Theory of Success: A Conversation with General Saltzman
This transcript is from a CSIS event hosted on February 22, 2023. Watch the full video here.
Kari A. Bingen: Great. Good morning, everyone. Good morning to our guests here in person and to those joining us online. I’m Kari Bingen. I’m the director of the Aerospace Security Project here at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
It is such an honor to welcome General “Salty” Saltzman to the stage here, the chief of space operations, to discuss his thoughts at a theory of success for the Space Force as well as his vision and priorities for space.
So, General Saltzman leads the U.S. Space Force, responsible for the organizing, training, and equipping of space forces. He’s a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, providing independent military advice to the president and to the secretary of defense. He got his start as an Air Force missile launch officer, like many space officers did at the time, and moved over to space assignments. He has a breadth of experiences; from operating satellites at the National Reconnaissance Office, to leading combat operations at the Joint Space Operations Center, to serving as the deputy commander of Air Forces Central Command, the first non-flying officer to do so – aircraft-flying officer to do so. (Laughter.)
I had the opportunity to talk to General Saltzman back in December, and he wanted to create some thoughtful debates on pressing issues facing the Space Force across Guardians, civilians, academics, and others in our ecosystem. So, you’ll notice there are many next-generation participants in the audience today. That was intentional. But I will leave it to General Saltzman to discuss what he wants from you.
It is a privilege to be here and help foster these important debates. After I talk with General Saltzman, I’ll turn to the audience for questions. Please submit your questions via the button on the website event page. Or, if you’re here in person, there’s a QR code above here. I would especially encourage our next-generation participants to ask questions. And then we’ll acknowledge you as we – as we raise those questions.
So, first I’m going to ask General Saltzman, it’s been just over three months since you’ve been on the job. You’re only the second-ever chief of space operations. I’d like to get your first impressions of the new job: What stood out to you? What surprised you? Any holy-cow moments for us?
General B. Chance Saltzman: Well, I think they’ve all been holy-cow moments, quite frankly. It’s such a whirlwind. I tell my wife I wake up every morning just excited for the opportunities and I go to bed every night exhausted – (laughs) – by all the work.
It’s just been an honor and a privilege. It’s really exciting to talk to the young Guardians and see how excited they are for the new service, which puts pressure on leadership, I think, to get it right, do things differently.
And so for the first few months, I’ve really been in listening mode – going around, talking to the combatant commanders, talking to Guardians, talking to allies, talking to partners, and trying to figure out what is it that the Space Force really needs to be focused on, and what is it that we – how do we add value to the joint force. Like, what’s the purpose? That’s kind of what comes through, is they want it – they want it clearly defined. Like, what is it the Space Force does? And how is it that you expect to accomplish those things?
Well, so that’s a great segue to my next question, which is really what the purpose of the Space Force is. You know, the last three years, we saw that hard work of just laying the foundation – standing up the organization, transferring personnel, setting up budgets, et cetera. You now get a blank slate, pretty much, to design and build what’s on top of that foundation.
So let me start broad. And we have phenomenal CSIS interns here, so this is a question that they asked me to ask. But many Americans are still unaware of the Space Force.
Gen. Saltzman: What?
Ms. Bingen: So, what – I know, I know. (Laughter.) You have to do more conferences than Munich. (Laughter.)
What is its purpose? What is the value of a military service, as opposed to a combatant command or other organizations, that is focused solely on space? And then: What does this next chapter of the Space Force look like?
Gen. Saltzman: It’s a great question. It’s a fundamental question. And it’s one that, at least in the U.S., we haven’t really had to ask for decades, and before 1947 we hadn’t had to ask the question for centuries. There was just always an Army, a Navy, and a Marine Corps when there was a U.S. And so, we’re re-asking some of those questions. What is it that a military service brings to the Department of Defense?
And when I – when I kind of reflect on it, I come to this conclusion, that for the U.S. Department of Defense we build our military services to primarily focus on contesting warfighting domains. And what I mean by that is this idea that the capabilities that we need to have in air, space, land, sea, you need professionals with expertise with specifically designed equipment that are capable of securing those domains so we can do follow-on operations. If you can’t control the sea, you certainly can’t ship equipment via the sea lanes. If you can’t control the air, you certainly can’t do close air support of ground troops. And now if you can’t control space, you’re not likely to provide missile warning and satellite communications to the joint force.
And so, what a service provides is all – that’s a complex endeavor, to say that you can control a domain, and it requires personnel that have in-depth understanding of the complexities of the environment, the nature of the environment, the characteristics of the environment. You have to have equipment that’s purpose-built for the task at hand. You have to have doctrine and tactics, operational concepts, sustainment capabilities, all that make it possible to provide the kinds of capabilities that can contest and then control the domain. And then that’s what makes it possible for those kind of follow-on operations.
And so that’s what we’re focused on, is the – you know, loosely we have described that as organize, train, and equip. But that’s what it means, is the people, the equipment, and the thought behind what it takes to control a domain.
