WASHINGTON – The Air Force needs more people for space intelligence, at the very least similar to levels it has in other domains, Lt. Gen. David Buck said.

“Our space intel capability has atrophied, so we need to hit the gym and develop some muscle mass,” Buck said at a breakfast Friday hosted by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

Buck has two positions: commander of the 14th Air Force under Air Force Space Command and leader of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space under U.S. Strategic Command. That puts Buck in position of not only organizing, training, and equipping space forces, but also being a main point-person for the space part of any military operations.

However, Buck said that to do his job well, he needs more people focused on analyzing and developing intelligence about what’s going on in orbit.

“To put it in context, Air Combat Command [responsible for carrying out airstrikes against ISIS and other targets] has roughly 5,000 intelligence professionals focused on the air campaign. Yet Air Force Space Command only has about 550 intelligence professionals focused on space,” Buck said.

“A typical flying wing has over 30 intel specialists with at least two per squadron,” the general continued. “My wings in 14th Air Force barely have 10, with only a sprinkling at the squadron level.”

Buck said that “getting there will take some time,” as the Air Force first has to find the people, create the right positions for them, and grow their expertise.

The good news, Buck said, is that the conversation is already underway, and Lt. Gen. VeraLinn “Dash” Jamieson, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, is currently assessing the best way to get more intel personnel into space career fields.

“To me, intelligence drives operations, and we have to get ahead of adversary actions,” Buck said. “Just like every other domain I need domain awareness: knowledge of who, what, where, when, and why.”

Space is integrated into every military operation, including the recent bombing campaigns in Syria and Afghanistan, Buck said.

Although the general said he could not talk in specifics about the operations, he said that typically the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) will receive requests for space support from combatant commanders.

“Typically we will get those space support requests and say ‘how can we best support this campaign?’” Buck said. “Typically in a campaign like this, notionally, it would involve optimizing the precision, navigation, and timing constellation – GPS – and also making sure that our satellite communications systems are queued and ready to support.”

Buck also said that the military needs to reevaluate the how it organizes space warfighting, and that it needs to get more authority into the hands of the people actually carrying out the mission.

“We’re discovering through test and experimentation that the speed of fight in, through, and from space requires delegation of authorities to enable flexibility on the operational commander’s timing and tempo,” he said. “At times it seems easier to get approval to drop a kinetic weapon on a target than it is to take pictures in space. I’m overstating it some, but you get the point.”

Greater intelligence and organization will aid the military in any future conflicts where fighting spills over into orbit, Buck said.

“We don’t want to talk about war in terms of a land war or a maritime war or an air war, so let’s stop talking about space in terms of a space war,” he said. “In the military, we conduct campaigns. Many of these campaigns are domain centric, but they’re all related to the same objective, and that’s all war. An adversary’s first move in conflict may be in space, cyber, or deep undersea – domains that challenge our abilities to attribute hostile actions.”

Phillip Swarts is the military space reporter for SpaceNews. He previously covered space and advanced technology for Air Force Times, the Justice Department for The Washington Times, and investigative journalism for the Washington Guardian;...