Lt. Gen. Stephen N. Whiting on Posturing U.S. Space Operations for a Warfighting Advantage
Kari A. Bingen: Good afternoon. I’m Kari Bingen, the new director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
It turns out that we share our event today with a famous space broadcast. On October 14th, 1968 the Apollo 7 crew transmitted the first live telecast from space. The broadcast began with a view of a card reading “from the lovely Apollo room high atop everything.” So it is fitting that I welcome everyone from the lovely CSIS Aerospace Security Project virtual room and I get to welcome Lieutenant General Whiting, commander of U.S. Space Operations Command, as my first guest in this new role to discuss how Space Operations Command is posturing U.S. space operations for a warfighting advantage.
What I think is remarkable about General Whiting’s career is that he is a true space operator and an engineer. Many Air Force Academy graduates at the time who wanted to pursue a space track got their start as missileers and then moved over to space. General Whiting started as a crew commander at a space warning squadron and then went on to command several operational space units – the UHF Follow-On system, Satellite Control Network, Missile Warning and Space Control, the Joint Space Operations Center – and as the deputy commander of Air Force Space Command. He brought a space perspective to tactics development at the Air Force Warfare Center, conducted scholarly analysis at RAND and the Navy’s Strategic Studies Group, and worked at the senior-most levels at the Pentagon as the deputy secretary of defense’s senior military assistant. I can’t think of anyone better positioned with the right breadth of experiences to lead the standup of Space Operations Command at this consequential time.
So I have a few questions for General Whiting this afternoon and then I will turn to audience questions, so start thinking about those topics now. To submit a question, go to the CSIS event page on this event and click the green button “ask live questions here.”
So, General Whiting, as part of your opening remarks, it may be helpful for our audience to first understand: What is Space Operations Command? We have a Space Force, Space Command, Space Operations Command. What is SpOC? What does it do? Where does it fit? The floor is yours, sir.
Lieutenant General Stephen N. Whiting: Well, thank you, Kari, for that question. First, thank you for the invite. It’s truly a privilege to be here with CSIS and with everyone that’s joining us.
But, yeah, we do have a lot of new organizations here over the last three years and they all have the name “space” in them, and so they can be confusing. But let me talk about Space Operations Command – or, as you noted, we refer to ourselves as SpOC.
You know, in 2019 the nation really came to a culminating decision that we had to reorganize at a structural level to be ready for the threats that we now face in the space domain. And so in August of 2019 we saw the standup of a new combatant command, United States Space Command. And then, a few months later with the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act in December of 2019, we had the standup of U.S. Space Force, the sixth armed service in the United States military.
There’s one organization that sits at the nexus between this new combatant command and the new service, and that is SpOC. Space Operations Command, the command I have the privilege to lead and to serve alongside our great guardians and airmen, is the Space Force’s operational field command. So all the operational capability that we provide the joint force resides in SpOC. And while I can’t name every one of those weapons systems, just to give the audience an idea of what I’m talking about, I’m talking about our space domain-awareness capabilities, our space electromagnetic warfare capabilities, our missile-warning capabilities, our SATCOM capabilities, our GPS, our orbital-warfare capabilities. All of that that supports the joint force resides in SpOC.
And then SpOC is also the Space Force service component to U.S. Space Command. Of course, as the combatant command, U.S. Space Command has the responsibility for executing operations in space. And they have five service components, one from each of the services. And we are the Space Force service component, and we bring probably 90 to 95 percent of their operational capability because, of course, now we have a service and a combatant command solely focused on the same domain, truly a unique perspective. My eighth-grade English teacher would tell me you don’t have to modify the word “unique” with the word “truly,” but it is truly unique – nothing else like it in the Department of Defense.
And so we sit at that nexus of the two – being a service organization responsible for generating, presenting, and sustaining space, cyber, and intelligence and combat-support forces; but then we also have a role inside of U.S. Space Command in advising General Dickinson and his staff on the execution and making sure that our forces are ready as he conducts those operations.
Just to give the audience a little bit of information about our priorities, we talk about them in terms of three P-words.
Number one, we prepare combat-ready, ISR-led, cyber-secure space and combat support forces. And those words are selected very intentionally. Combat readiness is the coin of the realm in SpOC because we are that
operational fight-tonight force. We have to be intel-led, ISR-led, in everything we do because it’s all about operating relative to the threat and ensuring that we can continue to support the joint force with the critical foundational services that we’ve done for decades. And that’s really our moral responsibility to the joint force. We have to be cyber-secure in everything we do, as well, because that’s really the soft underbelly of these global space networks that reach out to GO and soon maybe even beyond GO. So that’s priority number one, to prepare those forces.
And then priority number two is to partner. We partner with a whole host of stakeholders. And that’s actually a strength of the space community that we partner with allies; we partner with commercial; we partner with other parts of the government like the National Reconnaissance Office and the Department of Commerce, for example, to make sure that we can operate the way we need to in space.
And then, finally, that third priority is to project combat power in, from, and to space, just like all other services are asked to do.
So hopefully that’s a starting place for the conversation we’re going to have over the next hour, Kari.
Ms. Bingen: General, super. That’s a really helpful rundown and overview, I think, for the audience, too, including those that are savvy on these issues and those that may be coming to it for the first time.
I want to hit on that first priority that you just mentioned on combat-ready forces, and I’m struck by the SpOC’s core mission of what that means of maintaining combat-ready space forces. And I imagine that that has a very different meaning now and into the future, especially with China and Russia, than it did even five, 10, 20 years ago. So can you discuss with us: What does it mean to generate and present combat-ready space forces? Paint for us a picture of what a contested operational environment looks like in the space domain.
