Space Force chief speaks of a ‘new era’ of threats beyond Earth


U.S. Space Force Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, chief of space operations, testifies on the fiscal year 2024 budget request during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on March 14, 2023. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

When General Chance Saltzman took the stage for his keynote address at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, this week, his message was simple: the United States is in a new era of space activity.

“The threats we face to our in-orbit capabilities from our strategic competitors [have] dramatically increased,” Saltzman, the second chief of space operations for the US Space Force, said in an interview with CNBC after the speech. “The congestion we’re seeing in space with objects being tracked and the number of payloads satellites, and just the launches themselves, have increased at an exponential rate.”

“I want to make sure we think differently about our processes and procedures,” he said in an interview for CNBC’s “Manifest Space” podcast, his first interview to air since becoming the top official. military service last November.

The message comes at a key time as space becomes rapidly commercialized and a heightened geopolitical context sees more and more threats extending beyond Earth into a realm for which the rules of engagement remain unclear. .

Follow and listen to CNBC broadcasts Podcast “Manifest Space”hosted by Morgan Brennan, wherever you get your podcasts.

Military experts say space is likely to be the frontline of any future conflict – a battleground that could spill over into the private sector and impact civilians in real time. Look no further than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an example: remember the unprecedented cyberattack on the US satellite operator’s European communications network viasat just as Russian soldiers mobilized to cross sovereign borders.

Saltzman said the space tactics of adversaries like Russia and China run the gamut, from jamming GPS constellation communications; lasers and “glares” that interfere with orbiting cameras to prevent image collection; anti-satellite missiles like the one Russia tested at the end of 2021.

“We’re seeing satellites that can actually grab another satellite, grapple it, and pull it out of operational orbit. Those are all capabilities that they’re demonstrating in orbit today, and so the combination of those weapons and the pace with which they were developed are of great concern,” he said.

This explains why, despite a flurry of heated debate, the Space Force was hotly erected in 2019 as the first new branch of the US armed forces in seven decades.

To respond to evolving threats and secure space assets more quickly, Saltzman seeks to further increase service capabilities to make satellite constellations more resilient and acquire more launch services by tapping into a burgeoning framework of commercial space actors.

Case in point: Space Force’s recently announced procurement strategy for more launch services. The new “dual-track acquisition approach” aims to create more opportunities for rocket startups to compete for national security launch contracts.

With cases to be awarded next year, Phase 3 of the national security space launch is expected to reach billions of dollars and is expected to attract bids from rocket lab, Relativity Space and Blue Origin by Jeff Bezos, among others. The Phase 2 awards went to SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin And Boeing.

An expanding budget also helps. Though still only a fraction of the nation’s overall defense budget, Space Force’s $30 billion request for fiscal year 2024 represents a 15% increase from levels adopted this year.

“It’s a team sport and neither of us will do it alone,” Saltzman said.

“Manifest Space,” hosted by CNBC’s Morgan Brennan, focuses on the billionaires and the masterminds behind the ever-expanding opportunities beyond our atmosphere. Brennan interviews the mega-moguls, industry leaders and startups in today’s satellite, space and defense industries. In “manifest space”, sit back, relax and prepare for take off.

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