CSO Gen. John “Jay” Raymond speaks during the 37th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., April 5. USSF
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Q&A: Semper Supra

April 29, 2022

The first Chief of Space Operations and the Space Force’s very first member, Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, shared some time at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., in April with Air Force Magazine’s Amanda Miller to talk about the past and future of the new service and of space itself.

Q: What qualities have you found are needed in a CSO?

A: In some ways, it’s the same qualities as all the other service Chiefs. You have to have competence, you have to have credibility, in the business that you’re in. You know, it’s interesting. The Secretary of the Air Force has all the authorities. The Chiefs have influence. So that combination, the partnership, between the service Chief and the Secretary is so critical. … I think you also have to have the ability to connect with people, and that’s one of our core competencies … connection.

If I look at the Space Force-unique aspects of it, as a new service, I think, courage … not physical courage, but the courage to make decisions and to be bold. Our goal is not to just incrementally change from where we were.

This is an opportunity to build a new service. It hasn’t happened since 1947. … Our goal was to be bold, and in that boldness, it takes a lot to get that through a bureaucracy. 

Q: You’ve mentioned how important it is for the CSO to have a “seat at the table.” When were a couple times that really mattered?

A: I think it was very important when the law was passed establishing the Space Force that it designated, like all the other services, that the Chief is a member of the Joint Chiefs. And in that role, I have a seat at the table in helping build and shape our National Defense Strategy, in helping build and shape our joint warfighting concepts. … Although I bring space expertise to the table, obviously, I also, as a member of the Joint Chiefs, think more broadly about the joint force.

But if you look at the challenges that we face today, they’re global, multi-domain. That’s the way I grew up. So I feel like I’ve been beneficial in helping shape strategies and concepts as a member of the Joint Chiefs. 

As a service Chief, you have a seat at the table on the requirements that I never had before as a major command commander. And you have a seat at the table in budget as an independent service, not as a MAJCOM. 

Q: On the trappings of a new service—symbols, uniform items, and the like—which have worked out the best, and which have gotten panned?

A: The thing that received widespread praise was our motto, “Semper Supra.” And that came from a young public affairs Airman in Europe. He sent me an email, and he said, ‘Sir, I’ve got the greatest motto for you, ‘Semper Supra.’’

He walked through what all the other services’ mottos were and how this kind of fit in alignment with that. It was perfect, “Always Above,” for the space domain. It was just a perfect fit. And it was like immediate—I knew that was it. So, I told him, ‘Hey, I like it. We’re going to try to make that happen.’ And it has received widespread support, and people are signing their email ‘Semper Supra’—I mean, it’s really been a really good motto. 

The things I would say—I think the term you used was ‘panned,’ right? What I would say is that the challenge that we have is a lot of the cool space stuff is in science fiction … or movies, pop culture—so not just science fiction. You know, there was talk about the logo being ‘Star Trek.’ Well, it wasn’t. If you go look at the logo from Air Force Space Command, the delta, the orbit, the North Star is all there. If you look at ‘Guardians,’ people said we stole it from ‘Guardians of Galaxy.’ We didn’t. Space Command was ‘Guardians of the High Frontier’—that was our motto since 1982. 

There’s so much excitement about space, and there’s so much pop culture about space, getting something that excites the force, without something that’s already in some way been used by somebody else—it’s almost impossible.

But the things we picked were very purposeful. They were rooted in our history. And I would tell you, they have widespread support across the members of the force.

Q: What is the status of the service dress uniform?

A: We came up with a prototype, and we rolled it out at AFA in September. After that, we took it on the road, and we went to pretty much every major installation that had Guardians and got their input.

If I’m not mistaken, it was [an] 81 percent favorable rating. And if you looked at the young Guardians, it was off-the-charts favorable. And so if you get 81 percent on anything, it’s like a home run, and we’re excited about the uniforms.

We’ve slapped the table on the final design of the Space Force uniform. It now goes into production. The Army logistics process takes over. The material gets wear-tested and color-tested and all of that, and then it goes through production. The challenge that we face is that by law, everything that is on a uniform has to be made in the United States.

There are only two fabric companies in the United States that we can use, and the supply chain issues due to COVID have really put that industry in a bit of a bind. We’re accelerating as fast as we can, but we’re going to be paced by how fast the supply chain can produce.

Q: What’s the recruiting situation like now, and what will it look like in five or 10 years?

A: First of all, I think it’s one of the big success stories that we’ve had with the establishment of the force, is the advances we have made in all aspects of professional development. From recruiting to access to training throughout their careers to promoting, we have made strides on all fronts. 

The recruiting picture for us is probably one of the biggest strengths that we’ve had. We only take about 450 enlisted Guardians a year—between 450 and 510—and about the equal number of officers. So we’re really small in comparison to any other service. That allows us to do a couple things. 