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Yeah, thank you for that question. And if we had the time, I really would love to wax eloquent for a long period of time about the history of how space was birthed in great-power competition. Now, I wasn’t alive when Sputnik was launched, but the United States, as I’ve read my history, went through a crisis of confidence that we had lost the opening salvo of the space race to the Soviets as they put the first animal – the first object on orbit, first animal on orbit, first man on orbit, first woman on orbit. And the nation fundamentally changed, and by 1969 we won the closing chapters of that space race when Neil Armstrong walked out onto the lunar surface. But throughout the ’60s,
’70s, and even into the ’80s, space was highly competitive. Of course, the Soviets fielded operational ASAT systems and they were trying to, you know, hold our capabilities at risk. So we have a history of this kind of competitive, contested domain, but we did go through a long period after the wall came down in the early 1990s until the Chinese ASAT test in 2007 where space largely was uncontested, and many of our current weapons systems were built during those period, which is – many of our current space systems, which is something we’re still dealing with.
But from 2007 until today, it is all about the threat. You know, just as recently as November of last year the Russians conducted a kinetic ASAT test that was successful against one of their own satellites. You might have been able to forgive the Chinese in 2007 that they were a relatively nascent space power, didn’t really understand what they were doing when they shot their own weather satellite at a high altitude, leaving 3,000 pieces of long-lived debris that we’re still dealing with. But you absolutely in no way can forgive the Russians for doing that less than a year ago. As this historic and sophisticated space power, they knew what they were doing and they were sending us a message.
So, to circle back now to your question, what does it mean to operate in that environment? It means that everything we do now has to be relative to that environment. And it’s why we’ve spent so much time working to reorganize and to improve our intelligence capabilities to inform all of those operations. We’re working to improve our cyber capabilities to defend those operations. But now everything we’re doing in SpOC and at a Space Force level is about preparing our guardians and the airmen that are so important and work alongside us for this domain. It’s changing our training. It’s changing the exercises that Space Training and Readiness Command are putting on for us to go train at. It’s changing our unit-level training, what we call advance training. It’s training the mindset that we are working with our guardians to continue to build.
So it’s just a fundamental evolution of where, you know, space was; but then we went through this time when it was a much less contested environment; and now we’re, you know, making sure that we are – we are where we need to be relative to the threat so that we can meet that moral responsibility that I talked about, which is continuing to improve and enhance the joint force lethality and effectiveness. Which is what we’ve done for years because the joint force cannot fight the way they want to fight without the space capabilities we provide through all levels of conflict.
Ms. Bingen: And it’s an interesting point you’re making in terms of we designed our space architectures, our space capabilities for largely a pristine environment
in the past, and that is no longer the case now and into the future. And so you have such a key role in developing doctrine, concepts, tactics, techniques, and procedures for how we employ space power. So that, coupled with, you know, you are now bringing on guardians from other services, how do you create that combat-ready mindset, that operational culture, especially as you’re bringing together all of these people from different services, you’re bringing in new guardians from the academies and other universities? So how are you focusing on that culture piece?
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Yeah, thank you for that question.
First of all, standing up a new service is just a(n) almost surreal, you know, opportunity. I never thought during decades of my Air Force service that I would have this opportunity, and to get to be a part of it is such a privilege.
But as part of standing up a new service, of course, we are pulling in guardians from all of the services. Now, certainly a bulk of those started in the Air Force, but we now have hundreds of guardians who started in the Army, the Navy, and the Marines, and then we’re still getting some coming over from the Air Force. And we are really working hard to make sure that we are bringing all the best of those cultures into this new guardian culture that we’ve, you know, been working on now for almost three years, and certainly we have historical roots in our space operations before that. But we think that is a key part of this, Kari, is bringing in those guardians from the other services.
Given now that we are three years into this, we have a substantial portion of our force that has never served in the United States Air Force. Either they came to us from other services, or they are new accessions – whether officer or enlisted – who, you know, didn’t start in the U.S. Air Force. And so they – you know, they’re coming to this fresh, and that’s an exciting opportunity for us as well.
But culture is interesting. I remember a story – I don’t remember if it’s apocryphal or actual – back in the early ’90s where there was concern about morale across the joint force as we were getting smaller from the Cold War and re-baselining. There was a young Marine that was – that was interviewed, as the story goes, and they asked him how morale was in his unit. And the answer was: Oh, morale’s great because the commandant says it’s great. You know, you can’t downward-direct morale and you can’t downward-direct culture.
But what you can do is you can set the conditions. And you set those conditions by making sure that you are looking at all the key artifacts, the
historical artifacts, who you uphold as your heroes, how you empower your people, what it is you reward, what it is you decorate people for, what – you know, how you evaluate them. And we are working all of those facets. And then – and then it’s exciting to watch as the culture emerges in our deltas and in our squadrons at the baseplate level where guardians are executing our missions each and every day.
Ms. Bingen: Great point.
So if I can shift gears here to intelligence, which is a passion of mine, and you mentioned it’s a key part of your priorities and your focus – and I was really fortunate to work in this area while I was at the Pentagon – there is definitely a running theme in today’s questions, which is that transformation of the space domain from a sanctuary to a warfighter domain, as you’ve discussed, and then with the implications of this transformation are. This is also true in intelligence, and it’s an area that maybe has not received as much attention in the past. So can you talk about the intelligence needed for space and perhaps explain the strategic, the foundation of military intelligence, the operational intelligence needs of the Space Force and Space Command, and why they’re important?
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Yeah, absolutely. And thanks for highlighting, you know, your role in intel and how important it is.
