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Air Force Space Command Works to Counter Adversary Exploits

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From GPS location services to communications, the United States' dependence on space capabilities is well documented, the vice commander of Air Force Space Command said. 

The command is focused now on finding ways to ensure the nation's continued access to space and to prevent adversaries from disrupting it.

The smoke trail from a rocket is seen against a dark blue sky.
Team Vandenberg
Team Vandenberg supported the successful launch of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV heavy rocket from the Space Launch Complex-6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Jan. 19, 2019.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Aubree Milks
VIRIN: 190119-F-VU029-098C

Chief among those efforts is recognizing threats posed by adversaries to current capabilities and finding ways to prevent them from being exploited, in particular, by hardening existing systems against threats, Air Force Lt. Gen. David D. Thompson said.

"We are building in capabilities to protect and defend the space systems that we have today on orbit and we expect to have on orbit in the near future," Thompson said yesterday at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce-sponsored 2nd annual space summit in Washington. 

"A large majority of them have not been designed to operate in conflict, to operate under threat. But we are very quickly adapting them to be able to be defended, to provide capabilities to defend them and to develop tactics, techniques and procedures under which to defend them," he said.

Thompson also said that the United States is now, for the first time, doing in space something that it has done for decades — centuries even — on land, on the sea and in the air: partnering with allies.

A column of flame and smoke billows from beneath a rocket as it launches into space.
Florida Launch
A SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-18 rocket launches at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, July 25, 2019.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Dalton Williams
VIRIN: 190726-F-DJ189-1002C

For a long time, Thompson said, the U.S. was going it alone in space. "We relied on nobody else," during the Cold War. He said that's no longer true.

"We are rapidly moving to a new approach ... a coalition of the willing, a coalition for the like-minded, a coalition that brings the capabilities that they need and we need to various scenarios and presents complicated situations to any potential adversary."

Those partnerships aren't just with militaries, but also with civil agencies like NASA and with commercial industry, he said.

Part of that partnering with commercial industry is in itself a specific effort the command is exploiting to keep abreast of adversaries, Thompson said. 

He said it's critical for the command to pay attention to what industry is doing in order to have the best, most game-changing technology possible. That includes new manufacturing techniques, the reusability of space systems and the proliferation of low Earth orbit satellite constellations, Thompson said.

Against the night sky, the flames from a rocket illuminate its smoke trail.
Minuteman III
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test, Feb. 5, 2019, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Aubree Milks
VIRIN: 190206-F-VU029-061C

"It is, in fact, a whole host of technologies and ideas, but first and foremost, it's a matter of understanding what's happening in the commercial sector today," he said. "It's understanding the investments that are made, understanding the capabilities they intend to provide and determining how we can adapt and apply and partner with parts of the commercial sector for the support of civil society, public safety, the commercial sector, but in our case especially, national security."

Developing a "warrior culture" within the Space Force is also part of the effort that Thompson said the command is undertaking. That includes how Air Force Space Command conducts exercises, training, operational planning and wargaming.

"We are now building those exact same things into the training programs, the exercise programs, the operational programs for our space operators," he said.

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