Ms. Bingen: Well, and on that, the issue of you now see a contested domain in space, I think a great example real time of that is what we’re seeing happen in Ukraine. You know, we are coming up right now on that one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion – illegal invasion of Ukraine. What are you seeing where you sit now as some of the most significant space-related lessons learned from Ukraine, not just for the Space Force but perhaps the joint force and others? And then the second part of that is, how is what you are seeing in Ukraine starting to shape your thinking on the Indo-Pacific from peacetime through crisis, through conflict?
Gen. Saltzman Well, thanks, Kari. I think it’s important that we realize there’s a lot of work to be done in Ukraine, and so I hesitate to really call these lessons learned. For me, it’s more about observations. What are we seeing, especially when I look through the lens of the space force, of space capabilities? What is it that I’m observing that’s of note that we need to pay particular attention to? And three things kind of stand out.
First, it became very obvious from the early days of the conflict that space was critical to both sides. And the reason I know that is because both sides tried to attack space capabilities, right? And I think it’s fair to say that modern warfare is not going to unfold without thinking through space capabilities and the contributions they make to forces in conflict.
The second thing that I think was readily apparent is that there is viability to commercial augmentation of military space capabilities, and we need to pay attention to how commercial capabilities are used in modern warfare. That’s something that we’ve got to pay attention to.
And then the last lesson, which may be the most important to me from a service perspective, is that if you think all you have to do is buy the best equipment – to have the most exquisite hardware, if you will, from a military standpoint – that you’re going to just roll over an opponent, that’s not the way it works. It takes operational concepts. It takes joint operations. It takes doctrine, tactics. It takes sustainment capabilities, logistics planning. You have to be able to pull all of that together and be able to execute a plan, not just think your forces are going to be more superior.
And so, for me, that means you’ve got to train like you plan to fight. You’ve got to be able to do range operations. You have to practice tactics. You have to simulate against a thinking adversary to see if your tactics are going to hold up in a contested domain. All of those things are going to be critical to actually having success in modern warfare, and I think those are some of the things that we’re seeing play out in Ukraine.
Ms. Bingen: And I appreciate that.
And then any additional thoughts on how do you then take what we’re observing or learning there and then apply it to the Indo-Pacific?
Gen. Saltzman: Well, you know, if we think that to go fast and put ourselves in a position where we can deter a conflict in the Western Pacific, then we’re going to have to recognize that space capabilities need to be robust/resilient because they’re probably going to come under attack.
We need to make sure that we know how to properly augment our capabilities with commercial services, with commercial capabilities – do that responsibly, do that for inherently military activities while preserving the ability to perform those critical military functions with military capacity as well.
And then we’ve got to train. We’ve got to have the ranges. We’ve got to develop our tactics and test them, simulate them. And that means I’ve got to build new infrastructure to provide our Guardians the kinds of simulators they need, the kinds of virtual environments to test their concepts so that we can see if it’s going to work in a contested environment like we might see in the Western Pacific.
Ms. Bingen: You know, it’s interesting that when we think about contested environments in space and really space warfare, that’s long been a bit of a taboo topic to talk about. The Space Force published its Spacepower Doctrine back in 2020 and it included a quote attributed to Dr. Everett Dolman, so I’ll read that: “The purpose of military power is to be prepared and, when called upon by the legitimate governing authority, to maximize violence within the constraints and limitations placed upon it.” End quote.
So, do you mind talking to us a little bit more about this operating environment that space is – that space forces are operating in, and then what space warfare really looks like going forward? What makes space, the – space different than other domains? And perhaps some of those constraints and limitations that are placed upon you.
Gen. Saltzman: Yeah. Thanks, Kari, because that’s really the heart of the title of this discussion, “Theory of Success.” And if we simply put in military terms that what we’re trying to do is protect our capabilities in space because they have become so critical to the joint team, but then also needing to mitigate the effects that are created by an adversary’s space capabilities, those become kind of the two sides of the coin for controlling a domain: protect what you have and deny the adversary access to what they have.
In military parlance, in space in particular, we call that space superiority. And so, the real theory of success is how do we take the nature, the characteristics of the space domain and build a space superiority mission set that’s effective. And in my mind, there’s three important tenets for that.
And the first one is we have to avoid operational surprise. It may not be obvious to everybody, but the ability to see what’s happening in space – and I mean that in a non-literal way; we can’t see into space. You know, the fact that there was a Chinese balloon flying over the U.S. and you could actually look up and see it I think was literally eye-opening to a lot of people, but every day there are satellites from adversary nations passing over the country, but you can’t see them. And so space domain awareness is kind of the nomenclature we use to make sure we understand what’s happening in space, when behaviors might be irresponsible or aggressive. And to me, the ability to avoid operational surprise is an imperative with regards to establishing space superiority.
