Air Force Secretary Wilson will serve as PDSA, senior official says

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WASHINGTON – Newly confirmed Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson will assume the principal Defense Department space adviser role, a senior Air Force official said May 9.

There had been speculation on whether the Trump administration would continue the so-called PDSA position established under the Obama administration, or replace it with a different means of organizing space leadership at the Pentagon. The White House has yet to give a definitive answer.

But speaking at a Washington Space Business Roundtable luncheon, David Hardy — the associate deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space and PDSA staff deputy director — said that Wilson will assume the role first held by her immediate predecessor Deborah Lee James.

“I had a discussion with her. She said she’s looking forward to fulfilling her role as the principal DoD space adviser,” Hardy said.

Wilson was confirmed as service secretary May 8 by a 76-22 Senate vote.

With the White House expected to re-establish the National Space Council, Hardy said Pentagon space officials are “waiting anxiously to see exactly how they wish to organize it and how best we can support it.”

“The equities we have in space do extend across all of government,” he said. “I would like to see this National Space Council aid in that overall integration of our national approach to space.”

The Defense Department, Hardy said, is making progress on addressing some of the most pressing challenges in space, including ensuring the resiliency of its satellite systems in the face of adversaries who want to degrade the military advantages the U.S. derives from its space capabilities.

“The good news about that is that we’ve actually made a lot of progress over the last several years in understanding what it means for space to be contested,” he said. “We have a good fundamental strategy for what it means to deal with space in a contested environment, and we’re moving out to convert that strategy into actual operations.”

Some of those lessons will be reflected in the Defense Department’s budget request for 2018, due out soon. But the aerospace industry shouldn’t expect an abrupt change in approach, or sudden windfall, Hardy implied.

“I think what you’ll see in the budget is measured steps across the enterprise in terms of how we address mission assurance,” Hardy said. “There will be measured steps. We’re not going to get this done in one [Future Years Defense Program].”

It’s going to require a lot of legwork, he said, since so much of space is interconnected. Having resilient satellites doesn’t help if you haven’t decided how to defend them, and having good space situational awareness won’t help if you can’t get command and control of things in orbit.

“Our big challenges now, though, are how do you synchronize all that?” Hardy said. “You’re having to basically rebuild your entire enterprise in space with the insight we’ve achieved in each one of these areas as a guide.”

But Hardy said the government has spent several years “digging in” to the issues, and he’s encouraged by the creativity he’s seeing in the private sector.

“I haven’t seen this level of innovation in space research in a quarter of a century,” he said. “I’m very encouraged by the level of innovation.”

John Hill, the acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, added that it’s not just a matter of adding funding for more things to address issues, but of taking policy positions that deter aggression from U.S. adversaries.

“We have to develop architectures and operational practices and doctrine and trained forces all in such a way that we take away the benefit that someone gets of attacking space,” he said.