Profile: Gen. Lance Lord (ret.)
Air Force Space Command
W hen recently retired Air Force Gen. Lance Lord delivered his keynote address at the National Space Symposium in April 2005, the service was under intense scrutiny from Congress because most of its major space acquisition programs were over budget and behind schedule.
As the nation’s top uniformed military space official, with responsibility for development, acquisition and operation of the Air Force’s space systems, he took the situation seriously, and in characteristic style addressed it head on. In a rousing speech, Lord acknowledged the problems, assured the public the Air Force was addressing them and told the service’s critics it was time to move on and “get over it.”
Lord’s main point was that whatever problems might be happening with the acquisition system, U.S. military satellites, once they have been launched and become operational, work magnificently and give the United States a decisive advantage on the battlefield that should never be surrendered.
Lord should know. He spent his entire 37-year military career helping the Air Force develop and deploy an unrivaled array of space and missile systems. He commanded ICBM wings and the space wing at Edwards Air Force Base in California responsible for satellite launch and ballistic missile test operations. He also has been a leader in Air Force training and education efforts. When he retired April 1, Lord oversaw a space operation that has grown to include more than 39,000 people who are now an integral part of U.S. combat forces.
He spoke recently spoke with Space News Editor Lon Rains, Deputy Editor Warren Ferster and staff writer Jeremy Singer.
What are you most proud of from your tenure as commander of Air Force Space Command?
I’m proud of a whole lot of people and a whole lot of things that we’ve done over the last four years, but two things stand out: space getting recognized as an equal partner with air, land and sea, and then being able to put together the space professional development team.
When then-Air Force Secretary James Roche announced after Operation Iraqi Freedom that he recognized that space was equal partner with air, land and sea, that really helped us validate all the hard work people have done since Air Force Space Command was formed back in the early 1980s. The nation did not have the space cadre at the place it needed to be, so we put together the space professional development program. Now we’re moving out with level-one, -two and -three certifications of space professionals.
In a recent op-ed, you said the Air Force tried to do too much with too little in space acquisition during the 1990s. Have enough changes been made to avoid the overruns and schedule slips of the past several years?
We’ve turned a corner and I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll be able to deliver. But it’s going to require constant attention. Back when [Lt. Gen. Bernard A.] Schriever and the team were put together, the national imperative they had really helped. Once we won the Cold War things changed. There was the peace dividend [reduced defense spending]. We took a different tack and released our grip a little bit. As a result we had some problems. We’ve identified those; but we’ve still got work to do making sure we’ve got all the right people, and we can share talent across the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the Air Force, the Navy and the Army.
It’s time to focus on the future and make sure we deliver. So in that sense, I think we’re over it. We know where we’ve been, we know where we’re going to go, but we’ve got to keep the pressure on. I will say this: Once we get things on orbit they perform very well — many of them way, way, way beyond their expected lifetimes.
What is your view of the decision to split off the NRO job from the duties of the undersecretary of the Air Force?
I’m not going to criticize the decision. What I am going to work on is figuring out how we make the most of the resources that exist on the Air Force side and work with the NRO to make sure that we share talent, share operational procedures and capabilities.
We’ve been working with NRO Director Don Kerr and the team and the secretary of the Air Force to make sure that we can pick this talent and share it in great ways. That’s the key to helping us all succeed in the business in the future.
Why has the Air Force been so determined to keep funding flowing to the Space Radar |effort?
When I’ve talked to all the combat commanders and asked them what they want from our space capabilities, they’re all after that unblinking eye, the capability to have that 24/7/365 surveillance capability linking air, land and sea, so we can have the surveillance and reconnaissance critical to maintaining situational awareness in the theater. We are working Space Radar to help us augment these capabilities.
Will the initial Space Radar satellites be capable of tracking moving targets?
We’re going to produce a lot of information and we’re going to be able to see how we can exploit that and work those capabilities as we go. That’s a great place for the intelligence community and [the Defense Department] to work together.
Where do unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) fit in?
This is a very interesting question because it relates to our work over the last 18 months to 24 months on near space, taking a look at how we can complement and augment the capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles. The capability to stay aloft for 24 hours is exciting and gives us an additional bit of reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities.
If we can augment UAVs with lighter-than-air craft — high-altitude capabilities that may be able to stay aloft longer — you can link those all across satellites right on down to air-breathing platforms that give you a leg up as you start working this unblinking eye and being able to surveil areas that you need to be interested in.
Do you think the Quadrennial Defense Review’s emphasis on UAVs could come at the expense of space systems?
Those are all decisions that are going to occur way above me in terms of how all the resources get put together. What it comes down to me for is making sure that we can deliver on the warfighter requirements, and fit this together the right kind of way and show that they work together. We think that there’s a natural affinity for space people and UAV folks to work together.
How can the Air Force convince Congress that the Space Radar is affordable?
We have to prove we can acquire systems on time and at cost and really work the mission assurance piece, to assure them that we can deliver the capabilities.
That’s where we lost our focus.
You’ve talked a lot about protecting space assets in the past. Are there any specific instances where someone tried to tamper with, destroy or disrupt satellites — beyond the one example of GPS jamming in Iraq?
You can see where people outside the GPS realm have been interfering with each other — on space-based communications especially. That’s something we need to make sure we watch and guard against. I’m not going to go into any specifics beyond that, but it’s important to understand that this is not a benign environment. There’s tremendous potential out there, and you don’t have to be a peer competitor with the United States. That’s why it’s important to protect the links, the satellite, the capabilities and the ground systems as well.
That’s why we spent a lot of effort over the last four years learning about and working hard in space situational awareness and defense counter space to make sure that we can defend it.
Do we have the means to detect where such threats are coming from?
We test ourselves to make sure we understand what’s going on in that environment, and we work that very hard in all our exercises. I’m not going to go into specific operational details, but that’s something we take very seriously.
What’s next after retirement from the Air Force?
It’s been a great run and I look forward to continue to work in this area. I’ll be able to talk to anybody who’s willing to listen to me as I continue to work in the future.