The second one is, because these orbits are so predictable, because there’s not a lot of things to hide behind in space, the offense has a real advantage over the defense. And when that situation occurs tactically, we call that a first-mover advantage, meaning the offense – whoever attacks first has an inherent advantage over the one that sits back and tries to absorb the blow. I can’t have that in space. I can’t – I can’t build a situation where there’s an advantage to attacking our systems. So how do you resolve that? Well, you try to deny it by building your defenses. And the best way to do that in space, in my estimation, is through resiliency. If I can change the targeting calculus, if I can make it really hard to take apart a mission set – even if you destroy a satellite or even you interfere with a satellite’s mission, the broader constellation can absorb that and still accomplish the mission set – that level of resiliency actually creates deterrence. Why would you escalate a conflict by attacking a satellite if you weren’t going to achieve a military effect by negating the mission? And so that – I think by building out a resilient space architecture, making our missions more resilient, we have a deterrent effect and we mitigate this problem created that we call first-mover advantage.
The last tenet, of course, is if deterrence doesn’t work out. The problem is, is that there are many competitors who have now built space-enabled targeting capability, which holds our forces at risk. And so I have to be able to interfere with that so that they can’t necessarily target our capabilities closer to the surface using space-enabled targeting. The problem is I have to be able to do that without creating an unsustainable environment. That’s the problem. And I like the way one of my staff put it. They said, you know, if you shoot down an aircraft, it literally falls out of the sky; and if you attack a ship, it is likely to sink out of the sea lane; and so the domain is largely available, despite the consequences of war. In space, destructive force creates problems that last centuries, potentially, on orbit. And so we have to find the way to both negate the capability but be responsible stewards of the space environment and keep it sustainable for the capabilities that we know we need to leverage from space.
And so those become kind of the three tenets for our theory around space superiority.
Ms. Bingen: And I want to unpack those three, but let me go back on this theory of success and these three tenets that you laid out. And I really want to get at, you know, what is a – why is there a need for a theory of success? Give me an opportunity to go back and do a little bit of homework on both theory of success and theory of victory. I’ve read it described as the underlying logic to a strategy go achieve – of ends/ways/means. CSIS scholar Dr. Eliot Cohen here has written that the theory of victory can be boiled down to the simple question of why do we think that this strategy will work. So why do we need a theory of success with the tenets that you’ve outlined? What is the difference between a theory of success and a theory of victory? And then, really, what was your motivation for going down this path?
Gen. Saltzman: Well, it, quite frankly, came from the need to figure out all of the things that a service has to do. You know, what is our organizing principles? What are the assumptions we’re making about what equipment we need to buy, what training our Guardians need to be effective? And if we don’t have some unifying principles to center on, then it really becomes an ad hoc kind of grab bag for capabilities you need to buy or build or training that you need to give to the Guardians. And so I think that’s what it really, as its essence, does. A theory of success gives you something to point to, a guiding light if you will, that says: These are the principles that matter. This is the kind of equipment that we need. This is the kind of training and education that our forces need.
The thing about space is, luckily, we haven’t conducted a war that’s gone on in space, so we have to figure space superiority out without the benefit of combat feedback. That means we’re going to have to start with a theory, and we’re going to have to test it in the wargames and the exercises and the simulators of the world, and try to debate the idea, evaluate the conclusions that we draw. And so I feel like – that’s why I call it a theory. I’m proposing this theory so that people will debate with me so that we’ll get better at figuring out: What are the nuances that matter? What are the details that we need to continue to refine?
Ms. Bingen: Is it a theory of success or a theory of victory? And how do you, like, distinguish between those nuances?
Gen. Saltzman: I think it’s a theory of success because my goal is to avoid a conflict or a crisis, which I think leads you to need victory, right? And so I’ve loosely called this competitive endurance because we are already in a state of competition with many of our strategic competitors, as we call it. And if we can stay in that condition, it’s preferable to crisis and conflict. And so the idea is, how do I – how do I keep that level of stability competing, creating problems, creating dilemmas, but managing the competition so that it remains stable and avoids crisis and conflict? That’s the real goal.
And so that’s why I think if I’m successful with that, then I can avoid a war extending into space. I can avoid and deter an adversary from taking aggressive behaviors. I don’t have to be victorious over them; I just have to be successful in maintaining a more stable condition.
Ms. Bingen: Well, and I’ll look to airpower and see if there’s some lessons to be drawn from them. But you know, interestingly, you know, if you look at the history in those interwar years, it was Air Corps officers that disagreed with the War Department, with the Army’s view that airpower was supporting alone, and that they believed airpower could be decisive and could help win wars. Interestingly, they also argued for a separate Air Force. So here we are, now a separate Space Force. But what do you draw from some of those other services’ theories? Are we at a similar inflection point in space where it’s not just supporting the joint force, but it can be decisive and to help win wars?
