Air Force Expands Space Training for Allies

SECAF Heather Wilson at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., April 17. Twitter photo.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.—Claiming it is “time to build on years of collaboration to deepen our relationships with our allies and partners in space,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson Tuesday night said the Air Force will expand the availability of space training to allies.

Wilson, who made the announcement during her keynote speech at the 34th Space Symposium here, also announced moves to accelerate acquisition and to restructure the Space and Missiles System Center to cut the time needed to build the next-generation missile warning satellites.

Noting that for many years, the Air Force has trained pilots and air crew members from allied countries around the world, she said it is now time to go further.

As a consequence, she said that, starting next year the Air force would expand opportunities for “allies and partners” to participate in Air Force space training.

She said the service would add two new courses to the National Security Space Institute at Peterson Air Force Base here, including a course on space situational awareness aimed at helping other countries learn more about avoiding collisions, deorbits, and reentries.

In addition, she said, more of the advanced courses on national security space will be opened to the militaries of allied countries. Right now, those courses are open to Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, but Wilson said New Zealand, France, Germany, Japan, and “possibly others” will be invited to train.

She said the Air Force is making the move because “we face a more competitive and dangerous international security environment than we have seen in decades,” pointing to Russian and Chinese efforts to develop capabilities to disable US satellites.

She also said the Air Force will set up an office, reporting to the assistant secretary of the Air force for acquisition, to change acquisition rules and speed things up.

“We will staff it with a team of highly capable people, with deep understanding of how the Pentagon works—and doesn’t work,” she said. The job of those in the office will not be to buy things, “but to change the Pentagon rules on how we buy things so that speed is possible.”

Finally, she said, following his review of how the Air Force designs and builds space missiles, Space and Missiles System Center Commander Lt. Gen. J.T. Thompson is leading the restructuring of the center.

The redesign is aimed at getting rid of stovepipes and, she said, will make other changes, including establishing a separate production and development corps and a chief architect to consider the entire space enterprise. The reorganized SMC is set to reach initial operating capability in October.

With the service reforming the way it procures equipment, she said, the replacement for the seventh and eighth Space-Based Infrared System satellites, which the Air Force proposed killing in its Fiscal 2018 budget request, is to be ready in five years, rather than the nine years planned for the SBIRS 7 and 8, she said.

“As we change the way we do acquisition in the Air Force, the next generation missile warning satellite will be a pacesetter and a pathfinder back to exceptional programs done at speed,” she said.