WASHINGTON (AFNS) —
Lt. Gen. B. Chance Saltzman told the Senate Armed Services Committee Sept. 13 that if confirmed to be the next Chief of Space Operations he would build on the young service’s “solid foundation” by being “clear-eyed” and innovative, making the Space Force’s connection to the joint force fail-safe and continuing to lock arms with partners and allies.
“Space is truly a critical domain for U.S. interests, so we must all be clear-eyed in our understanding that our strategic competitors have invested heavily in fielding systems capable of disrupting, degrading and even destroying our space capabilities,” Saltzman told the committee in his opening statement, echoing themes that have been frequently voiced since the Space Force was created on Dec. 20, 2019.
“If confirmed, I will work to ensure that the Space Force is ready to protect these vital interests from these threats,” he said.
Achieving that, he said in his written testimony, demands “success across three broad fronts.” The still nascent Space Force must continue to mature “as an independent service” by integrating with the Department of Defense’s far-flung enterprises, he said. That means putting “the right processes with the right people in the right places.”
It requires that the 16,000-member Space Force continue to “build and enhance our relationships with allies and partners in order to benefit from the expanding commercial space sector, high-tech industries and the expertise, advanced technologies and capabilities they possess,” he said.
“And finally, we must innovate new ways to accomplish our complex missions,” Saltzman told the committee.
At a later point in the hearing, he expanded that point: “It’s one of my primary objectives to make sure that a war does not extend into space. That’s not a good day for the United States. The best way to create a deterrent capability to prevent that is to have a credible force that can both deny benefits of those actions and impose costs where necessary.”
Those priorities align closely with the ones voiced by the man Saltzman has been nominated to replace, Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, who is retiring after a combined 38 years of service in the Air Force and, since December 2019, as the Space Force’s first Chief of Space Operations.
That rapidly changing nature of space, committee chairman, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said, requires Saltzman to “adapt to this rapid change and pace of innovation and utilize it to protect and defend our assets in space and on the ground. The Space Force, its organization and its Guardians, need to reflect this changing environment.”
Saltzman agreed. “The sense of urgency our adversaries have imposed on us require us to move quickly to develop to develop these capabilities,” he told the committee.
The committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, expressed a similar sentiment. “Our National Defense Strategy is not shy about the scope and scale of the threat from China and the speed of advances. There is no better example of that than space,” he said.
Throughout nearly 90 minutes of questions, Saltzman said repeatedly that his goal as Chief of Space Operations would be to foster a culture of speed and innovation and highly skilled Guardians and civilians that will ensure the U.S. maintains its historic advantage in space, is able to deter hostile behavior and supply capabilities, data and crucial information to commanders across the entire U.S. military.
He was asked about procurement, alternative launch sites, the Space Force’s relationship with other government organizations such as the National Reconnaissance Office and the service’s efforts to recruit and train the highly skilled personnel it needs to fulfill its mandate, among other topics.
“The responsibilities of the Chief of Space Operations are to make sure there are ready forces that have the flexibility, the agility, the training and the experience necessary to support all combatant commanders,” Saltzman said.
Despite its small size compared to the other military services, the Space Force’s strategic importance is beyond dispute. Saltzman pledged to build on Raymond’s accomplishments. “The inspired work that General Raymond started has set us on a path,” Saltzman said in his written testimony. “It is a path towards advanced capabilities, modern, resilient architectures, and innovative approaches to meet our service missions.”
When asked for his biggest worry should be he be confirmed, Saltzman had a ready answer.
“We are still the greatest spacefaring nation on the planet,” Saltzman said. “The Space Force’s capabilities … are extremely capable and I still put us at the head of the table. Unfortunately, our adversaries are investing heavily to close that gap and supersede us.”
“I’m worried about the pace with which they are making those changes, China first amongst them but Russia also which is committed to investing heavily in the kinds of capabilities that are going to disrupt, degrade or even destroy our on-orbit capabilities.”
Offsetting that, he told the committee, requires innovation, new thinking, a different “culture” and new relationships with partners and business.
“The criticality of the mission means we are going to have to innovate; we’re going to have to do things differently in order to deliver the kinds of capabilities that the nation needs to protect its Space Force, to protect its space capabilities and protect the joint force from our adversaries,” he said.
If confirmed, Saltzman will lead the service at time of transition as it moves from the initial organizational phase to one rapidly expanding and refining capabilities, culture and operational processes.
It wasn’t long ago when space was an exclusive club, limited almost entirely to the United States and Russia (and before that, the Soviet Union). With only two “players” roaming the vast reaches of space, it was considered a challenging but peaceful environment.
That picture of space has almost no comparison today.
There are now 72 countries actively operating in space. That number is growing as the cost of launching vehicles into space is falling to the point that more nations, along with many commercial enterprises, are jumping in. As congestion in space increases, so too are the intentions for being there. All of that is raising the stakes for being able to operate freely and without threat in space.
If confirmed, Saltzman will lead a service that is central to the nation’s defense and a “domain” that is- rapidly changing.
Space is now considered a new and indisputable “warfighting domain” which is why the United States – primarily through the Space Force – along with and its allies are focusing heavily on space and adapting to the new conditions. Militarily, space has never been more essential since “space power” provides a series of foundational capabilities upon which our joint forces depend.
The Space Force’s $24.5 billion budget request for the next fiscal year includes higher levels of spending on “weapon system sustainment, a more resilient Global Positioning System, and next generation satellite communications.” The biggest chunk of the budget – $15.8 billion – is devoted to research, development, test and evaluation.
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