Air Force moves to expand international military space coalition

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Air Force Secretary Wilson: “Countries with allies thrive, those without, wither."

COLORADO SPRINGS — The 18th Space Control Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, over the past year alerted foreign governments and private companies of more than 300,000 potential collisions in space.

Most recently, the squadron joined forces with space officials from eight nations to deal with the potentially dangerous reentry path of the Chinese space station Tiangong-1.

When it comes to monitoring space for incoming debris or nefarious activities, the more eyes on the sky, the better. “We face a more competitive and dangerous international security environment than we have seen in decades,” said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson. And the United States can’t deal with this alone. “Countries with allies thrive, those without, wither,” she said Tuesday in a keynote speech at the 34th Space Symposium.

As the Air Force develops strategies and tactics to fight back if hostile nations attack U.S. satellites, it is moving to build a bigger coalition of space-faring countries and to deepen ties with traditional allies by inviting their militaries, starting in 2019, to attend U.S. military schools where Air Force space officers learn about space warfare.

“The community of space faring nations is expanding,” Wilson said. “I met last night with representatives from Brazil, Chile, the European Union, Italy, Poland, Switzerland and Norway to discuss possible cooperation in space.”

The Air Force has been successful at forging ties with nations whose pilots train at U.S. military flight schools. “It’s time to go further,” Wilson said.

“It’s time to build on years of collaboration to deepen our relationships with our allies and partners in space,” she said. “We will strengthen our alliances and attract new partners not just by sharing data from monitoring space, but by training and working closely with each other in space operations.”

The plan is to add two courses for U.S. allies at the National Security Space Institute located at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, including one on situational awareness, and another on collision avoidance, deorbit and reentry. More advanced courses on national security space will be opened to military members of allied countries. Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom currently attend. New Zealand, France, Germany, Japan and others will be invited to send officers to the National Security Space Institute, Wilson said.

Air Force leaders believe efforts to grow the space alliance will pay off in the long term and will help deter future aggression from China and Russia. “This will allow for greater understanding of Air Force space employment, setting the foundation for potential operations in the future versus partners starting from zero during a rapidly developing contingency,” an official said on background.

The National Security Space Institute was created in 2004 under Air Force Space Command to provide space education and training to Air Force space professionals and the broader national security space community. It falls under the Air Force Institute of Technology, a component of Air University.