depends upon. From direct assent (anti-satellite weapons) to co-orbital weapons of various types, our satellites are increasingly at risk; and long-range precision missiles place the entire joint force at risk.”

Additionally, Kendall noted that space-based weapon systems are a potent threat to “terrestrial forces.”

“These situations are not acceptable, and they require transformative change. In our recent budget request (for the 2023 fiscal year), we are taking major steps to initiate that transformation,” he said.

The freshly submitted budget request includes line items “for resilient missile warning and tracking capabilities and … the first instantiation of communications architecture that will support the joint force in any conflict with our pacing challenge,” Kendall said.

In short, Kendall said, “the United States Space Force must transform its space capabilities to increase our resiliency against these and other threats – and we must do so quickly.”

All of this is happening in close collaboration with other branches of the military, Department of Defense leadership, the intelligence community and new approaches to designing and purchasing equipment, he said.

“Alignment of DoD and intelligence community requirements for space isn’t just an obvious synergy, it’s a necessity,” Kendall said.
Close collaboration with allies is critical too, he said. “Mutually-beneficial alliances and partnerships, especially in air and space, are an enduring strength for the United States and for all of us.”

All of it requires funding. On that front, Kendall was unapologetic.

“You may have noticed that the Space Force request is 40 percent above last year’s … This is not evidence of bureaucratic success; it’s a recognition of the importance of the Space Force and the capabilities it provides,” he said.

“The Department of the Air Force’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget will continue and accelerate the process of providing capabilities to the Air Force and Space Force that will be transformative technologically and operationally. The threats we face demand nothing less.”

Kendall’s remarks and his emphasis are not new.

He has been pushing the idea that space is essential for future success, as is increased speed to reshape, re-equip and modernize operations in space. That focus and those themes are shared across the Biden administration, reflected most recently in the budget proposal the White House submitted to Congress last week that directed new money to updating “space architecture” and for the still-nascent Space Force.

“The Space Force will continue to operate, train, and equip warfighters based on President Biden’s guidance for national security. Our Department will develop technologies and capabilities that ensure the United States and other democratic nations can continue to defend themselves against aggression and prevail over autocracy. The fight between democracy and autocracy isn’t easy, but losing is unacceptable,” Kendall said.