LONDON — During his meeting with international air chiefs this week, the U.S. Air Force’s top general plans to pitch his counterparts on the idea of an air chiefs conference centered around joint war fighting in space.
The event would be tied to Space Symposium, which is held every spring in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the home of U.S. Air Force Space Command.
“I’m looking at the possibility. We’ll sort of gauge the interest,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein told Defense News during an exclusive July 10 interview ahead of the Royal International Air Tattoo, which kicks off July 13.
Goldfein’s pitch is somewhat unusual, as meetings of international air chiefs typically revolve around the more traditional domain of air operations.
However, Goldfein said the explosive growth in the commercial space industry makes it the right time for military leaders to figure out whether they have shared goals when it comes to military space — and how to telegraph those interests to companies hungry to do innovative work in the defense sector.
“There’s huge opportunity ahead for us as we look to leverage where industry is going with this lower-cost access to space because you have more access to economical launch and you’ve got payloads that are coming down in size,” he said.
“We’re going from school buses to suitcases, and the combination of those two factors is making space profitable.”
Goldfein has been a strong proponent of increasing interoperability among U.S. Air Force assets, the rest of the U.S. services, and the nation’s allies and partners. Figuring out how to integrate the space domain into wider Air Force strategy has been a key part of that discussion.
The proposed event comes at a time when the Air Force ownership of the space mission is in flux. President Donald Trump announced in June his intention for the Defense Department to break space operators into their own separate service — a space force that would be “separate but equal” to the Air Force.
Experts have said such a transition could take years, even if it is approved by Congress. In the meantime, by driving the international conversation on military space, the U.S. Air Force could potentially reassert itself as the Pentagon’s primary source of space leadership.
Goldfein already discussed the space-themed air chiefs conference with one of his counterparts — Italian Air Chief Gen. Enzo Vecciarelli — during a July 5-9 trip where he visited NATO’s Aviano Air Base as well as the Ghedi and Amendola air bases, two Italian Air Force installations. However, the conversation “was a subset of a much broader interoperability discussion,” he noted.
The U.S. Air Force has recently tried to broaden conversations about military space operations to its international allies and partners.
“Everything we do in space is ‘secret, NOFORN,’ ” U.S. Strategic Command head Gen. John Hyten said this April at Space Symposium, using an acronym for “no foreign nationals.”
That makes it all but impossible for the United States to share information with its partners about space operations, he said.
To help ameliorate that problem, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced in April plans to open a number of educational courses on space operations to students from select foreign militaries.
“Russia and China are developing capabilities to disable our satellites,” she had said. “We will work with like-minded nations to preserve the ability to freely and safely operate in space. We will work with our allies to improve operations, enhance deterrence, defend our vital national interests and prevail when called upon.”