Everything we do has to be relative to the threat. And so we always talk about being ISR-led, intelligence-led. And one of the real exciting opportunities as we stood up the Space Force was we went around the entire U.S. Air Force intel enterprise and we found all the pockets that were dedicated and focused on space intel. And interestingly, the vast majority of those – or certainly the majority; let me say that – the majority of those were not in the old Air Force Space Command. They were in other parts of the Air Force and had been aggregated with other intel capabilities in ways they supported us, but they weren’t aligned to us.
And so we’ve gone out and – two years ago and we brought all those into the Space Force, and we stood up an organization that we call Space Delta 7. It’s our tactical ISR organization. And it has done some exciting things, such as embedding an intel detachment into each of our – each of our other deltas that’s executing those missions that I talked about. So it’s bringing the baseplate tactical-level intel that our space operators need right into their ops center, and we’re executing a model we like to call “right seat, left seat” where that space operator is sitting right beside that intel professional, you know, executing their mission, getting the intel they need. And so we’ve really helped close that gap, and we have more to come on that. We’re going
to grow some new squadrons here over the next year in Delta 7 that’ll truly give us the whole, you know, TPED kind of architecture inside of Delta 7, and we’re excited about that. So we have to have that tactical level.
Then we have to have an operational level of intelligence. And from Space Force’s perspective, we deliver that out at the Combined Space Operations Center through the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Division of the Combined Space Operations Center. That’s a – that’s a fairly large organization out there that’s making sure that command-and-control organization that’s working on behalf of U.S. Space Command every day has the operational-level intelligence they need to enable those commanders.
And then at the strategic level, we have partnerships and detachments that sit alongside other elements of the intelligence center – pardon me, intelligence community like the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Security Agency, NGA, those kind of organizations that help us at that level.
And then I should highlight we also have a new foundational intelligence organization, what we call the National Space Intel Center, which is organized as Space Delta 18 out at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. And Kari, I think I saw you at the standup ceremony for that. Thank you for attending that. But that’s our service foundational intel center. Every service has one of those. And it’s – NSIC, as we call it, is doing that foundational intelligence, which informs policymakers, decision-makers. It informs acquisition. And of course, we’re doing that in partnership with the Air Force’s intel center, the National Air and Space Intel Center, NASIC.
But very excited about how we have improved each of those layers of intelligence to make sure that it is informing all parts of the Space Force and U.S. Space Command.
Ms. Bingen: And it was such a treat to be out there for that establishment ceremony in the summer and to just see how focused NSIC is on the mission, and supporting Space Command and then other broader users of space. So it was wonderful to see and thank you very much for your leadership on that.
And I was also intrigued by the operational intelligence comments that you made where you see space operators and space intelligence professionals sitting side by side. Because I think of other combatant commands where you go to a J-2, a director of intelligence, you go to a JIOC – that Joint Intelligence Operations Center – and you see that much more I’ll say 24/7 dynamic back and forth. Is that what you’re looking to design with Space Command and with the ISR elements that you have?
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Absolutely, Kari. And those of you who are familiar with other combatant commands, if you came to U.S. Space Command I think you would see some very similar structures. Of course, U.S. Space Command’s younger than some of those other combatant commands, so still growing, but they have a JIOC that is working 24/7 focused on the intelligence needs of all of U.S. Space Command. And of course, we have fantastic partnerships with the J-2, who is currently Brigadier General Brian Sidari, a guardian one-star. And the director of the JIOC is Colonel Chris Bell, a guardian colonel. And of course they have their joint responsibilities, but all of the intel that I’ve described is all intermeshed with that U.S. Space Command structure as well to make sure we’re each focused on our appropriate responsibilities but that we’re federating all of that knowledge together and partnering together to make sure that we’re covering down on all of our intel responsibilities.
But to summarize, yes, the intelligence requirements of U.S. Space Command look very similar in how we go about answering those to how other combatant commands are structured as well.
Ms. Bingen: That’s really great to hear.
So if I can shift a bit to how space is supporting the joint force, because some out there would be concerned that it’s not just space – focusing on space, but space supporting the joint force. And if we look back at the last 20 years of counterterrorism operations, the operating environment now that you’re posturing for with a near-peer or peer may look very different on land, at sea, in the air. We hear about efforts like Assault Breaker II that would test out concepts that could quickly target masses, whether they be of adversary ships or tanks, et cetera. And we know space capabilities will be crucial to any of those warfighting concepts, yet, as you mentioned, the threats are developing and they are likely to be targeted by the adversary. So how is SpOC thinking about providing that support and that mission assurance to that broader joint force in such a future contested environment?
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Yeah. Let me start by referencing back to our Space Force’s foundational doctrine document that’s called the “Space Capstone Publication,” or the SCP. And in that, it talks about there’s three cornerstone responsibilities of the U.S. Space Force.
Number one is providing freedom of action in space so that our country, our leaders have the freedom to do what we need to do in space.
Number two is that we – you know, cornerstone responsibility is we enable joint force lethality and effectiveness. And you’ve heard me now twice say that’s our moral responsibility to the joint force. I hope you realize I can’t put that in stronger terms how important we understand that responsibility
is and the commitment we have made to the joint force to continue providing those effects.
And then third – the third cornerstone responsibility is we provide independent options to the secretary of defense and the president. Of course, our chief of service – General Raymond, the CSO – sits on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and that’s a statutory responsibility as an advisor to the president.
