Defense Leaders: Space Force Would Build, Accelerate American Space Capabilities

A United States Space Force would build on and accelerate the advantage the U.S. Air Force has given the American military in space, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson; and Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, joined Shanahan in testifying before the committee.

The United States is dominant in space now, but that margin could shrink, the defense officials said in their testimony. Establishing the U.S. Space Force will enable the Defense Department to gather up the disaggregated parts of the military space effort in one organization and change what has become a “slow, bureaucratic approach,” Shanahan said.

Five Senate-confirmed DOD officials are now responsible for more than 10 organizations developing space capabilities, Shanahan pointed out. This system fails to integrate across the department and capture the cost synergies of standards, the secretary said.

Competitor Capabilities

The department needs to move fast, because potential adversaries are moving quickly, too, the chairman told the senators. “Last month, I testified before you that China and Russia had developed capabilities to contest our ability to operate in all domains,” Dunford said. “This includes space, which is now a fully contested warfighting domain along with sea, air, land and cyberspace.”

China and Russia have taken significant steps to challenge American dominance in space. They have reorganized their armed forces and developed robust space-based capabilities, included space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. “These steps provide the ability to more effectively target U.S. and allied forces,” the chairman said. “China and Russia are also capable of searching, tracking and characterizing satellites in all Earth orbits in support of space and counter-space operations.”

China and Russia recognize the benefits of space in the economic and military spheres, and they are adapting, Dunford said.

“Space is no longer a sanctuary,” he added. “Traditionally, the Air Force has been the principal driver of our efforts in space, … and our capabilities in space are second to none. But our current organizational construct was built before space was a contested domain.”

After looking at studies and trends, the chairman told the committee, he is convinced that there must be change to maintain the competitive edge.

“In the past, we have often affected change in the wake of failure,” he said. “Today, we have an opportunity — and I would argue, an imperative — to change based on our ability to anticipate. We have an opportunity to look to the future and posture ourselves to seize and hold the high ground of space.”

DOD is establishing U.S. Space Command for operational control, and the next step is establishing the U.S. Space Force, the chairman said. “Taking the next step to create the Space Force will allow us to develop and maintain a singular focus on developing the people, the capabilities, the doctrine and the culture we’ll need to maintain our competitive advantage in space,” he said.

Status Quo Not Sufficient

Shanahan told the committee that the bottom line is that “the next major conflict may be won or lost in space.”

“There is widespread agreement the status quo is not sufficient: Change is required to stay ahead,” he said. “Approached correctly, this is an opportunity for a generational improvement. Future space capabilities should be system engineered from the start to include launch, commercial innovation, the network, the satellite, the ground segment, user equipment and cybersecurity.”

A dedicated Space Force would build a professional development system that recruits technical talent, and educates airmen in space from the beginning their careers to produce the quantity and quality of leaders needed, the secretary said.

“Organizing and equipping includes force design and force development,” Shanahan said. “This means understanding the domain, the technology and warfare deeply enough to design and deliver future capabilities, ensuring space power today and in the future.”

Part of the build is the Space Development Agency, which will develop and deliver the next generation of space-based communications and Earth observation, while existing organizations continue current efforts, Shanahan told the senators.

“We need to outpace the threats in space, not simply keep up with them,” the secretary said. “Because our current system isn’t organized to move fast enough, the Space Force will consolidate, elevate, and focus our efforts for results.”

Shanahan asked the committee to authorize the U.S. Space Force in the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. “America has enduring interests in space,” he said. “And just as the U.S. Navy ensures freedom of navigation of the seas, America’s Space Force must now ensure the freedom to navigate the stars.”