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‘Complacency’ must be avoided to maintain U.S. superiority in space, Saltzman says

  • Published
  • By Charles Pope, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
Chief of Space Operations, Gen. Chance Saltzman April 19 praised the United States’ proud and trailblazing history in space but said the rapidly changing and more dangerous domain requires new actions, thinking and focus.

“This crowd is passionate about space; I see no signs of apathy,” Saltzman said during his keynote speech at the 2023 Space Symposium, a large gathering of government, military, industry, and experts in space held annually in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

But, he said, “I’m worried about a far more subtle form of complacency. One that grows out of the comfort of continuity, the comfort of our expertise, the comfort of our successes. What we have done and how we have done it has worked and worked well, but I fear we think it will work well forever.”

Saltzman, who became the Space Force’s highest-ranking military officer in November, declared, “now is not the time to allow for any measure of complacency. … We are now at the precipice of a new era in space.”

“This new era,” he said, “comes with new challenges and new opportunities and mandates that we adopt new methods and mindsets to address them. The Space Force, our industry partners, our allies, and inter-agency teammates must collectively pivot to new ways of doing business to keep up with the new operating environment.”
Space today is “far more contested and U.S. access to space capabilities is not a given,” Saltzman said.

It is defined by “increased competition from adversaries able to execute space-enabled attack on our forces in air, land and sea,” he said.

It also is a time of “rapidly diminishing launch costs and the ability to manufacture small, highly capable satellites with speed and scale.”

Saltzman’s appearance was the concluding portion of a “one-two punch” first from Department of the Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall detailing the changing nature of space. Both highlighted space’s critical importance to both national security and everyday life and each outlined what is needed to meet both the threats and growing number of nations and private entities now active in space.

Like Kendall, Saltzman enumerated the activity and threats but, in more detail, to support the Space Force’s mission and its goals.

“We are seeing an incredibly sophisticated array of threats including the traditional SATCOM jammers and GPS jammers to more destabilizing Direct Ascent ASATs across multiple orbital regimes, on-orbit grapplers, pursuit satellites, nesting dolls, directed energy weapons (and) cyber-attacks,” Saltzman said.

Like Kendall, Saltzman said China is one of the most active and capable competitors in space.

“The PRC, our pacing challenge, has doubled the number of their satellites just since the U.S. Space Force was established. Now they have over 700 operational, with approximately 250 dedicated to ISR,” meaning intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. 

The picture is further complicated, he said, by a vast proliferation in space of privately maintained, commercially available and sophisticated services.

“What was once state of the art and limited to only a few well-resourced nations is now the state of the world and far more accessible and even commonplace,” he said. “I think you will agree that things are quite different from a threat perspective but also all of the other elements contributing to congestion and competition,” he said.

It falls to the Space Force to spearhead the nation’s response to these changing and challenging conditions. To do that, Saltzman has outlined three “lines of effort” that, together, form the 3-year-old service’s broadly drawn blueprint for success. The three focus areas are: Field Combat-Ready Forces, Amplify the Guardian Spirit, and Partner to Win.

“But this is just a framework to focus and organize our activities. The real work is to go about these activities in a fundamentally different way acknowledging that new problems require new answers derived from new thinking… old ways of doing business will come up short,” Saltzman conceded.

“We must pivot,” he said. “This is an imperative for the collective national security space enterprise, our industry partners, and our allies. The old ways of doing business are too slow, too late to need, and too behind the times to meet the challenges we are facing today.”

In real terms, Saltzman said the budget proposal for fiscal year 2024, “underwrites the pivot to a more survivable posture, with investments to the tune of $2.3 billion for proliferated LEO missile warning and tracking architecture.”

It includes $300 million to further develop novel programs that will yield higher fidelity simulators, advanced ranges for tactics validation and training against simulated adversaries.

Despite the challenges, Saltzman said he is optimistic. The U.S. industrial base, which Space Force considers an indispensable partner, is “an innovation engine” that will provide solutions.

“Finally, for the U.S. Space Force, the asymmetric advantage that I lean on every day is the talent of our remarkable workforce,” Saltzman said. “The character, courage, connection, and commitment that the Guardians of the U.S.  Space Force demonstrate each and every day assures me that we will be ready whenever and wherever the call to action comes.”

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