Air Force Commander: Strategy to fight China in the Pacific brings greater attention to space

by
Gen. C.Q. Brown, commander of Pacific Air Forces, said space is higher on the agenda than it’s been in the past.

WASHINGTON — Just four months into his tour as Pacific Air Forces Commander, Gen. C.Q. Brown Jr. is quickly getting up to speed on the benefits and vulnerabilities of space systems.

“This is an area that I’m actually learning a lot more about,” Brown told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday.

A component of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Pacific Air Forces, or PACAF, is headquartered at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. Brown commands 46,000 airmen whose primary mission is to provide air and space power in the Asia-Pacific region.

Brown said his plans to prepare for future air and space warfare are being shaped by the Defense Department’s National Defense Strategy, which emphasizes military readiness for “great power competition.” For PACAF, this means, among other things, equipping and training for the possibility of a large-scale conflict in the South China Sea.

Space is higher on the agenda than it’s been in the past, partly because DoD is allowing military commanders to discuss space issues that previously were kept secret. “Space has been very, very classified,” Brown said. “We didn’t talk to ourselves about some of these issues.”

More recently, he said, “We’re able to talk about space at a lower classification level.” Many of the conversations focus on the capabilities that U.S. forces need in space and also the threats posed by rising military powers like China and Russia.

In his initial months on the job, Brown already has met with Air Force Space Commander Gen. John Raymond on several occasions, he said. Raymond, along with the commander of U.S. Strategic Command Gen. John Hyten, are scheduled to visit Brown’s headquarters in Hawaii next week during a stop on their way to Australia. “They’ll spent a little bit of time with me,” Brown said. One of the topics they will discuss is how Air Force Space Command and U.S. Strategic Command can better support PACAF in areas like space and missile defense. “We’ll sit down and talk about this a bit more,” said Brown. “A key part for us is how do we do better planning for space and how do we use the space capabilities we have?”

As he works to “operationalize” the national defense strategy, Brown is focused on forging closer ties with allies in the region and developing new concepts for deploying forces. He noted that space is an essential capability that enables all combat platforms. “We have to put some teeth behind the Powerpoint,” Brown said. “How do we complicate things for our adversaries. And how do we operate in contested environments?” One of the concerns is that China or other adversaries will jam military satellite communications. “If I can’t guarantee that comms will be up the entire time, how do forces execute mission orders?”

Brown told SpaceNews in September he was concerned about forces in the Pacific having an adequate infrastructure to be able to take advantage of space systems. “We have to make sure we have the infrastructure, sufficient bandwidth and connectivity. We want to make sure we have resilient networks against cyber attacks,” he added. “We are very focused on how we move information. I don’t want to have a single point of failure where I’m pushing information and can’t get it there.” A cyber or electronic attack that successfully disrupts satellites signals “would slow down the decision making process.”