U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Jay Raymond speaking July 15 at the Future Space 2016 luncheon at the Reserve Officers Association in Washington. Credit: Future Space Leaders

WASHINGTON – One of the U.S. Air Force’s senior space officials said July 14 that the Defense Department has little room for error as it transforms how it operates in space.

Lt. Gen. Jay Raymond, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for operations who previously led the 14th Air Force, told a group of young space professionals here that “there is absolutely nothing that we do in the joint force that isn’t enabled or made better by space capabilities. Absolutely nothing.”

Here are three take-aways from his speech at the Future Space Leaders Foundation’s Future Space 2016 conference:

1) Raymond describes the Defense Department’s recent focus on space protection as a “renaissance.”

The Defense Department has budgeted $6.6 billion over six years for what’s been broadly described as space protection. Those efforts include an emphasis on satellites and ground systems that can withstand a host of threats from enemies.

“We’re going through a renaissance,” Raymond said. “That renaissance is fueled by the need to protect and defend these new capabilities and space capabilities that we have become so reliant on.  Some have called this a tipping point  — where we’re really highly reliant and at the same time, we’re pretty vulnerable. This is kind of an uncomfortable position to be in because space capabilities fuel our American way of life and they fuel our American way of war … it’s not just good enough to focus on how to build those capabilities and integrate them, we’re now focusing on: ‘How do you protect and defend those capabilities to make sure we can always access them?’”

2) Disaggregation remains a popular term in the Pentagon.

“One concept we’re exploring in enhanced resiliency is disaggregation – where capabilities are dispersed across several smaller, less complex, more affordable satellites,” he said. “Perhaps if we can spread those capabilities across a number of different platforms, including hosted payloads, free-flying payloads, smaller satellites, strategic and tactical capabilities, government, commercial and allies it’ll make the industry that much better for others. “

The Defense Department plans to decide the future makeup of two of the Air Force’s most valuable satellite programs before year’s end. The Air Force is wrapping up long-running studies on two next-generation programs: its missile-warning program, known as the Space Based Infrared System, or SBIRS, and its protected communication system, known as the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites, or AEHF. Both programs are nearing the end of production and the Air Force will need new satellites on orbit in the mid-2020s.

Many in the Pentagon lean toward disaggregating at least one of the satellite systems.

3) “Our adversaries will not let up.”

Raymond used his speech to stress how critical space has become to the Defense Department. While this is a nearly universal theme when Air Force leaders talk about space, Raymond used unusually stark language and framed his comments toward the relentlessness of potential enemies.

“Our way of doing business has forever changed and we have made huge strides in transforming the space enterprise, “ he said. “But our adversaries will not let up so we’ve got to keep moving forward … I tell my team ‘We can’t whiff, we can’t miss.’”

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Patrick T. Ingraham is a SpaceNews editorial intern. The University of South Carolina rising senior is majoring in multimedia journalism with a minor in political science.