And so we take very seriously that responsibility to provide those effects. But to do that, we have to create the freedom of action. And that’s the protect-and-defense operations that we certainly have been growing. And just like other services have to force-package capability – so think about a carrier strike group. That carrier strike group has to bring to bear intelligence, command and control. It has to bring together defense, offense. It has to integrate with the joint force to make sure that the joint force gets what it needs, but also that it’s leveraging what the joint force can bring.
We also have to think in space of terms of force packaging. How do we bring together intel, cyber, offense, defense, command and control, joint – you know, joint capabilities and to bring all to bear to continue to protect our ability to provide that capability, those base effects to the joint force. So that’s kind of a foundational way that we think about that, and we’re working very hard across all that that entails to make sure that everything we can do with the system SpOC has been given today, we are wringing every ounce of capability out of the tactics, techniques, and procedures that we have developed and that we are developing out of the creativity and leadership of our guardians, out of the systems we have to make sure that we can operate in the face of the threats we have.
And then we’re working with our development organizations to give our operator voice, our warfighter voice, into the requirements and the new systems that they’re building, because we have a new generation of resilient architectures that are headed our way that will – that will further enable our ability to operate in the face of those threats that are out there.
And then I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the absolute critical role that Space Training and Readiness Command, or STARCOM, plays. You know, they like to say that they prepare every guardian, and they’re responsible for our accession training through our initial skills training. They’re responsible for our test. They’re responsible for our aggressor force, who replicates red capabilities. And they help us to develop those tactics, techniques, and procedures that we need.
So it’s really that whole of service that I’ve just described that allows us to produce maximum mission assurance for the joint force.
Ms. Bingen: So I’m intrigued by your comments on how we think differently in space about force packaging. And you’re right, we don’t send a carrier out alone; it is a part of a broader complement of capabilities. Are you finding that that argument and that viewpoint is gaining traction within the department? How is that conversation going, whether it be amongst the policymaking community, the operational, or even the acquisition community?
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Yeah. My experience has been that certainly, you know, our brother(s) and sisters from the other services, when you put it in that terms – of whether it’s a Navy Carrier Strike Group or it’s a(n) Army Brigade Combat Team or a regiment in the Marine Corps or a – you know, a Gorilla package going in to take down a SAM from the Air Force – they all get it. It makes sense to them that it takes all of those capabilities to execute your mission.
And frankly, in space, when we did have that more benign environment we had the luxury of operating in more stovepipes. And now we’ve got to break down those stovepipes and really focus on the horizontal integration of that capability and that horizontal integration out to the joint force to do that force packaging and make sure that we can operate in the face of the threats that are out there now.
Ms. Bingen: Yeah, that’s a great point.
If I can shift to Ukraine for a moment, we are seeing glimpses of how an adversary will target space on the battlefield, where satellite communications are being interfered with, command-and-control nodes targeted, GPS jammed, and infrastructure attacked via cyber means. Yet, we’re also seeing how quickly satellite operators are mitigating the effects of those attacks. So what are we learning about how space capabilities are being employed in the conflict in Ukraine? And how is it informing our own space operations and perhaps TTP development?
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Yeah, thank you for the question. And of course, I’m not going to talk about any specifics. I’ll just talk generically that, obviously, you know, we’re paying attention to what is happening in Russia/Ukraine.
And certainly, I think we have seen the importance of commercial space in that – in that conflict. And you know, that kind of validates what we’ve seen now for certainly a decade or more of how fast commercial space is moving and the opportunity that it affords now, not only for, you know, countries around the world but certainly for the United States Department of Defense. And you’ve heard a lot of talk from Lieutenant General Mike Guetlein at
Space Systems Command and others about how we’re working to leverage that in our own acquisition programs.
But space is vital to the joint force. We know that. And I think many of those things that we’ve understood, you know, we’re seeing that those continue to be things we believe even as we sit here, you know, many months after that conflict started.
Ms. Bingen: And so how do you think about integrating commercial capabilities into Space Force – into the architectures, really into the operations? And how do you think about presenting commercial capabilities to commanders, and then those different forms/mechanisms that you might have available to you to share information with commercial operators?
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Yeah. When I was highlighting the partnerships priority that we have, I mentioned that I think these stakeholder partnerships we have are a strength of the space community. Now, with that said, absolutely we always have to be working to advance those partnerships and do better. But in the commercial world, you know, we leverage a ton of commercial capability today. Going back decades, you know, probably 80 percent of DOD SATCOM goes over commercial SATCOM through a – through a contracting process, and we leverage that capability and fully bring it into our operations. And now Space Force owns all of that and I’m super excited about that, you know, both on the commercial side through Space Systems Command and then now on the military side. By bringing in the Army and Navy’s SATCOM capabilities, we own all of that – MILSATCOM and the contracted commercial SATCOM now.
We also, of course, use commercial industry in a whole host of other ways. They help operate some of our systems. They help maintain our systems. But we’re always looking for new ways to go find, you know, things that we can go buy from commercial industry or just with slight modifications as opposed to building our own. That’s a real emphasis area.
And then, going back almost a decade now – not quite – we’ve stood up an organization – maybe a forum is a better way to say it – out at Vandenberg called the Commercial Integration Cell, or the CIC, where now we have 10 companies that work right alongside us. You know, they may be competitors for winning a contract, but in this forum they are cooperating because we share threats, we share insights into constellations so that as activities are happening around the world we can show them at the right classification levels what we’re seeing, they can show us what they’re seeing, and we can make better decisions to operate together. We’ve seen real benefit from
that, but we’re certainly looking to improve that and grow that and widen that as we go forward.
There’s exciting work in other areas, as well, where we’re looking at opportunities to partner with commercial. So I think we’re building from a strong base, but we certainly have a lot more we can do and are working to do as we move forward.
