Air Force Secretary: Space Force debate “tremendously helpful”

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Air Force Secretary Wilson: “The chief of staff and I are actually very glad that people are becoming more aware and having a debate."

WASHINGTON — In an interview Wednesday, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius pressed Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson to explain how the service is preparing to carry out President Donald Trump’s order to create a separate military service for space.

What transition issues are you concerned about? Could administrative costs cause delays in creating a Space Force? Do you agree with the president? As everyone in government knows, transitions can be bumpy, Ignatius asked.

Wilson avoided getting into specifics and spoke broadly about the idea that, by elevating space into the national conversation, the president did a good thing.

“The chief of staff of the Air Force and I are actually very glad that people are becoming more aware and having a debate,” Wilson said. “That wasn’t there before. And that’s tremendously helpful.”

Wilson last year fought back congressional efforts to break up the Air Force to form a space corps, and since the president’s surprise announcement on June 26 has publicly said very little on the matter. Congress is expected to take up the organization of the Space Force in next year’s defense policy bill for fiscal year 2020.

The secretary reiterated comments she had made in the past about how much more attention is being paid to space as a “warfighting domain.” She noted how the political climate has changed. When Wilson was going through the Senate confirmation process in early 2017, Pentagon officials would not allow her to mention space and warfighting domain in the same sentence, she recalled. “Now I have the president, the vice president, the establishment of a National Space Council, a national security strategy” all aligned on that issue.

Pressed again by Ignatius to elaborate on the looming reorganization, Wilson continued to talk big picture. “The most important thing is to stay focused on the warfighter and maintain the lethality of the service no matter how the [organization] chart boxes go,” she said. “It’s all about the ability to fight. And if we focus on that, and not on which boxes move around, we’ll do the right thing for the nation.”

On the question of what type of space weapons the United States might need in the future, Wilson only mentioned the need for “defendable” systems. “Are we going to have ‘attack satellites’ to accompany our communications satellites?” Ignatius asked.

Wilson did not make any news on that front. “The U.S. is determined to protect our capability on orbit,” she said. “We are going to defend ourselves and we are developing the capability to do that. Our adversaries are listening, I want them to have no doubt that if they seek to contest the United States in space that we will defend ourselves.”

To achieve these goals, the Pentagon’s procurement system must change, Wilson said. “For me one of the big issues is how do we accelerate acquisition?” How do we move the Pentagon forward quickly? There’s a huge bureaucracy around acquisition.” The Air Force is trying to make some changes not just in space but broadly across all major programs, Wilson noted.

Ignatius asked her to explain why the Air Force was developing a new constellation of early warning launch detection satellites with a target delivery date of 2029. Wilson said the program has been “accelerated” so new satellites can be deployed by 2025. “We’re working with Congress on the exact dates.”