Gen. Saltzman: Yeah, I think we are. I’ll give you a really bad analogy because it’s one of my favorite hobbies, is to give bad analogies.
There might be people that think space, because it’s relatively new, is kind of the frosting on the joint force cake. I fundamentally disagree with that. I think it’s more of the eggs in the batter. Like, if – we are inextricably linked and inseparable from the joint force, like all the services. All the services in the U.S. contribute so that the joint force can be successful. And to think that you could pull one of those services and their contributions out and have a joint force misses our larger force design because it is designed to work together as one team. And so I think the lessons that we’ve learned is we have to be joint. We have to operate in a coalition. We have to take advantage of those capabilities because there are dependencies that are built on it.
But I think the other thing – you brought up the Air Corps. What I take away in broad terms is it changes. You know, there’s those of us that learned the old premise that the bomber will always get through, and it turns out the bomber didn’t always get through, and we had to kind of revise our thinking on how we provide airpower as an Air Force. I expect fully that our thoughts will evolve over time as we think about this theory of success – what works, what doesn’t work – as conditions change around it.
Ms. Bingen: And then on space superiority – and you’ve touched on this a bit already – is you and the other services, we see an emphasis on domain superiority – air superiority, maintaining control of the air, though it’s localized; naval, protecting sea lines of communication. Space, you already mentioned you’ve got the problem of physics. So, can you achieve space superiority? You know, how do you think about that and the differences in this domain?
Gen. Saltzman: Yeah, I absolutely think we could, or I wouldn’t make it a theory of success. Now, what are the actual details? We got to sort that out. These broad tenets require a lot of implied tasks underneath them, and that’s what the Guardians have to do. That’s what the next generation has to really figure out, is: What are those operational concepts? What are the tactics that will work? What are the specific capabilities that are required? They tell me with that feedback, and then I can define the requirements and build the system and provide the training, et cetera. So we’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure that this is an effective means, but that’s why we start with a theory and we start evaluating.
Ms. Bingen: Yeah, that’s a good point.
And you mentioned this earlier that, you know, you want to ensure that we have the right training in place – the testing, the ranges – though you’re in a position with Guardians is that they don’t – they can’t physically see or, I’ll say, get behind the cockpit or the ship of their weapons systems. So how do you test and refine this theory in battle, in crisis when it’s remote?
Gen. Saltzman: Yeah. So here’s a – here’s a story I tell people sometimes. My experience as an ICBM officer was interesting. I never got to launch an ICBM. Thankful, right? You’re welcome. (Laughter.) But I trained in a simulator every single month to make sure I knew exactly and that I was fully ready to do that job should I be asked to do it. And what was amazing is that the simulator was exactly like it was in the field, meaning when you turn a key in the simulator you get all the exact same indications that you would get out in the field, right? There’s no rumbling. There’s no – it’s not – it’s a full-motion simulator, which means you’re not moving. But the idea was that you could completely simulate the environment. I think we need to take advantage of this because space is very similar to that.
Our connection to the actual space environment is virtual. From the operator’s perspective, you are interacting through keyboards and RF energy through antennas. And it can be perfectly replicated – I believe this – in a simulator environment. And so once you – once you build the high-fidelity simulators, then you can test, you can – you can practice your tactics, you can have adversary inputs to see how it would behave and how the system would work. I think that gives us a powerful leg up because so much can be simulated and doesn’t have to be done in the live environment.
And if I could real quick maybe go back to something that you started with, there’s something about the environment that is probably worth noting here, and it’s that I can’t parse it up. You know, the same environment that provides commercial services, that we do science and research in the civil environment, and that we use for military, it’s all the same. So if you think about, you know, those of us that have been in the Middle East kind of managing airpower, when there is a conflict in that joint area of operations, you can watch the picture and watch the civilian airliners move away, right? They fly around the area of concern. Same in the maritime domain, right? You don’t – you try to avoid certain areas that you know is going to be contested or hotly contested. In space, you can’t do that. In space, you are where you are by orbital mechanics, and so we naturally have to account for civil, commercial, military capabilities all present in the same environment at the same time. That creates unique challenges for space superiority.
Ms. Bingen: Well, and it’s interesting because we’ve long enjoyed the benefits of space for our forces. What you mentioned earlier is we are now seeing our adversaries start to leverage that same advantage. And with more and more assets up there be they, you know, government, commercial, or otherwise, they can use it to target our forces. That seems – that discussion has changed a bit now. It’s not something we had to worry about maybe ten years ago, so you can – you talk a little bit more about that, that duality of not just using space but us now having to deny others their use of space.
Gen. Saltzman: That’s right. And we’ll explore a full spectrum of options. Like I said, my theory of success on this is we have to be able to deny those capabilities but maintain a sustainable space environment. That’s the challenge. And that’s why we are investing heavily in research and development to figure out what all those options are. And it’s – we’re going to need all the innovators we can – we can get to think through that problem set.
