24th Secretary of the U.S. Air Force HEATHER WILSON on early US space programs:
“…We built a glass house in a time of stones…”
Land, air, sea–space. Space is becoming–has become–a contested domain for mankind and generations to come. The work done with the military across various agencies on integrating and normalizing space as a part of joining the warfighting arena is leaps and bounds above what was possible 5-10 years ago. Since 1954, the U.S. Air Force has been ever-increasing their attentiveness on occupying the final frontier, putting strategies into orbit just as much as satellites. 24th Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, Ph.D., believes that “space is, without a doubt, the domain we want to work in.”
“Our potential adversaries know how dependent we are on space. I cannot think of any mission conducted by any military that is not connected with space,” said Wilson. “Our adversaries–like China, who launched a missile [resulting in] about 3,000 pieces of debris dumped in low-earth orbit around 2007–since then, the U.S. military has had to face the reality that space is a contested domain, that the challenges are spread across a global context.”
Wilson says that the Air Force and industry partners are looking closely at decreasing the cost of launch (currently a hefty $10,000/lb or lower) and the miniaturization of payloads over time.
“There [are] opportunities that were precluded before, as more and more companies and countries are entering the aerospace market,” she said. “Things are in orbit and we’re used to things moving in real-time. We are worried about these things that are moving, seeking this real-time situational awareness–so if something moves, you know why.”
Wilson is a woman of true merit and mirth, with responsibilities in leading, training and equipping others in space warfighting method and tact. She identifies that one of the problems with space is that we, mankind, takes it for granted; the arsenal of missile warning, positioning and navigation, and timing with GPS-utilities is spawned by the availability of signals (see also: UBER, JSTARS). The combined capabilities currently up in the air is three-pointed star: a common operating picture of objects in orbit; an integrated ability to command and control; and creating effects to expand the ability to potentially move, defend and deal with threats in space.
Capabilities currently in-scope lie in military training and education, integrating multi-domain vehicles (i.e. unmanned systems, amphibious, etc.) into multi-domain conflict, working to establish a set of morals outside the atmosphere.
“Our capabilities are not so much ‘watch, operate and report’ as much as ‘exercising and developing skills and abilities in a contested environment,” said Wilson. “That’s a change in culture that we’re seeing and we’re moving forward with that in the U.S. Air Force.”
It is Wilson’s view that we as a nation have a responsibility across industries to continue integrating and implementing programs for the next-generation of warfighters in air, ground, sea, undersea, space and cyber.
“Speed and surprise–that is how we are going to win in future conflict,” she said confidently, nodding toward the audience. “That is what you, and the Air Force are trying to do.”
Life at high speed: the United States as a nation needs to consider deterrents that we have to able to hold at risk, demonstrate value, clearly communicating what will happen if our adversaries interfere. Wilson added that if another nation interferes with our satellites we need to work together in the defense community to migrate toward space, “if we want to end up there.”
“The truth is 10-15 times/day, we’re airborne, communicating with each other,” she said. “It is pretty normal for us [to deal] with these issues and we’re going to have to do that even more with our allies around the world. We need to be on both offense and defense, fighting and prevailing, ensuring unfettered access to space with our vital national interests, maintaining sustainability and making sure other countries understand that there will be a response in our ability to prevail in any conflict that ends up in space.”
An issue of note is that of the 20 percent increase in budget for space programs in 2018-19. The Air Force has allocated $6 billion for new programs, combat and flight systems, and civilian hiring to be put through the Congressional fire and flames in early December. If sequestered, however, it would have dire and devastating consequences.
Wilson, among the other panelists at this Summit, are of the industry-shared belief that our “allies on the ground are our allies in space,” that if military spending goes toward empowering program management–less about the Pentagon, more about managing contracts–the end result will significantly improve the speed and reduced cost of acquiring for space conquest.
“We simply cannot do this alone. Keeping a close relationship between the U.S. military and those who provide the capabilities we need is extremely vital to our success of delivering capabilities to those who need it.”
Main concerns and number priorities are, with respect to the Air Force: to restore readiness to force; cost-effective modernization (especially that of the increased rate of recapitalization since 1991, currently less than 500 units per year; the development of exceptional leaders; driving innovation for the future; and acknowledging our allies and partners, and the next-generation.
“We need to inspire the next-generation of talent and engaging them to blossom. We should be able to develop our talent as a new and [upcoming] workforce–we all have a responsibility to inspire the next-generation,” she said in closing.
With more than 35 years of professional experience, the Honorable Dr. Heather Wilson oversees the Air Force’s annual budget of more than $132 billion and directs strategy and policy development, risk management, weapons acquisition, technology investments and human resource management across a global enterprise.