Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett asserted March 10 that a Russian satellite “actively maneuvering suspiciously near” a U.S. “security satellite” is the clearest sign of space’s changing nature and why creating the U.S. Space Force is necessary.
“Space is no longer dominated by two actors, nor is it so benevolent,” Barrett said in remarks delivered to the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies on Capitol Hill.
Unlike the Cold War, when space was primarily the sole province of the United States and the Soviet Union, today “many European nations plus Japan, China and India and more than 40 countries are spacefaring with satellites, probes, and sometimes human travelers,” she said.
That reality, coupled with the critical role space plays in everyday life from transportation, commerce, communication, national security and even farming, makes freedom to access and operate in space a high priority, she said.
“Space is ubiquitous in today’s society and in our modern militaries,” Barrett said to an influential audience of more than 150 active and retired military, industry representatives and officials from assorted embassies.
“This new space environment, complex and contested, calls for a new approach from the United States,” Barrett said, noting that the first step was designating in 2019 the U.S. Space Command as a stand-alone combatant command.
That was followed in Dec. 20, 2019 by the creation of the U.S. Space Force, the first new and independent service of the U.S. military to be formed since 1947.
“The United States Space Force represents a new approach to protecting the space domain,” Barrett said. “The new force allows us to build a new service in a totally new way … Our efforts in space are about preserving free access to, and use of, the space domain for all benevolent actors. We will build a rules-based international order in the space domain, inclusive of economic and military capabilities while deterring hostile actions.
The Space Force, she said in response to a question, will be the catalyst for space doctrine that, along with allies, will produce “rules of the road for the peaceful use of space” and answer questions as, “what constitutes malicious behavior and how close is too close?”
On an operational level, Barrett said, “missile warning and defense as the first mission set to fully align under the Space Force.”
But while the purpose and broad outline of the Space Force are established and understood, bringing the Space Force into full scale and operation is a complex process that is moving forward. To date, the Space Force is a force of one, with Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond the only active duty member of the Space Force. That total will change next week, however, when Chief Master Sergeant Robert Towberman will be sworn in as the Force’s highest-ranking enlisted officer.
In response to questions, Barrett said decisions about who will lead Space Force acquisition and basing decisions will be made in the future.
For acquisition, she said the first priority is making sure the proper environment with the appropriate standards are established, ones that embrace the Space Force’s need to be “lean and agile” while emphasizing speed and policies that are “unencumbered by the red tape of history.”
On selecting bases for the U.S. Space Command headquarters, Barrett said a revised basing approach is expected in the spring. The revised approach will expand the number of locations under consideration and allow communities an opportunity to provide input. The final basing decision is anticipated late this calendar year.
Barrett said that the initial skepticism held by some, especially in Congress, about the need and purpose of the Space Force is subsiding. But she conceded that making the case is harder because much of what the Space Force does is shrouded by what she suggested is over classification.
“Some classified capabilities designed to be a deterrent may be over classified,” she said. “We will work with Congress to balance protection of national secrets with the need to share information and build support for our space forces, striking the right balance of what we reveal versus conceal.”
In that respect, Barrett was echoing a point made last week by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein during an appearance before the House Armed Services Committee.
Barrett said she is reviewing the way the Air Force classifies information though she offered no prediction for how it might play out.
Yet she insisted that any public doubts about the Space Force would vanish if a fuller portrait could be presented.
“One example of this dilemma is the X-37B program,” she said. “We have openly acknowledged the existence of, and missions flown by, this reusable space vehicle … But beyond a hand-wave explanation of ‘testing and developing technologies for future missions,’ … We are asking the American people to spend an enormous amount of money on capabilities about which they know nothing. While this is often appropriate for security reasons, we are carefully looking at where — and how much — classification is truly needed.”