While the formation of the US Space Force (USSF) as the newest branch of the US Armed Forces was widely ridiculed by much of the media as the latest instance of disruption and instability in the Trump administration, the growing consensus is that the USSF will play an important role in the era of great power competition.
To this end, US Air Force Secretary Barbara Barret has addressed the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics during the first virtual ASCEND detailing the growing roles, capabilities and, critically, responsibilities for the USSF.
Secretary Barrett explained that securing and dominating the space domain requires a co-ordinated, allied effort, something at the core of what the Space Force is doing.
She said, "The most important thing for the Space Force and the Air Force is working with allies and partners. So, we've been teaming up. It's not an exclusively American mission. It's the world’s mission to encourage and ensure the future a free and open access to space, so that elements of space are not put off-limits to others."
A key component of this, Secretary Barrett shared some insight on how the US Air Force Academy has evolved to help build strong foundations for the next generation of USSF officers.
"At the Air Force Academy, we believe that in the field of astronautics you learn space by doing space. So the Air Force Academy Cadets are building spacecraft. They're building satellites. And, they're putting them on the X-37B. In May, we launched an Air Force Academy cadet-built satellite into space," Secretary Barrett added.
She also noted that USAFA recently started a Space Operations degree program, which will further enable building depth in space expertise. On current operations, Secretary Barrett highlighted the role the service has on lives throughout the world.
"In our everyday life, we're using space constantly, but we often don't recognise it. Just think about the GPS system alone and consider how much we depend upon the system. It's accessible to everyone globally and it takes just eight to 10 people during a single shift to operate it. So, a total of 40 people operate this extraordinary system upon which so much of our current economy depends," Secretary Barrett explained.
Additionally, Secretary Barrett spoke about the vulnerabilities that the 31 satellites currently face and how the USSF is leading the way to not only keep the GPS satellite network available but also to maintain Space as a free and open domain.
"It's broadly used. It's transformative, but it's fragile. And, space debris is really a danger to things like our GPS systems. We've got to minimise their vulnerability. And, we have to have the capability to deter others from doing damage to that system upon which so much depends. So, we are building processes and doctrine of what is threatening and what is to be acceptable behaviour in space," she said.
In her final remarks, Secretary Barrett reinforced the importance of Space Force and its role in the broader US and allied security, stating, "A final word, I would simply say we are building the United States Space Force to protect the free and benevolent use of that ultimate frontier, the ultimate high ground — space. Semper Supra."
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