First, it allows us to completely redo how we recruit. The way we recruited in the past is those recruiting stations all over the country. If somebody comes in … Colonel Hague were to come in to the recruiting station, and knocks on the door, and says, ‘I’m interested in space’ and met the qualifications, we’d take her. And the first 450 kind of got signed up. What we decided to do is rather than just take the first 450, let’s be a little bit more selective.

So … we use the recruiting stations  to garner the pool of people. Then we make them write essays. And then we have boards, and we actually pick who is going to come in because we can, because of our numbers. So we’re probably—not probably—we are the most selective service there is.

We have more people knocking on our door than we can take, and I think that’s going to continue.

Q: Can you share details about the new force designs from the Space Warfighting Analysis Center?

A: So what we do is, we have … set up an organization called SWAC, the Space Warfighting Analysis Center. They are force design experts. It’s a small organization of big-brain Ph.D.s, coupled with some of our best operators. And they do all the analytical work to figure out what the force structure in space should look like. Should it be five big satellites, or should it be a hundred proliferated satellites, as an example? And what orbit should they be in? Should they be in geosynchronous orbit; should they be in low-Earth orbit; should they be in medium-Earth orbit? 

And they do the design with several things in mind: First, how best to accomplish the mission; what’s the best design to do mission accomplishment?

Second, what’s the best force design to be more resilient to a threat? Third, what’s the best force design as it relates to cost? [Fourth,] what’s the best force design as it relates to integrating data into into the broader joint force? 

There’s others, but those are some of the biggies that they build into the calculus to determine what’s the right answer. 

Q: How does the 2023 budget help you progress toward Secretary Kendall’s first operational imperative of “resilient and effective space order of battle and architectures?”

A: It’s critical that we shift to a more resilient, defendable, mission-capable architecture … [SWAC does] that analysis, to help us to determine how best to make that shift and what it is that we’re shifting to. 

The highest-priority mission that we have is missile warning/missile tracking. And so that was our first priority—that’s the first design work that we’ve done, and that design work has been done over this past year. 

This budget implements that design, takes the first step at that pivot to move away from large, exquisite satellites to a more proliferated architecture. That work all nests under the Secretary of the Air Force’s operational imperative No. 1, which is designing a resilient space order of battle. That’s the work that we’ve been doing for … well over the last year, and that work was going to continue now as we progress into other mission areas, like data transport in space, tactical ISR in the future, GPS. [For] all of those capabilities we will do force design work to see if there’s a pivot that’s required.

Q: How many more events like the Russian anti-satellite test in 2021 could the environment sustain before it becomes unusable or exceeds the U.S.  ability to track and maneuver? 

A: We say that space is congested, contested, and competitive.

If we were doing this interview two years ago, I would have told you, there’s about 22,000 objects in space that we are tracking; and there’s about a half-a-million objects that are too small for us to track. Today that number of objects that we’re tracking is 43,900 objects. So it’s almost doubled. 

The other thing I would have told you a couple of years ago: Of that 22,000 objects, only about 1,500 were satellites. Everything else was debris. Today, I’ll tell you that the number of satellites is nearly 5,000 because of these proliferated, low-Earth-orbit constellations that are being launched.

So we see space as being congested today, and we see that just growing in the future. We act as the space traffic control for the world. We track all the debris; we track every object in space; and we do all the analysis on every object against every object to see if anything’s going to collide.

And if we think that there’s a potential that there’s a collision, we provide a warning and tell people to move to keep that from happening. 

It’s manageable today. There have been a couple of big events, though—several big events—that have caused a significant portion of this debris. One was a Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007, which caused over 3,000 pieces of debris. It was pretty high up in low-Earth orbit, and almost all that debris is still there. …

In 2008, there were two satellites that collided, and that caused about another 3,000 pieces of debris. And after that time, we started acting as the space traffic control for the world to keep that from happening again. 

The Russian recent ASAT is about 1,500 pieces of debris. It was a little lower than what the Chinese did, but it was still high enough … that debris will be with us for quite a while. …

The way you solve the debris problem is quit creating debris in the first place … things like acting as the space traffic control for the world so things don’t collide; not doing irresponsible activities like blowing up satellites and [generating] the long, long-lasting debris; having better engineering standards on your rocket so when you do launch, you don’t litter the domain with debris; having better engineering standards so when satellites reach the end of their life, they don’t break apart into pieces. All of those things we can do to reduce the creation of debris in the first place.

There’s lots of folks that are out there … coming up with technical solutions on how they might go up and retrieve debris and clean up. It’s a big problem. … Space is very large, and things are moving really fast. So we’re trying to handle this by being responsible actors in space, being transparent with the world—we’ve warned China that they’re about to hit a piece of debris that they created in 2007. And we’ll do the same thing for Russia, and we do that for the world because we want to keep the domain safe for all.