Ms. Bingen: And that’s great to hear because one of the things, having come from the commercial space sector, is there’s so much activity going on and so many more companies with capabilities to offer. So thinking about how you expand that concept to bring more into the fold I think is really important.
Let me shift to your other priority that you mentioned, which is cyber. And at CSIS, we’re lucky to have phenomenal interns come to our program. So one of our interns, Cari Reinert, offered the following question. And she’s a student at UT – University of Texas-Dallas studying international political economy. So her question is that you’ve talked about cyber defense as being one of the top priorities in the Space Force and that one of SpOC’s main challenges was estimating cyber risk for space assets. So can you unpack this a little bit for us in: How does SpOC think about risk? And what are the constraints or challenges to SpOC’s ability to measure risk? And then how could the private sector help here?
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Yeah, and I really appreciate this question because this is a tough nut for us. And I’ve said before in another forum – and it sounds like Ms. Reinert heard that – that this is an area we could definitely use some outside thinking on.
So what I’m specifically referencing is: How do we measure risk in the cybersecurity/cyber defense area? And let me start by using an analogy. And of course, I will recognize right upfront all analogies break down at some point, but if you’ll stay with me at the level I’m talking about, hopefully this will make sense.
But we have hundreds of years of experience in the U.S. military of assessing risk for physical security. So if you come to one of our bases of any of the services, you’re likely going to come to a gate. That gate is in – is in the middle of a fence that surrounds an installation. There are security forces personnel in uniform or civilians who are armed helping to defend that gate. As you approach our buildings, we have security systems with alarms, badge systems so that you have to badge in and out, other physical security controls. We have a relationship with our downtowns’ law enforcement and FBI partners where we get intelligence on threats and terrorist-type activity, criminal activity. We share that information together. And commanders can make a very well-informed risk assessment of their risk posture for physical
security based on those security parameters and the threats that are outside the fence.
Now, come to today in the cyber realm. We do not have the same tools or intuitive understanding of how to assess our cyber risk based on similar investments. So, today, we invest in, you know, cybersecurity at the weapons-system level, that we’re putting that in – although we do have legacy systems that were built before this was a consideration, so we’re trying to bolt on cybersecurity there. We’re building mission defense teams of guardians who are actively monitoring our systems in the cyber domain. We are building in higher-level security, as well, where we’re looking at overall networks and what kind of activity is on those networks. We’re developing relationships with those outside of our fence, if you will, to help us inform that.
But we don’t yet have the intuitive understanding to say: Based on the threat that we’re seeing, have we done enough? How much is enough in a – in a resource-constrained environment? Where would I put my next dollar in this environment to help bolster that security? I don’t want to act like we don’t have any of those tools, but it’s not the same comprehensive understanding we have for physical security. So certainly welcome those like Mr. Reinert and others who are thinking about that problem, you know, as you come up with good ideas to help us think through that holistically.
Ms. Bingen: All right, thank you. I think that’s a great challenge for her if she ever takes her research here at CSIS.
So I want to go back to readiness. General Raymond at last month’s Air, Space, and Cyber Conference remarked that the Space Force is, quote, “leading a fundamental rethink of what readiness means to a force that is primarily employed in place rather than waiting to deploy overseas.” End quote. So the other services’ readiness models, they’re all anchored to more of the deployment of forces overseas. So I’m just intrigued by how Space Force and how you are thinking about readiness, force generation, and how you as the SpOC commander then present your forces to the combatant commands with that different model in mind.
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, General Raymond regularly will highlight the four or five factors that an independent service has to do for itself, and one of them is this idea of building readiness and preparing and presenting your forces. And of course, coming out of the Air Force, the majority of the Air Force – not all of it, but the majority of it – does deploy to another location to execute its operations, and that’s certainly true of the other services as well. And so the traditional deployment models have all been built around, as you
said, Kari, that idea that we have to pick up and go somewhere, operate for some period of time, and then we’re going to come home and reset, and then go through a training cycle and get ready to go again.
Well, now the great thing about having a service solely dedicated to the Space Force, we have – we’re recognizing that for us that model is flipped. We certainly have deployable capability that’s out doing great things for the nation right now, but the vast majority of our capability deploys from home station or employs from home station. And so now we’ve built a Space Force generation model under the leadership of the Space Staff that takes that into account, that has now built a system that’s tailored for our forces. And now we’re working to rigorously report our readiness relative to those kind of employed-in-place operations and factors that are different.
So, for example, for the U.S. – well, for other services, for example, jet fuel – JP8 – literally fuels their operation. For the Space Force, the vast majority of our operations are literally fueled by HVAC and electricity. And so we have to care about, you know, at a readiness level of thinking the electrical infrastructure and the air conditioning and heating on our installations because if those kind of things fail, well, then our missions fail. And so that’s just, you know, a very tactical example of what fuels us versus what fuels others, and that drives a whole way of thinking.
And then, of course, we have to advance not just our readiness reporting, but how we’re preparing those forces. And earlier I alluded to Space Training and Readiness Command’s new series of exercises that they’re putting in place to get after our individual mission areas. And I could go through all sorts of different ways that we’re trying to elevate that work across the force, but it’s all about preparing those individual guardians and those weapons systems that we execute and operate each and every day to make sure that they’re successful in the face of the threats that are now out there.
Ms. Bingen: So logistics, sustainment, infrastructure, critically important to the Space Force just as it is to the other services as well.
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Absolutely. And because we don’t have to necessarily go to other places with all of our forces, our home station logistics sustainment facilities aren’t just for quality of life. They’re not just places we work until we go somewhere else. They are where we’re conducting, you know, vital missions for the joint force from.
