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AF will defend, boost space assets

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Space is absolutely vital to the American way of life and it is also vital to the protection of the nation, the commander of Air Force Space Command told the Defense Writers’ Group here April 28.

“The job of the United States military is to prepare for the threats you see, and the threats that may be coming,” said Gen. John E. Hyten. “We’re aggressively looking at our current capabilities and our future capabilities to figure out what we have to do to prepare for those threats.”

The threats are real. In 2011, China demonstrated an anti-satellite capability by destroying a satellite more than 500 miles in space. Russia and China have looked at laser weapons and at microsatellites. The weapons are still in development, Hyten said, “but they are very close to fruition, and we need to be prepared for that.”

Moving forward, the Air Force is looking at the next generation of satellites and ensuring they will be more resilient and have more defensive capabilities built into them, he said.

“As we look at our response options we are going to ensure we have real-time command and control capabilities in our command and control centers,” the general said. He also promised to build up the command and control centers, and noted that the fiscal year 2016 budget request asks for funding for this.

Change is coming

Hyten said he aims to shake things up in the space world.

“We’ve become very comfortable in the status quo,” he said. “(Air Force) Space Command was created in 1982. So it’s the oldest stateside major command in the Air Force.

“When we started, none of the stuff we operate existed. We had weather satellites, radars, early warning systems -- that was it. The people in my command have basically developed the capabilities that fundamentally changed warfare forever, and we won’t go back,” Hyten continued.

“Now the hard part is convincing my Airmen and the culture at large that we have to change,” he said. “The biggest concern I have is not pushing down new ideas, but pulling up new ones out of some very innovative people who are just growing comfortable with the status quo. We have to get back to that sense of innovation, back to the ways of creating something new.”

Hyten said he wants people to try new methods and exploit new technologies. He wants people to look at older technologies in new ways and perhaps with new purposes. He mentioned chip scale atomic clocks -– small accurate timepieces that can be used for a number of military applications from preventing improvised explosive device detonation to ensuring uninterrupted communications.

As the commander of AFSPC, Hyten also has responsibility for the service’s cyber mission. Cyber protection is part of every decision on space systems, he said.

“There are millions of probes every year into our networks, from every corner of the world,” he said. “One of the reasons we have a very robust network and a very robust cyber protection capability is because of those continuous probes.”

Hyten said the probes originate with nations all the way through criminal networks to just curious individuals. “If you think you’re safe in cyber, then when you wake up tomorrow everything is different,” he said. “Cyber changes that fast, you can never feel too comfortable in cyber.”

Improved efficiency

The command is well situated to move forward, the general said. “Seven or eight years ago, think about space programs … all the programs were fundamentally broken,” he said. “Disaster.”

The space programs all had overruns, Hyten said.

“We weren’t launching anything. We weren’t delivering anything,” he said.

But over the past four years, the space investment budget has gone from $8 billion a year to $6 billion, “and we didn’t cut a thing out. We actually took money out of the budget and kept delivering all the capabilities,” he said.

These included such programs as the space-based infrared system and the global positioning system block two satellites, Hyten said. “We actually added the space fence into that portfolio,” he said, adding that the once “out of control” evolved expendable launch vehicle is now under control.

“Now as we look at the threats we have to pursue, all -- up to the president of the United States -- have recognized we have to put money into that capability,” the general said. “The administration has announced an additional $5 billion coming at our response to the threats we see out there.”

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