NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.— As the National Defense Strategy and National Security Strategy have made clear, space is set to become a crucial war fighting domain, as nearly every operation the military conducts relies on space assets.
So when the leaders of the Air Force’s Global Strike Command, Space Command, commander in Europe and Africa and special operations head all shared a stage at the Air Force Associations annual conference to discuss operations, its no surprise they chose to focus on how the service plans to leverage space assets to project power in the 21st century.
One reason space is so important, not just to the Air Force, but all military services, is that space assets enable multidomain operations that are becoming the norm in the modern warfare. Citing the Air Force’s successful strikes against Assad-regime chemical weapons manufacturing sites in Syria in April, Gen. Tod D. Wolters, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa, explained the mission was successful because “we had well-vetted and thorough multidomain operations.”
Another key reason the Air Force is doubling down on space is because the outcome of a conflict with a near-peer will largely depend on winning the battle in space. “If deterrence fails I am convinced … if we are up against a peer or near-peer we are going to have to fight for space superiority,” said Gen. John Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command. “As the National Defense Strategy talks about, that’s going to require capability from multiple domains to come forward,” he added.
Raymond noted the need to control assets in space was prioritized in the National Security Strategy, which talks about “unfettered access to and freedom to maneuver in space as a vital national interest. That’s significant, it wasn’t in the last National Security Strategy.”
And unlike in previous endeavors beyond Earth’s atmosphere, the U.S. is no longer going it alone. Looking at the spectrum of operations “from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief on one end to kinetic on the other end, there is nothing that isn’t done without multidomain operations or integration of air, space and cyber together, and there is nothing we do not do without our allies," Raymond said. "So by definition multidomain, [and command and control] has to be coalition friendly.”
Considering the need for U.S. partners in space and how the space environment has evolved, Raymond explained, "we haven’t needed to have partners in space before. It was a benign domain…. That is not the case today and we are working really hard to develop those partnerships that we enjoy in all other domains than space.”
But projecting power from space requires work to be done on terra firma by the U.S. and its allies.
Gen. Timothy Ray, commander of U.S. Air Force global strike command, explained “The ability to improve much faster at our bases and our power projection platforms absolutely has to be an integrated conversation. We talk about integrating air space and cyber we fundamentally have to master the integration of our bases.”
Daniel Cebul is an editorial fellow and general assignments writer for Defense News, C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain and Federal Times.