Ms. Bingen: Excellent point.
So space command and control – and this is an area that you have under the SpOC – we discussed earlier that the Space Force is emphasizing this transition from few exquisite systems to more resilient, distributed space architectures. You have efforts like the Space Development Agency has underway with this proliferated low-Earth orbit architecture. You have commercial actors out there that are also fielding proliferated architectures in satellite communications and remote sensing. So how does SpOC think about those proliferated architectures coming down the pike? And what does it mean for how you’ve traditionally done command and control of really a few exquisite systems to now many?
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Yeah, the latter part of that’s a really interesting question.
First of all, we’re excited Space Development Agency has come over to the Space Force as of, you know, right at the end of September/beginning of October, and they’re an important ally in this. And so we have to have partnerships. Even as our primary job is to operate the constellations we have today and continue to execute U.S. Space Command’s and other combatant command missions, we have to have a relationship very early with all of the acquisition arms that are out there. So that’s Space Systems Command. It’s Space Development Agency. It’s the Space Rapid Capability Office. It's the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capability Office. Because as they’re working these new concepts, we’ve got to be well plugged in that as they’re delivering that we have accounted for all the factors that go into a successful acceptance of those capabilities and then fielding and operations of those capabilities.
And I have regular conversations with the leaders of each of those offices about that very topic. And basically, as soon as a weapons system is funded in the POM and it’s coming our way, we are starting to talk to that – whatever organization’s been given the responsibility to build that system, we’re starting to talk to them about: What does that look like? What does that mean when we field it? What do we have to do to get ready for that?
And then you highlighted command and control and the – you know, what does that mean. You know, we are working very hard to make sure that as new capabilities are delivered that we are well integrating that capability across horizontally, as I mentioned earlier, with all the supporting capabilities that have to come to bear to enable that capability; or that capability now comes to bear to enable somebody else, to include working out with the joint force. And that does – that does challenge us to go review the models we’ve used historically for command and control, and so that is work we’re constantly doing. We get a lot of, you know, good thinking that helps us in that from our Weapons School – the Space Force’s Weapons
School squadron. We get good thinking on that from our Space Force schools out there, professional military education.
Guardians think a lot about command and control, and they’re constantly challenging us. And so we bring those new concepts forward through exercises or wargames and then, as we need, we make adjustments. But you’re right, proliferated architectures will cause us to have to continue that evolution.
Ms. Bingen: No, that’s great. And definitely, to your point, a different way of thinking than we’ve done in the past, which is really refreshing to hear.
If I can now shift to some audience questions and we’ll see – some may be tough and hard to answer in this environment. Others may be a bit – you may have a bit more latitude here. But let me start with a question from Jon Harper from Defense Scoop, which is: What are SpOC’s top priorities for strengthening offensive capabilities and counter-space weapons?
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Well, our priorities are to make sure that all of our capability works well together to operate in the face of the threats that we now face. You know, we have responsibilities to force package all the capabilities that I highlighted earlier. And so working very diligently with all the right acquisition organizations and test organizations to make sure we’re ready for that. But I’m not going to talk about any specifics on any of those kind of systems beyond that.
Ms. Bingen: That’s what I suspected, but I would have a tough time as well. So I appreciate you talking about what you did.
So let me shift here to space traffic management and international norms. This is a question from Michael Marrow at Inside Defense: General Thompson recently said that space could become difficult to operate in and manage if new norms and international agreements on space conduct are not reached. So how soon might space traffic reach a point where it becomes difficult to manage? And how quickly will international agreements need to be reached to prevent that from happening?
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Yeah, thanks for that question. There’s certainly been a lot of work within the Space Force, within the Department of Defense about norms of behavior within the U.S. government about how we mitigate debris. And we are responsible to all – we’re responsible for upholding all of those agreements, including the secretary of defense’s guidance, which I think was from last year, about, you know, norms of behavior and how we have to operate in space.
Let me give you just a percentage here to help you understand how rapidly the amount of objects on orbit are increasing. If you go back to the beginning of 2020 until today – so not quite three years – I think we’ve seen over an 80 percent increase in the public satellite catalog, and that’s for a couple reasons. One is we now have these mega constellations that are being launched. We now have better sensors to help us track what was already on orbit that we couldn’t track previously. And then, also, we have the reckless Chinese – pardon me, Russian ASAT test that has added hundreds of pieces of long-lived debris out there. So certainly a lot of, you know, items in space that we have to take advantage – or, we have to be responsible for tracking, and we’re eager for the Department of Commerce to come online now to take over the baseline space-traffic management, you know, work and space situational awareness work that they’re going to take on to allow us to focus on the military-unique part of that challenge.
But it’s, you know, we just want to be supportive of all efforts at all levels to make sure that all spacefaring organizations and nations are mitigating the risk of additional debris, and that for the capabilities we will continue to launch that we have really solid plans on how we deal with those assets at end of life to mitigate, again, long-lived objects being on space. So this is a, you know, whole-of-government approach, and we certainly want to do our part at the Space Force and SpOC.
Ms. Bingen: Yeah, I appreciate that.
Let me shift to international – continuing on the theme of international space and space cooperation opportunities, we have a question from Adriana Reinecke at SAIS focusing on our relationship with Japan: So Japan also recently established a space operations group that is currently working on expanding into multiple squadrons. So does Space Force have plans to pursue joint defense cooperation with this Japanese space operations group and, if so, in what areas?
And if I can tack onto that, maybe, the broader question of SpOC’s efforts on the international partnerships front including, perhaps, Operation Olympic Defender, which, I believe, is under you.
