This past July, General David “DT” Thompson from the U.S. Space Force, joined the Mitchell Institute for a special Spacepower Forum event to give a status update on the buildout of Space Force, as well as discuss how the service is preparing to defend U.S. space architecture against potential attacks.
As Vice Chief of Space Operations, General Thompson is responsible for assisting the Chief of Space Operations, and organizing, training, and equipping space forces in the U.S. and overseas – integrating space policy guidance and coordinating space-related activities. He is a career space officer with assignments in operations, acquisition, research and development, and command.
Thompson opened the forum by expressing his excitement over the recent confirmations of U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Under Secretary Gina Ortiz Jones. According to Thompson, both Secretary Kendall and Under Secretary Jones have hit the ground running and are quickly facilitating the next phase of Space Force. “We’re excited they’re here and that civilian leadership is in place,” expressed Thompson.
Thompson then gave an update on where Space Force currently stands. He explained that year one of Space Force was focused on inventing the force, designing it, and getting it in place. Though there will be several more years of fully building out the force, Thompson proudly announced that the design and resourcing phase of establishing Space Force is complete.
Year two’s primary focus has been on the integration of the force. “We’ve taken some pretty aggressive and significant steps thus far,” said Thompson. He explained that “integration” includes integration of the force with the services, the combatant commands, and with partners and allies.
“They’re trailblazing the path for large-scale interservice transfer from those services into the Space Force. They’ve already begun that activity. And even as we speak, we are selecting up to about 350 others from that group, who will follow behind them once they trailblaze the path to that inter-service transfer.” – General David “DT” Thompson
The first step of the force’s integration is interservice transfer. The Space Force began with a large transfer of individuals from the U.S. Air Force, resulting in about 5,800 individuals in uniforms. In addition to bringing in candidates from the Air Force Academy, Space Force is also looking to bring in 50 interservice transfers from the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, and the Navy.
“They’re kind of our beta test,” said Thompson. “They’re trailblazing the path for large-scale interservice transfer from those services into the Space Force. They’ve already begun that activity. And even as we speak, we are selecting up to about 350 others from that group, who will follow behind them once they trailblaze the path to that inter-service transfer.”
In addition to manpower transfers, Thompson stated that Space Force is currently finalizing transfers of satellite communications, missions, and functions from the Army and the Navy.
Another recent and important milestone that Thompson highlighted was U.S. Space Force and U.S. Space Command sending elements to the United States Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) Pacific Sentry exercise. This step was key to understanding how the U.S. Space Force as a service, and U.S. Space Command as a combatant command, integrate, provide capabilities, and contribute to combatant commander operations and objectives. Both Space Force and Space Command sent one-star officers to the exercise to lead teams. According to Thompson, “I think it was incredibly productive, not just for our two organizations, but helping to inform the other combatant commands how we should proceed.”
Thompson also explained that Space Force is already deep into mil-to-mil connections with a host of countries. “They’ve reached out to us to look at how we develop and expand relationships, and how we better do in space, what the nation – and our allies and partners – have known how to do for decades in the air, on land, and at sea,” said Thompson.
Thompson further explained that these countries are not just “our tried-and-true and well-understood partners.” Space Force has had countries from South America and others in the Indo-Pacific who are interested in establishing some sort of a mil-to-mil relationship as it pertains to security in space.
To preface his update on Space Force’s proposed 2022 budget, Thompson explained that the main catalysts that drove the force’s creation were “the threats that we face, the fact that we now have to defend and protect those capabilities we provide, and to look at how we deny those capabilities to others.” He went on to say that Space Force brings “coherence, consistency, and unity to those activities inside of the Department of Defense.”
“In addition to protecting what we have today, we’re going to pivot toward architectures in the future that are designed to be resilient, robust, and deliver capabilities under attack.” – General David “DT” Thompson
Thompson then detailed Space Force’s priorities for the 2022 budget. He explained that the force is still working with Congress on final implementation. “Our priorities for that budget were to ensure that we can continue to provide the capabilities we already have,” said Thompson. “That includes everything from GPS to missile warning to satellite communications to supporting the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and others with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) in space. We’re really focusing on defending and protecting those capabilities so that they can continue to provide what they need under attack.”
He then discussed how Space Force is pivoting toward designs, systems, architectures, and forces that are designed to operate under threat. Thompson explained, “In addition to protecting what we have today, we’re going to pivot toward architectures in the future that are designed to be resilient, robust, and deliver capabilities under attack.”
Thompson said that Space Force must look at a host of ways to deny adverse use of space capabilities. He used the Indo-Pacific region as a prime example. “Left to its own devices, our forces in that part of the world – maritime, air, land, and others – will be under constant surveillance and monitoring by China over its space constellation,” said Thompson. “That poses a great threat to our joint forces and to our potential operations. We have to have a means by which to address them.”
According to Thompson, up until now, Space Force’s test and evaluation enterprise was focused on ensuring that its satellites operated effectively in the space domain. He explained that there now must be a shift to create a test and evaluation enterprise that tests and confirms that these capabilities operate under attack – similar to combat aircraft, combat action groups at sea, etc.
“We now have to build the enterprise that does that,” said Thompson. “We have to have more effective and detailed management of an entire suite of space professionals…we need all those enablers that need to support what is truly a military service, and more importantly, military forces in the domain.”
Featured image: Air Force Staff Sgt. Jamie Franco recites the oath of enlistment during a change of service ceremony at Osan Air Base, South Korea. Jamie and her husband, Frank, both made the jump from the Air Force to the Space Force. (Photo courtesy of Air Force Staff Sgt. Betty Chevalier.)