Ms. Bingen: And I’d like – I’m just looking at the composition of our in-person audience today. Many of our guests here are next generation.
Gen. Saltzman: There’s some old gen, too. I’m looking around there. (Laughter.)
Ms. Bingen: Especially that front row. No. (Laughs.)
Guardians; we have a great representation across the think-tank community here; students from across DOD schools and the local public/private universities. I’m reminded of a commentary that Dr. Brad Roberts wrote in War on the Rocks. This is back in 2020, but he was reflecting on the National Defense Strategy that had just come out prior, in 2018. But he said, quote, “The United States could well lose the next big war not because it lacks the right capabilities, but because it is has not done the hard intellectual work to know how to win.” End quote.
I know this is a passion of yours as well. I mean, we wouldn’t be here, you wouldn’t have this theory if it were not. So how are we doing on advancing our intellectual thinking? And what would you like to see out of the group here and particularly these next-gen scholars coming up through the system?
Gen. Saltzman: Yeah. It’s exactly why I’ve decided to start talking about this theory. It’s the reason I call it a theory instead of new doctrine or here’s policy and guidance, because I don’t have it figured out yet. There’s a lot of details to be sorted out.
But I also know that the best answers are going to come from the young people that have their hands on the controls for these systems, that understand the details that I’ve lost perspective on. I’ll knife-fight the budgets all day in the Pentagon, but I’ve lost – I’ve lost kind of the perspective of what it means to literally operate a system in this new contested domain.
So all I’m going to do is provide them resources and set up the conditions where they can have the debates, perform the simulations, do the tests. And what I hope is that when they’re in the cafeterias, when they’re in the – you know, in the bars afterwards, they’re talking shop and they’re talking about these concepts and they’re debating them, and they’re angry about it because they think they’ve got it right and somebody’s bringing evidence that says they’re wrong. That’s the magic. That’s where this really happens. I hope they then take that and write it down and share their thoughts with others so that it kind of keeps the debate going. That’s how you really evolve these concepts and develop mature capabilities.
Ms. Bingen: So let’s shift here, then, to putting that theory into practice. Let me start with force design and architecture. So how do you think about the force design for space? And what does a combat-ready Space, you know, Force package look like?
Gen. Saltzman: Yeah, a couple of thoughts there. Again, this is all – if you don’t have a theory of success, then any force design looks good, right? And so that’s the idea, is give some guiding principles for the kinds of capabilities we need.
And so when I talk about avoiding operational surprise and denying first-mover advantage, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I want to focus heavily on sensors, space domain awareness, fusion engines that pull data together and make sense out of the environment, that have high-fidelity detection of activities that are going on in space and the ground associated with space.
And then, from a resiliency standpoint, what are we doing to complicate the targeting of an adversary? What are we doing to make our links and our nodes more resilient to whether it’s cyberattacks or whether it’s RF energy and interference? That’s where I want to put our investments, is avoiding operational surprise and creating the resilient architecture we need. And then we’ll evaluate and evolve as necessary.
Ms. Bingen: OK. And then on the acquisition front, there has been this perennial critique that the – that we have a space architecture and an acquisition process that just hasn’t kept pace with the threat, the speed at which our adversaries are moving, and really that pace of technological change when we have a culture that’s largely risk-averse. So what do you think the Space Force needs to do to bring that greater speed and focus into our space acquisition ecosystem?
Gen. Saltzman: It’s a – it’s a really important question. I think in relative terms when we say things like we’re not going fast enough, that’s an easy critique to make because of course we want to go faster. Of course we want to deliver capabilities on tighter timelines. But I think it’s worth evaluating kind of how we – how we evolved space acquisition.
Launch used to be the most expensive component of putting capabilities on orbit, and it was so expensive that when we launched something we wanted it to stay viable on orbit forever. I mean, 20, 25 years was not off the charts. There’s still satellites that we’re flying – you know, contributing to the mission that are that old. So when you build big satellites and you – and you’re going to launch them one time and you want them to last forever, you build resilient systems. Then you have to test the systems and you have to do quality controls with very, very low risk tolerance. You have to build redundant systems. You have to do mission assurance work. All of that takes time. It takes so much time that the requirements change, and then you add more requirements on, and then that delays the program a little longer and costs a little more money. And so it shouldn’t be surprising that in the earlier days, in the old model for how we were doing business, that there were cost overruns, there were schedule delays. It was the nature of putting the best possible capabilities on orbit that will last forever.
We’re in a new era. Launch costs are coming down. Small satellite technology is enabling us to think about larger constellations. Larger constellations allows us to think about a launch cycle where we can refresh our on-orbit technology faster. The work that Frank Calvelli and Mike Guetlein is essential to this, the tenets they’ve built – you know, buy small satellites, think about contracts in terms of two to three years from order to orbit. Those are the kind of principles that are in place now that I think are already showing benefits for faster acquisition cycles.