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Yeah. There’s a lot here that I could talk about for a long time. So how about I’ll focus on Japan and then, certainly, any follow-ups that you or Adriana has, Kari?
But Japan is, obviously, a very important and vital security partner and we’ve been in conversations with them for a lot of years about space and, in fact, they have a liaison officer that sits at Vandenberg alongside the combined
force space component commander and the combined Space Operations Center so that we can, you know, better foster these conversations.
But we have been talking to them about opportunities such as a new space radar that they’re going to build, how it will integrate into our space surveillance network, other capabilities about space – potential hosted payloads. And so there’s really a lot of great work ongoing there and we’re excited to see what Japan is doing with their new space group and as they continue to develop that capability how we can better partner, going forward.
I will highlight briefly we do have just fantastic partnerships, of course, with Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, so many other countries as well, and that just makes us better because we’re stronger together when we operate together.
And you highlighted U.S. Space Command’s Operation Olympic Defender where Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom and the United States have all agreed to operate day to day together.
And so if you go to the combined Space Operations Center, at the right classification levels it might be a major or a squadron leader from one of those other countries who’s the crew commander today running operations because that’s the level of integration we have in Operation Olympic Defender.
Again, always more we can do, always things we can do better. But we do have a host of rich and very effective partnerships in the international arena in space.
Ms. Bingen: And I love that we, in a coalition operation or, you know, we have a shared objective or shared mission you figure out a way to get it done and you do it with our partners, and I love seeing that.
It does beg the question, though, on over classification. This has been an issue in space. We tend to treat it as this very highly classified thing. It was, obviously, a high priority issue for General Hyten, for General Raymond, and even Congress in the last few years.
So how are you approaching this? What are some of the challenges that you see and, potentially, solutions looking at it from the operational perspective that you have?
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Yeah. I’ll start by just reflecting that this is a(n) ultra marathon. It’s not an end state. You know, we’ll constantly be working to improve our ability to
share information and there’s reasons that there’s – you know, we have security controls is to make sure that the secrets of the nation are protected accordingly.
But we’ve made – we have made progress but we need to make more progress and so, you know, it’s kind of country by country. We work this in a bilateral way what information can we share, how do we share that over what systems, how does that enable operations.
And so, you know, inside of SpOC we’re constantly evaluating our information to that end, constantly working all the right processes with our intelligence community partners and with our other security partners to maximize how we operate with our international partners because, again, we think and we know we’re stronger together and we just want to do that in a way that maximizes those partnerships while protecting the things that the nation needs to protect.
Ms. Bingen: OK. So let me shift here to space defense or space protection here.
A question from Frank Wolfe at Defense Daily. How can industry help Space Operations Command with protecting satellites against electromagnetic interference, possible jamming of GPS signals, and directed energy dazzling of satellites?
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Yeah. Those are all threats that we now face and it’s not just the Space Force or U.S. Space Command that faces those threats.
And so when commercial industry accounts for the fact that their satellites, their space-related systems, may face those kind of threats and starts to build in hardening, starts to build in ways to operate through those kind of threats, that only accrues to our benefit because as we go to commercial industry to, potentially, contract with those services or buy those capabilities, you know, much of the things that we’re going to be interested in are now being accounted for by commercial industry, and I think recent history has shown that those companies who are working down those lines are able to continue to operate in the face of those threats.
And so we think that’s only goodness as industry is becoming more aware of the threats and the environment that they have to operate in and are accounting for that, you know, at the very design level of their systems.
Ms. Bingen: And then building off of that, another one of our incredible CSIS interns, John Dylan Bustillo, who’s a recent graduate of Dickinson College, notes that
Russia has claimed that the satellites of companies that are working directly with the Ukrainian military are to be considered legitimate military targets.
So considering SpOC and other joint users out there, how much they are leveraging commercial space assets as military enablers, can you speak to some of the challenges SpOC faces in providing assurance, and then its potential role or how it’s thinking about the protection of those commercial partners?
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Yeah. I think it’s important to note, you know, there are combatant commands who have the mission of protecting and defending on orbit, and so let me just say, broadly, that just as in other domains if a commercial asset that the United States government had contracted with to provide capability was held at risk, you know, that becomes of interest to the United States government and I think we will see that same dynamic play out in space, and there are processes for how we go about working with companies and then working with our own capabilities to defend that and I think we would see very similar processes followed in the space domain.
Ms. Bingen: OK. I appreciate that.
So let me go further afield from GEO even and hit cislunar. There is a lot of rumbling out there about cislunar space. What is your and the SpOC’s views on a cislunar mission or posture?
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Yeah. Thanks for that question, and I referenced earlier in the cyber question that, you know, space networks are truly global and then they go out to 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface to GEO, and then I referenced maybe beyond, that we are seeing this interest in cislunar.
Again, we’re going to be driven by intelligence. We’re going to be driven by the facts in space, if you will, of what we need to do in cislunar.
I will say I’m really happy with the Air Force Research Lab. They have some prototype launches that will be going to cislunar space in the, you know, next year or so, which will help us to understand that environment, how to operate there, what – you know, what we need to be thinking about in that environment, and I think that is perfect – that’s perfect timing for us right now, and then we’ll see where we go from there.
But human history has said to us that as explorers, as commerce, has stretched across the oceans that there was a need for a navy, ultimately, to follow and to help protect and defend those capabilities. You know, if history plays out – and we’ll have to see – if commerce goes to the moon or goes
beyond the moon out into the solar system, we may have a need for national defense to follow and, if so, that’ll be the role of the U.S. Space Force.
