Department of the Air Force Secretary, Barbara M. Barrett, offered an upbeat assessment Oct. 28 of the Space Force’s development while also describing in stark terms how the shifting security environment in space is validating the nation’s newest branch of the military.
“Increasingly, free and open access to space is under threat. Though the United States will not be the aggressor in space, we will, we must, build a Space Force to defend our space interests,” Barrett said in a virtual address at Space Symposium 365, an influential gathering of space advocates from government, commerce and defense sponsored by the Space Foundation.
Barrett, who was joined by Chief of Space Operations, Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, underscored that assertion by highlighting activities and threats in space that in the past had been given less emphasis.
“Last year, Russia maneuvered an ‘inspector satellite’ into an orbit threateningly close to a sensitive U.S. satellite. And just two months ago, China launched and recovered a reusable space plane … suspiciously similar to our own space plane, the X-37B.”
That environment, and the fact that space is becoming more crowded and contested, coincide with the creation of the first new and independent branch of the military since 1947. Together, Barrett and Raymond provided a detailed status report on the Space Force as it approaches its first anniversary and looks to the future.
“We set out for this first year to invent the force. And I use that term ‘invent’ purposefully because we were given an opportunity to start with a clean sheet of paper and not do business the way we’ve done in the past,” Raymond said, describing the Space Force as “purpose built” to meet its missions and responsibilities in space.
“On all fronts—on organization, on personnel, on doctrine, on budget—we have tried to think differently and be an incubator for change across the department, while delivering goodness and value to our nation,” he said.
The goal, Raymond said, is to form a “lean and agile” digital service that, while the smallest of all the military services, delivers on a much bigger scale. This demands a “human capital development strategy … a forward leaning, forward looking strategy.”
The result is a command structure that fights bloat and inefficiency. That focus is found, he said, in the field command organizational structure that “collapsed two layers of command.”
Further evidence of efficiency-seeking is displayed in an acquisition process “that delegates authority down to the lowest level, shortening the gap between approval authority and those who are actually doing the work,” he said.
“Big organizations are slow and we don’t want to be slow. We can’t afford to be slow in the domain that we operate in. We wanted to be able to flatten the gap between the experts and the decision makers,” Raymond said.
Both Barrett and Raymond said that as the Space Force approaches its first anniversary on December 20, the service is evolving from efforts to assemble the critically important foundational elements that include establishing administrative policies and practices, publishing the first service doctrine and putting in place the training and personnel that yield the necessary warfighting culture and staff functions.
Those roots are now securely planted, they said, and today the force numbers more than 2,000 men and women. Recently the first Space Force recruits were inducted and began basic military training. At full strength the Space Force is expected to have about 16,000 people.
“This first year was about inventing the force. This next year … we’re really focusing on integrating that force across our joint partners,” Raymond said.
Despite a fast-paced and encouraging first 10 months, Barrett and Raymond admitted that the work ahead is challenging, especially with a relentless need to go fast.
Revising the often-moribund acquisition system is a major focus. Other issues include efforts to re-evaluate how information and hardware are classified.
“It’s time for us to take a new look at what we classify,” Barrett said. “We don’t deter people from their negative behavior if they don’t know what our capabilities are. We reveal to deter, and conceal to win.”
As the session came to a close, Barrett suggested that perhaps the biggest Space Force achievement to date is the public’s increasing understanding that space is important and it must be protected.
“A year ago, Space Force was an idea,” she said. People did not realize “how very dependent everyday life is on space and how vulnerable our space capabilities could be.
“There’s been a big mindset change, and we’ve got to build on that … to achieve what people now agree needs to be done,” Barrett said.