SPACE SYMPOSIUM: If war breaks out between the United States and a competitor like China, it will almost certainly be fought in space, just as it would be fought on land, at sea and in the air, the head of Air Force Space Command said in an interview.
“Space is a warfighting domain just like air, land and sea. We have to be prepared to fight a full range of operations,” Gen. Jay Raymond, head of Air Force Space Command, told me in a room overlooking the conference floor, packed with space gear. “Look at what China did in 2007. They shot down a satellite using an ASAT. We have to be able to be prepared to respond to that full range. We don’t want this fight. It’s not a fight we want to get into. It’s not a fight that, in my opinion, anybody wins.”
This is the rub of using weapons in or from space. Once it begins, who gains an advantage? Every side would lose huge amounts of intellectual, technical and monetary treasure once the fighting starts in space. But Raymond, Gen. John Hyten — the head of Strategic Command — and a wide array of Air Force officers with whom I’ve spoken over the last three days all clearly believe the U.S. must be able to wage war in space.
One of the most interesting aspects of this is the new, extremely close relationship between AFSPC and the National Reconnaissance Office. In fact, it’s slowly become clear that the Space Enterprise Vision really marked a new warfighting relationship between two groups that had traditionally had very carefully circumscribed relations — especially on the NROs side. If you comb through the most recent description of the Space Enterprise Vision, which has remained a frustratingly vague thing to most of us, you will find that it “was developed jointly by Air Force Space Command and the NRO.”
The Air Force is developing its Concepts of Operations (CONOPS) hand in hand with the NRO, a very significant shift for the United States. Much of that work has been done by the 70 to 80 people currently working at the National Space Defense Center (formerly known as the JICSPOC). The two sides have run what they call experiments, but these are clearly helping build the CONOPS.
Given the significant shift in public rhetoric from the Air Force about warfighting in space over the last two years (including Strategic Command’s Gen. John Hyten’s appearance on “60 Minutes” while he was head of AFSPC), I asked Gen. Raymond if there’s been a significant uptick in the number of space warfare exercises, war games and the like. He said the number hasn’t increased much: “I think the big thing that has increased is the robustness of the exercises and the war games and the multi-domain integration of this.” More complex training for the Air Force’s Space Mission Force is one of the results.
I asked Gen. Raymond about Rep. Mike Rogers’ plan to compel creation of a new Space Force, which would mark the birth of a fifth military service. There are lots of rumors here that Acting Air Force Secretary Lisa Disbrow and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein rushed creation of what they’re calling the A-11, a three-star general who will oversee all space issues for the Air Force staff, to counter Rogers’ plan. (One rumor has them making the decision about the A-11 on the Thursday before the Space Symposium began.)
Raymond said he and his staff have been working very closely with Rogers.
“I applaud Congressman Rogers’ leadership in this area,” the general said. “He’s laid out a vision. We are working very closely with him and his team, and I’ll tell you, we are in vast alignment with the majority of the vision.”