Ms. Bingen: OK. I’ve got two more questions for you, but I’m going to ask my team to help me with the iPad here so that we can start asking audience questions.
So training and TTPs – tactic(s), techniques, procedures. We hosted General Whiting, head of Space Operations Command, last fall, and I was just struck by the thinking happening in the Space Force on how you train and have a ready force that is primarily deployed kind of at home rather than deploying overseas. And you know, we talked earlier about you can’t necessarily see – physically see the environment you’re operating in. You have limits on your ability to do live-fire testing. So within these constraints, what does it mean to then have that combat-credible, combat-ready force?
Gen. Saltzman: Yeah, great. It means we have to have a new model. And this is – this is one of the benefits of a new service looking differently and independently about how it trains its personnel.
In the past, when we were in the Air Force, we basically had to follow an Air Force model because the Air Force was expeditionary in its mindset. It was about how do you maintain readiness so we can get out the door, go to an austere environment, and provide airpower. And space got caught up in that, and it had to figure out how to make its mission sets fit in that broader context.
Well, we no longer have those constraints. And so now we’re thinking about what is our force-generation model given that the vast majority of our forces actually do their combatant-command missions, their warfighting missions, from home station. We’re changing the way we do training so that we can give them more training in that – for future contests rather than just doing the day-to-day job. We used to basically train our operators to effectively and safely operate the weapons systems without thinking too much about what an adversary could do because, quite frankly, it just wasn’t a threat we were overly concerned about. Now it’s a massive threat.
So now we’re doing advanced training requirements that say not only do you have to operate your systems safely and effectively, but you got to be able to do it when an adversary is trying to deny you those capabilities. That’s a whole different training construct. But I think we’ve got the right model now in place to make sure that our Guardians get that kind of training.
Ms. Bingen: OK. No, really appreciate that.
On the international front – we have several international participants here today, so thank you for coming. And one of your top priorities that you’ve cited is partnerships. So where do you see opportunities on the international front? And talk to us about how perhaps some of our relationships are shifting, given this changing security environment and the greater number of international players we have in space?
Gen. Saltzman: That’s terrific. And again, go back to this theory of success. The ability to create a very robust set of capabilities to avoid operational surprise means we need sensors globally positioned. That means there’s key terrain on the planet that matters, and a lot of that key terrain are on our – are in our partner countries or the allies' countries. The data they’re collecting is valuable to us and the data we’re collecting is valuable to them. We need to create these mutual relationships, these partnerships, where we’re exchanging this information.
Basically, we have a number of countries that are likeminded with regards to how to behave properly in space. We take advantage of that coalition. We collect data. We share information. And we can hold accountable those countries which decide to behave aggressively or irresponsibly. That’s just in the operational surprise area.
Now, talking about resiliency, if I can leverage capabilities that the other nations are putting on orbit or leverage a launch a put one of our payloads on it, and then likewise they can do the same, take advantage of our capacity, that mutual sharing, that interaction of mission, creates a distribution that makes it more resilient. Again, I was talking about if you can deny one satellite a capability but that doesn’t affect the broader mission area, it’s a more resilient architecture. Allies and partners bring that diversity of the mission set to bear. And it’s just a powerful relationship that our strategic competitors cannot match. Our allies are our greatest strength, I think; certainly, our most asymmetric strength.
Ms. Bingen: OK. Well, let me ask you the urgency question here. I won’t ask you about a date, though other senior leaders have talked about 2027, 2025. But what’s your view on the urgency and the urgency of having ready space forces in these very short timeframes, and that we may very well have to fight with the toolkit that we have today?
Gen. Saltzman: Well, I think that’s the – I think that’s the most important point. I don’t think about readiness as a binary condition; meaning, hey, we’re not ready today, but at some point in the future we’re going to be ready and then – and then bring it on. That’s not the best way to think about readiness.
Readiness is a spectrum. We are ready today for a fight. We are ready. We will – we will fight with the force we have and we will – we’re a pretty capable force and we’re going to do a pretty good job.
Now, does that mean we sit back on our laurels and say we’re good to go? Absolutely not. Every day after this, we ought to get better. Every day after this, we ought to be more resilient. Every day after this, we ought to be more ready for the emerging threats that we’re likely to face.
And so readiness is a continuum. It’s the long game. It’s not about, hey, let’s pick a date in the future and let’s shoot to try to be ready by that date. That’s not how you do readiness.
Ms. Bingen: Well, let me shift to some participant questions here. I’m going to start with one of our CSIS military fellows, John Christianson. I’m not sure if he’s in the audience here. Oh, I see him over there.
So space capabilities have often, rightly or wrongly, been regarded as strategic assets. As a service component, the Space Force will provide forces to combatant commands. So what does Space Force planning to build – what is the Space Force plan to build operationally minded Guardians and link into the larger joint structure at the operational level of warfare to achieve the strategic goals of the nation?
