SecAF delivers message of confidence

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Mike Slater
  • Air Force Space Command Public Affairs
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James spoke to an audience of military and commercial space professionals, and space enthusiasts at the 31st Annual Space Symposium here April 16, adding to an already familiar message.

"You might think I am here from our headquarters at the Pentagon to bring you the message that space is congested, contested and competitive. I know you've heard that before and, yes, I am going to bring you that message because all of that is true," the secretary said. "But I have an even bigger message today, it's a message of confidence. Confidence that we, the United States of America working shoulder to shoulder with our allies and partners, will not be bested."

James spoke about what she sees as the top three takeaways regarding the space domain.

First, is the importance of space, not only to military operations and national security, but to our way of life.

James said all Airmen need to help get the word out to the American people about just how important space is. From precision timing used for ATMs and international banking, to GPS systems in cars and phones. To include weather prediction to satellite communications on international flights -- space affects people in their daily lives. Space is even more important for our military strategy and a key domain for our combatant commanders.

The second, is the space domain is changing rapidly.

"We see a number of threats in space; it's everything from space debris, where even a small object can do great damage in the event of a collision, to the potential for hostile actors in space," James said. "Unfortunately, there are some nations that have chosen to demonstrate anti-satellite weapons that not only destroy a satellite, but create debris that threatens the entire space environment."

The growing importance of space combined with the rapidly increasing and evolving threats in space lead to the secretary's third takeaway -- the Air Force must change its mindset and think about space differently than in the past.

"We need to be ready. We constantly talk about readiness in the Air Force and readiness in space is no less important than in any other domain," James said. "We need to be ready in case a conflict extends to space, while promoting the responsible use of space. We need to wrap our heads around the idea that space may not always be a peaceful domain and respond accordingly."

The 2015 National Security Strategy talks about enhancing the resiliency of critical U.S. space capabilities. In order to meet that goal, the Air Force accomplished a strategic review of the entire space portfolio. The review looked at threats, capabilities, resources, planned investments, space force organization and the overall space posture.

"Our review told us that our space strategy as it existed was right on the money in some areas, but it was somewhat off the mark in some areas," James said. "We hit upon three specific focus areas where we felt we needed to make adjustments."

The first focus area is to posture space for defense.

"Historically, we designed and built our space systems to operate in an environment that was not contested," James said. "This is no longer the case. We need to change our thinking in order to confront the threat of a possible conflict that one day could extend into space."

James said responding to a competent space adversary would be quite different than adjusting space operations due to debris or an engineering challenge.

Second is upping the ante on mission assurance.

"We need to ensure our mission can get done despite what could be a very challenging environment, to include challenges of one day having warfare effects in space," James said. "We must not let potential adversaries ever deny us the use of space."

The third focus area is an increased commitment to space situational awareness.

"Whether it is debris or other satellites, we must have the ability to maintain awareness within the space domain at all times. Knowledge is power and we need ever-improving eyes in the sky," James said.

"We will need a change in culture to accomplish a change in posture. Things like: modeling and simulation, training and operational exercises. Non-space people in the audience may say those sound like things we do in every other aspect of the military, and you would be right. "

James explained several other priorities for the space "way ahead."

Space mission assurance includes many follow-on systems, such as GPSIII, which will provide a more robust civilian signal and a jam-resistant military signal M-Code, and upgrades to existing systems, such as the Joint Space Operations Center Mission System, or JMS.

"We are investing more and accelerating the delivery of JMS to help us continue to process sensor data, but also increase command and control of space operations," James said.

"Furthermore we are investing in defensive capabilities to detect satellite communication jamming and pin point such sources -- information that will help us assure the continued use of our critical capabilities."

The third focus area, space situational awareness, allows the U.S. and its allies and partners to safely operate in space.

Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program, or GSSAP, tests are progressing well. GSSAP's mission is to observe objects in geosynchronous orbit. The Space Fence program is another SSA system that will be able to better detect and track smaller objects than ever before.

"I want to underscore, it is not just about acquiring new capabilities. It is also about getting more bang for our buck by coming up with new ways to use existing capabilities," James said. "Today we are leveraging the Space Based Infrared System from its primary use as a missile warning system to deliver what we hope to be game-changing capabilities to combatant commanders with eyes on the battle space.

"I am pleased to announce SBIRS will go operational next summer for intelligence purposes, as well," James said.

James said these goals cannot be achieved by doing it alone. She said we will need strong partnerships with industry and our allies.

"We want two or more domestic launch service providers capable of launching our entire national security space manifest," James said. "To accomplish this we need to continue to partner with industry and make positive adjustments to our launch provider certification process."

James wrapped up by thanking our Airmen, who she called, our best secret weapon.

"We have 24,000 Airmen who are working very hard, right now today," she said. "I'm talking about active duty, National Guard, Reserve and civilian Airmen. And we have contractor partners who are also critical to our overall operations. I want to thank all of you, very, very much for all that you're doing."