By Lt. Col. Christina Abbott-Marks
Air Force Space Command Public Affairs
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Gen. John E. Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, recently identified several key actions to be taken to ensure U.S. strength in space for the future. On April 14 at the 2015 Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, he discussed his command priorities, changes in store for space crews and new initiatives to assure access to space.
“Winning today’s fight is my first priority,” said Hyten. “When we have Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines deployed in harm’s way all around the world, we have to make sure our No. 1 priority is to get them everything they need, every minute of the day because everything that they do is critically dependent on space…we cannot fail in that mission.”
“We also have to figure out how to prepare for tomorrow’s fight if war should someday extend into space,” he said. “We have to move into the future.”
“Our crew force is the greatest in the world, but they are unbelievably young and inexperienced,” he said about the Airmen who operate the Air Force’s space systems. “It is that way because we designed our crew force to progress from crew duty to the day staff as they gain experience and expertise. But this means our most capable operators are not on crew.”
In a future contested environment, he said that the nation needs its best people on duty, ready to “make real time decisions about what’s going on if something bad should happen. You have to have very experienced people on crew.”
Hyten explained ways in which the space operator crew force is going to be changed.
He plans to normalize the space force presentation to U.S. Strategic Command and ensure that U.S. Strategic Command gets space force capabilities they require.
“The way you present forces has to be structured so that when you actually ask for capability, you get that capability,” he said.
He also will change the space operator construct. From young Airmen to senior NCOs to officers, crews will work a six-months-on, six-months-off cycle. On the alternating six months, the crews will be in advanced training to ensure experienced operators capable of operating in a contested or degraded space environment are on crew at all times. The general also discussed lengthening of initial training to add more depth to the curriculum, which will better prepare crews to operate in contested or degraded environments.
“We’re going to do business fundamentally differently because our Airmen need to be prepared for tomorrow’s fight,” he said.
Hyten then talked about three challenges to assured access to space. He said, to the audience of military and industry leaders, that they all have the same goals: assured access to space, maintaining competition in launch, and moving away from the Russian RD-180 engine.
To assure access to space, his primary concern is how to maintain two launch providers in the aftermath of a launch accident.
“God forbid, someday we will have an accident again. It’s not going to be the next launch; it’s not going to be the launch after that, but it will happen again — it’s the nature of the business,” he said.
He pointed out that, based on past launch accident history, the launch provider would be unable to launch for a lengthy period of time due to the accident investigation and loss of confidence.
“What do you have to do to return to fly in this kind of environment? And who makes that decision? Because I’m not going to stand up and put a billion-dollar satellite on top of a rocket I don’t know is going to work,” he said. He questioned how they would stay in business while their competitor continues to launch. “That’s a fundamental issue that we have to solve.”
Another concern for assured access to space is the state of the launch ranges, which he said are not structured to support the launch business today because of the aging infrastructure of radars, telescopes, telemetry systems that track launches. He said, “We have to build an automated flight safety system and get that approved.”
An automated flight safety system will use GPS tracking for launches, reducing maintenance and sustainment costs for aging telemetry and tracking systems. In addition, an automated flight safety system will make the ranges more responsive to industry and government launch requirements.
The last challenge he discussed is the ground architecture for operating space systems. He said there are too many stand-alone ground systems, with many satellite constellations having their own unique ground system to operate each constellation. “It doesn’t enable us to move into the future. We have to get to a common ground system; and we’re going to get to a ground system; and we’re going to get to it one way or the other. We cannot fail in this endeavor.”
He highlighted the challenge to accomplishing these actions with sequestration still looming and warned that if sequestration occurs in 2016, Air Force Space Command would be forced to cut launches, decimate weapons systems sustainment, and delay programs like the Space Based Infrared System mobile ground systems, which contribute to the U.S. nuclear command and control architecture.
Hyten closed his remarks by emphasizing the importance of taking care of Airmen and families, underscoring the point by explaining the impact of deployments.
“We currently have 600 Airmen in [Air Force] Space Command deployed in support of the wars in the Middle East,” he said. “That’s a burden on the Airmen, but it’s an even bigger burden on their families…I was talking to one Airman the other night [who] has deployed 10 times back and forth to theater and he’s got a family and two kids. Just think about how difficult that is on an Airman. We have to make sure that we make this probably our top priority because if we break this, we break the Air Force and we break what we do in space.”