Shelton Says He’s Laying Groundwork for Successor

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THULE AIR BASE, Greenland — Gen. William Shelton, commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command and the service’s top uniformed officer for space, whose concerns about future defense funding have pushed the industry out from a comfortable status quo, has signaled that his departure is close at hand.

“There’s nothing formally announced but I’ve been in my job three years already,” Shelton said in an interview with SpaceNews en route to Thule Air Base in Greenland. “Typically it’s a three-year job. There will be a time when it gets announced officially but … it will happen.”

Shelton became commander of Air Force Space Command in January 2011. 

Shelton said he felt pressure to wrap up several projects — including several studies on the future of space architectures — later this year for his successor. “[I’m] trying to get those things locked down so somebody who succeeds me does not have to worry about those things — that’s my concern,” he said.

In the last year, Shelton has emphasized the need to improve the resiliency of national security space assets given the growing number of threats they are facing. This comes at a time when funding for military space programs is shrinking, or at least leveling off.

In remarks at the National Space Symposium last April, Shelton said, “It’s clear to me and I’m sure it’s clear to you as well that our operating environment in space has fundamentally changed, and it continues to change and will continue to change into the next decade. To me there are storm clouds that are on the horizon.” 

Shelton has also pushed forward on the related concept of disaggregation, a shift to more dispersed satellites and sensors would also make it harder for an enemy to take out key space capabilities. 

During his tenure, the Air Force has also embraced competition in the market for launching national security satellites and moved forward on hosted payloads, most recently setting up a hosted payload office at Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles.