Guetlein: Improved space awareness essential to national security

WAILEA, Hawaii — With space essential to military operations, a better understanding of objects in orbit and the threats they may pose is “fundamental” to space security, a Space Force general said.

Speaking at the Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies (AMOS) conference here on Sept. 28, Lt. Gen. Michael A. Guetlein, commander of the Space Systems Command, said that as warfighters recognize that they need space vehicles to carry out their missions, it is of the agency to better monitor potential threats to these assets.

“I will tell you for the first time in my career,” he said, “the common warrior has understood the fact that they cannot win without space.”

Space provides the “super match” needed for military forces to be successful, he said. “Our superfit in space is at the heart of space security, which starts with space awareness. Space awareness is fundamental to our operations and provides the US and its partners with a continued advantage.”

Guetlein argued that it requires improving those capabilities. “The days of only focusing on maintaining the space directory of acquaintances are over,” he said. “We’re not just focusing on what we know is out there, we’re looking for new objects. We identify where these objects come from, why they are there and what their intentions are.” He added that this also means “being able to defend against these objects if necessary.”

He highlighted the need for improved collaboration with industry, academia and international partners, which includes overcoming traditional barriers to sharing space awareness information. “We need to downgrade” such data that has traditionally been highly classified. “All we do is hide from ourselves. We need to start having the critical conversations and open up the dialogue.”

These efforts have new urgency because of China’s and Russia’s growing capabilities to attack satellites. “I wish I could come here and say the threat is improving. But the threat is getting worse,” he said. He was particularly concerned about China, arguing that the demographic and economic challenges China will face in the coming years could create a “web of ambition and desperation” that could lead to a conflict that extends into space.

“To prevent the threat we have to have overmatch. Today, I can stand up here and tell you without any doubt that we are overmatched,” he said. “But the threat turns out to be intent on changing that status quo.”

Guetlein, however, balanced that concern with optimism about the “unprecedented level of unity of effort” in the Defense Department and intelligence community to address challenges from acquisition to improved relations with industry.

“We’ve seen the space become even more crowded and contested. And initially, I will tell you, we as a nation were slow to respond. We were distracted by what was happening in the Middle East,” he said. “But I’m proud to tell you that we’re seeing a strategic shift across the entire landscape of both the DoD, the IC, and our international partners, and we’re laser-focused on addressing this growing threat.”

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