Gen. Saltzman: Yeah, what a great question. My easy answer is we have to plug in literally at the operational level of all the combatant commands. And the way you do that from a service perspective is you build service components to be a part of all the combatant commands. There is an air component in every combatant command. There is a maritime component in every combatant command. And soon we’ll have a Space Force component in every combatant command.
Right now, we have established one, of course, in U.S. Space Command as our largest component. We have established one in INDOPACOM, U.S. Forces Korea, and CENTCOM. And we’re actively pursuing one in EUCOM. We chose those first because those are centered on the NDS threats. Those are the combatant commands that have responsibilities for those and, obviously, Space Command.
That’s where you get operational integration, is at the component level. That’s where the true planning occurs. That’s where the detailed interaction that says what do you need, what can I provide, support and supporting relationships. That’s where the detailed work is done. And so once we establish those, equip them, provide the right kind of personnel after mission analysis, then I think you’re going to see better integration of space capabilities across all the combatant commands.
Ms. Bingen: OK. Let me then ask a question from Daniel Duchaine, a student at Johns Hopkins University. If he’s here, why don’t you raise your hand? Oh, excellent. Thank you.
So he wanted to know: How do you build resiliency into the highest-technology, highest-cost satellite systems like the missile defense system that we’ve traditionally done as only a handful of exquisite systems?
Gen. Saltzman: Yeah, great question. And the good news is that we have already started that process. So the work that the Space Development Agency has done to take basically analysis that the Space Warfighting Analysis Center did to say what are the most optimal orbits at the right price points that make sense to provide global missile-warning/missile-tracking capabilities in a more resilient way, that was kind of the problem statement they went after. And they ran thousands of permutations and simulations about what that would be, and the architecture they came up with was a mix of orbits that included a proliferated-LEO constellation. And so we are rapidly working towards and investing in designing a missile-warning and missile-tracking architecture that leverages all of the capabilities, all of the orbits as opposed to just a few exquisite satellites in GO.
Ms. Bingen: And I’m pleased to see – I teach at Georgetown on the side, a side gig, and one of my former students, Samantha Kirsch, is here. She’s now at L3Harris doing space work.
But she wanted to ask a bit about your thinking on space launch. Now, we’ve had this new announcement on the National Security Space Launch procurement approach that opens the aperture to competitors. Might you expand a little bit on your thinking on perhaps this new approach and how it benefits the Space Force and your launch needs?
Gen. Saltzman: Right. So I mentioned how important it was that launch cost comes down. Launch cost comes down when there’s open competition and market forces in play, and so the more – the more providers you have in that market the better. So we wanted to create the conditions that would allow viability for as many launch providers – launch service providers as possible, and I think the next phase of our acquisition strategy does provide that fair, open competition that allows maximum participation from the traditional providers as well as some of the smaller providers – the goal, of course, being agile, flexible options that benefit the government, as well as bringing that price point down so that we can keep the tech refresh rate on orbit as tight as possible.
Ms. Bingen: So in your theory of success – and this is a question from Colonel Humphrey with the National Guard – can you describe some of the – the role that you see space professionals and the Guard participating in your theory for success?
Gen. Saltzman: Absolutely. The current capabilities in the Guard I would – it’s a little bit of an overgeneralization, but there’s a lot of deployable capabilities that currently reside in the Guard – which is perfect, because that means when I don’t need them deployed to an AOR – they’re in part-time status, traditional Guardsman status – and they’re more cost effective. But when we need to surge, as we’re currently doing in some of our overseas locations, the Guard is there to provide those surge capabilities. So it’s a good model right now.
The long-term viability is figuring out if that needs to stay in the Air Force – the Air National Guard is where it resides – or if there are other models that need to be applied to figure out if there’s a different way of maintaining that capabilities. My goal is just to assure that I don’t lose that capability. However it plays out in terms of organizational structures – and there’s a lot of very important people kind of debating that right now – but my goal is just to make sure we hand onto that capability because it's very important to us.
Ms. Bingen: Well, and then you’ve – Space Force has taken a different approach to professional military education, as well. So what was your thinking there?
Gen. Saltzman: That using an old model gives you old results, and it’s as simple as that. We want to innovate. We want to create thinkers that maybe aren’t in the traditional military mindset. And so the idea was: How can we do this differently? How can we put our students in an environment that adds a perspective of critical thinking, of exposure to a line of thought that they may not get in one of the traditional schools? And so we tried to find the most innovative approach to doing that, and that was partnering with a civilian institution to try to create that high-level diversity of thought.
Ms. Bingen: OK. And then others out there are pushing the envelope on different ways to approach space – commercial space sector, so there’s a question here on: Could you expand how you’d like to take advantage of commercial space? And is Space Force the lead service for space-enabled targeting in JADC2?
Gen. Saltzman: I don’t know about that level of specificity yet. We certainly are heavily involved in JADC2, from the space data transport aspects to data management. Those are – those are areas that we’re going to continue to invest in to make sure that JADC2 as an overarching program comes together.