But that’s looking down the road and we’ll see how that plays out. But I think we’re well postured now to have those – you know, to learn about cislunar, see what’s happening there, and then to move forward as the need dictates.
Ms. Bingen: Well, General, you – earlier in your career, you had opportunities to go to RAND, to go to the Navy Strategic Study Groups, and to do that kind of academic research, investigating some strategic areas that would affect space down the road.
So, you know, as you look at the threat now and how warfare is changing in the space domain, so how are we doing on advancing our strategic thinking on space power theory and space deterrence, and how are the professional military education in some of the schools doing in providing that kind of education and, frankly, room just to think?
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Yeah. Certainly, for decades, space operators from the Air Force, the Army, as they were in PME schools have written a lot about the future of what space would look like and, lo and behold, some of those things have now happened with a standup of a combatant command, a standup of a service.
So we have organizations whose only job is to show up to work every day thinking about the space domain. So I see an acceleration of that strategic thinking about space and, of course, I think that’s even outside of those organizations out into the think tanks, for example, because all of us are just more and more aware of how foundational space is to our economy, to our society and, of course, to our national defense.
But inside of the service the Space Training and Readiness Command has already published a couple doctrine documents. By their – by our third Space Force birthday, which will be in December of this year, they expect to have not only our service Capstone doctrine document but they will have now a 1.0, a 2.0, a 3.0, all the way down to 6.0. All of those major functional areas we will have a doctrine document kind of describing how we view that in a space context.
And then as we are sharpening our professional military education schools to focus on space, I think the opportunity will only continue to accelerate forward what that strategic thinking will look like.
So I am very optimistic about that. In fact, sometimes I like to say if you go back five years ago to, what would that be, October of 2017, we couldn’t have imagined what today looks like in the space national security environment.
So I’m humble in the face of what five years from now looks like. But I think we’re putting in all the right organizations and all the right opportunities to really think hard about that and to bring forward the best thinking about that, as we move forward.
Ms. Bingen: So as we wind down here I want to push you on that crystal ball moment. But, you know, next week is the two-year anniversary of the SpOC – its establishment. You were an early member of Space Force. You stood up the SpOC and are its first leader.
I’d love your – any last thoughts you have, but also spending a few moments reflecting on what the last two years have been like and how the organization has evolved, but also what SpOC might look like five, 10 years from now and, really, what the future of space warfare looks like five to 10 years from now.
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Yeah. As I said, I’m humble in those projections because the world can change so rapidly.
But let me talk about year three here. We are next week going to celebrate our second birthday and it’s, truly, been humbling and a career-culminating type assignment to have the opportunity to be the first SpOC commander along with all of our great guardians and airmen and to help shape this organization.
But job one here at SpOC, which will remain job one next year, is to continue to execute outstanding operations – space operations – on behalf of the nation. You know, really, the two organizations I’ve talked about, the new Space – you know, our new Space Force and our new Space Command – they’re all built on the fact that we continue to conduct excellent space operations on behalf of the nation and the joint force.
So we can’t compromise that because all the other new things we’re doing, the changes we’re making, all rely on that foundation, and so we’ll have to continue to assess the new threats that are arriving next year and figure out better ways to operate.
We’ll have to take the new systems that are being delivered and incorporate them and be better at our jobs because of those systems. We’ll have to take the new capabilities and the new guardians that have arrived from the Army
and the Navy and in SATCOM and in the future missile warning and integrate them fully.
We’ve made some really positive steps to do that on the SATCOM side but there’s still more work to do to continue to now – all the processes have to be morphed towards Space Force processes. By the way, the Space Force processes need to learn from how the Army and the Navy operated.
So that will be the work of year three, largely, and then, you know, I’m excited to see where five, 10 years – I’ll be long gone by that time. But I think the world – I think the Space Force could look very, very different 10 years from now than it does today as we think about cislunar, as we think about, potentially, colonists going to Mars and what does that mean for the Space Force.
We’ll see how that plays out, but I’m excited to watch it as it happens.
Ms. Bingen: All right. That sounds great.
Well, General, you started early on here in the conversation talking about culture and that a commander doesn’t tell his organization what the culture is but you set the conditions and you demonstrate, and you set an example by your leadership.
You also mentioned that you identify heroes, and so if I can maybe ask you at the end here who is your hero that you look up to.
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Well, that question could go in many ways, you know, from my wife, who’s just an outstanding partner and entrepreneur and mother, but, you know, inside the space realm there’s so many luminaries that I look up to, you know, going back to General Hyten, General Raymond, General Shelton, going back even farther in time in the building that we sit in here, General Hartinger, General Moorman, just incredible people who set the foundation for all that we’re doing today.
We like to say that we’re standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, and all those people who came before us aren’t even all uniform personnel. There’s pathfinders like Katherine Johnson in NASA, pathfinders like General Lester Lyles, who spent most of his career doing space acquisition.
And so it’s those kind of people who just inspire me, that we don’t want to let them down. They set the conditions for us to succeed and now we have to do that.
Ms. Bingen: General Whiting, our time has come to a close, but we really covered the waterfront this afternoon. So thank you very much for your time, the insightful comments that you provided today, just your day-to-day leadership and being a role model for guardians across the force. So thank you very much.
I’d also like to thank Makena Young, Kaitlyn Johnson, and the CSIS team that planned the event.
Thank you to our audience. We had some excellent questions today and I know we did not get to all of them.
It is wonderful to be here at CSIS and to carry forward their tradition of providing in-depth knowledge and independent analysis on important national security issues. So please stay tuned in the months ahead for more from the CSIS team and have a great weekend.
Lt. Gen. Whiting: Thank you, Kari.