WASHINGTON — The United States wants space to be a peaceful domain for scientific and commercial pursuits, said Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall. But preventing a conflict over space assets is going to become increasingly difficult, he said, due to the strategic value of satellites and the proliferation of technologies that can be used to destroy satellites. 

“A characteristic of space, unfortunately, is that it’s a sort of a no man’s land where each side has the other side under observation, and there’s instability associated with that, because whoever moves first could have a significant advantage,” Kendall said Sept. 29 at the Center for American Progress. 

“Both Russia and China have been building space systems to support their military operationally and for strategic reasons, and they both have been working on offensive capability to counter our space systems,” Kendall added. “So we cannot ignore that.”

Kendall, who is the civilian leader of the U.S. Air Force and the Space Force, earlier this year issued a list of focus areas for both services, the first of which is a “resilient space order of battle.”

This means the Space Force has to develop systems and tactics to ensure U.S. forces have access to satellite-based intelligence, navigation, communication and other essential services, and that these services are reliable and continue to operate while under attack.

Space is tightly coupled with everything the U.S. military does, said Kendall. The unfortunate truth is that space has become to a certain degree militarized” so the U.S. has to prepare for the possibility of conflict, he noted. “This is the dynamic that we have to deal with.”

He said it is “an unfortunate fact of our lives that space is going in this direction.”

Since taking over as Air Force secretary, Kendall has insisted that the biggest challenge for U.S. forces will be to counter China’s technological advances. 

During his talk at the Center for American Progress, Kendall repeated what he has said frequently: “I have three priorities: China, China, China.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...