COLORADO SPRINGS — The chief of space operations of the U.S. Space Force Gen. B. Chance Saltzman called on the service to embrace challenges and opportunities created by the rapid commercialization and militarization of the space domain.

“I fundamentally believe we are now at the precipice of a new era in space,” Saltzman said April 19 in a keynote speech at the Space Symposium.

Saltzman assumed command of the Space Force in November. Since taking office, he has championed cultural changes in the service, including new ways to recruit talent and work with the private sector

“The Space Force, our industry partners, our allies, our interagency teammates must collectively pivot to new ways of doing business to keep up with the new operating environment,” he said. 

Although the Space Force is only three years old, it was carved out of the former Air Force Space Command and inherited the culture and ways of doing business from the first space age that started in the late 1950s and was shaped by the geopolitical tension between the United States and the Soviet Union.

“I’m convinced that old methods, old mindsets are not going to be effective in addressing these new challenges,” said Saltzman.

Now the Space Force has to quickly adapt to new realities, notably the threats posed by technologies that China and Russia have developed to target U.S. satellites. Over many years, the Chinese and the Russians have watched how dependent the U.S. military has become on satellites for every aspect of operations and would likely try to disrupt U.S. space systems during a conflict. 

Threats to satellites

In the last 15 years, Saltzman said, “we are seeing an incredibly sophisticated array of threats, including traditional satcom jammers and GPS jammers to even more destabilizing direct ascent anti-satellite weapons across multiple orbital regimes.”

“We’re seeing on-orbit grapplers, pursuit satellites, nesting dolls, directed energy weapons, cyber attacks,” he added. “And it’s not just threats against our on-orbit systems. It’s the use of systems by our competitors creating threats to the joint force and other domains.”

The United States and allied forces must “contend with space-enabled attacks on our forces in air, land and sea,” said Saltzman. In this new era, he said, “space is far more contested; U.S. access to space capabilities is not a given. This new era of space is far more congested and will challenge our ability to maintain situational awareness and operate safely in the domain.”

The rapid commercialization of space, access to satellite and launch services from the open market means U.S. adversaries can innovate relatively quickly and compete with the United States. 

That democratization of space is a reality that the U.S. military has yet to adjust to, Saltzman noted. “We’re now seeing investments in space mobility and logistics, refueling, life extension programs, proliferated low Earth orbit, internet satellites and more,” he said. “As this all unfolds, it is imperative that we understand that our traditional ways of addressing challenges must be evaluated.”

Empowering young leaders

Saltzman said it’s important for current leaders to empower younger officers and allow them to innovate. 

“A contested, congested domain is their normal, and they wonder why the institutions are holding on to old methods and mindsets,” he said, referring to junior leaders. 

He encouraged young officers and enlisted personnel in the audience to “question existing ways of doing business.’

“We must pivot,” Saltzman said. “This is an imperative for the collective national security space enterprise, our industry partners and our allies. The old ways of doing business are too slow, too late to need, and too behind the times to meet the challenges we face.”He said some changes already are underway, including funding in the 2024 budget for proliferated LEO constellations and next-generation satellite communications systems. “We are building assets that are more survivable for this new era.”

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...