What was the first part of that question? You confused me there.
Ms. Bingen: How you’d like to – table JADC2 for a moment – how you’d like to take advantage of commercial space.
Gen. Saltzman: Yeah, commercial space. Thanks.
The key point is making sure that we understand first and foremost what are the inherent military functions that the Space Force has to provide. Once you understand what inherently has to stay as a military responsibility, then that opens up the aperture for everything else being available for commercial augmentation. Any time there’s areas where basic capacity, like satellite communications, is the driver for consideration, I think you’re going to find that commercial services plays an important role.
Does that mean I want nuclear command and control to be a commercial service? Maybe not. Maybe, you know, that’s something we want to retain as an inherently military function. But anywhere where we can add to our capacity, I think we’re going to explore commercial augmentation.
Ms. Bingen: OK. Great.
This is a really interesting question here: Your thoughts on whether the next major conflict will have the first combat action occur in space.
Gen. Saltzman: I am going to do everything I can to make that not true. The whole point of my theory of success is that we can deter a conflict or a crisis from extending into space. It just – it does not – it’s a losing situation no matter how it turns out. The loss of a sustainable set of orbits is problematic. It would be detrimental to an economy, certainly detrimental to military activities. And so we have to – we have to build the strategies, the operational concepts, and the equipment and the resiliency that makes the cost-benefit analysis such that you would never want to attempt a strike into space or a destructive force in space because it’s self-defeating. That’s the goal.
Ms. Bingen: Our adversaries will try.
Gen. Saltzman: I hope they won’t.
Ms. Bingen: You hope they won’t. (Laughter.)
Gen. Saltzman: I hope – don’t do it. (Laughter.)
Ms. Bingen: Well, so – but let’s go – your competitive endurance. There’s strategic competition. To avoid that situation –
Gen. Saltzman: That’s right.
Ms. Bingen: – what does day-to-day competition in space look like? And then the role of space in competition, the National Defense Strategy talks about campaigning. So, what does campaigning day to day look like for you?
Gen. Saltzman: It looks like putting on-orbit capabilities into place that complicate the calculus. Like I said, if all of a sudden your mission architectures are so broad that the adversary is going, well, we don’t have the magazine depth to affect that constellation anymore, so now what are we going to do, well, now they’ve got to rethink their approach and rebuild their weapons systems. So you get into this kind of ebb and flow of defense versus offense.
Right now, there’s a first-mover advantage to offense. But can I change that calculus? That’s campaigning.
Suddenly, I’m launching. Suddenly, I show a reconstitution capability. I show tactically responsive space. I show jam-resistant RF links. All of that creates a change in the calculus for an adversary, and now they have to rethink how they’re going to do business. That’s competition.
And it keeps us from going into crisis or conflict because they have to evaluate: Is this the time to strike or should I wait until I have new capabilities? If you’re always in that mindset, you stay in competition and you avoid crisis.
Ms. Bingen: That’s a great point.
Well, let me ask the final question here. You have issued several C-notes to Guardians. I’ve noticed your C-notes encourage discussion and debate. What is a C-note? And can you share a little bit of your thinking about these and what you’re aiming to foster with them?
Gen. Saltzman: Well, in the – in the thought that plagiarism is the greatest form of flattery, I just stole the idea from Admiral Zumwalt. He was the CNO for the Navy in the ’70s, and he sent out what he called Z-grams. And as I was kind of doing research coming into this job, I got a hold of some of those. And he wrote, like, 170, a hundred-something of these Z-grams. And I just thought, what an interesting way to do this because he was communicating directly with the fleet: Here’s what I’m thinking about; what do you think? He issued policy guidance. He issued challenges: Hey, this is what I want to do. And I just thought it was a powerful way to communicate directly to the force.
And the communications that I wanted to convey are: Here’s what I’m thinking about because I think it’s important; please help me by also thinking about these things. So I’m trying to be a little bit provocative and generate the discussion amongst the force so that we can really get after and mature these thoughts.
C-note is just – it’s the CSO notice, or a CSO note, or a C-note. Anything that can make people remember was the goal there.
Ms. Bingen: So, Guardians, you have about a hundred or so left to go there, right?
Gen. Saltzman: That’s right. (Laughter.) That’s right.
Ms. Bingen: General Saltzman, thank you so much for your time this morning. Thanks for making space the eggs in the batter.
Gen. Saltzman: That’s right.
Ms. Bingen: But also, seriously, for your service, for taking on these challenging issues at such a consequential time, for really fostering the debate and hoping to bring in that next generation and to set the leadership example for them.
I’d also just like to thank the CSIS team here, Kaitlyn Johnson, Makena Young, and our two interns Yosh Bilal and Patrick Fish, for all the work you did in setting up the event. Thank you, everybody.
Gen. Saltzman: Thank you. (Applause.)