C-Notes from Saltzman: Sets Course for Guardians
By Greg Hadley and Tobias Naegele
hief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman tore a page from another young service chief’s playbook to speak directly to his Guardians, issuing the first three of a planned series of “C-Notes”—short for “Commander’s Notes”—to the force.
Saltzman’s inspiration: Navy Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., who became the youngest-ever Chief of Naval Operations on July 1, 1970, almost a year to the day after Saltzman was born. Over the next four years Zumwalt sent 121 All-Navy messages, or “Z-grams,” as they came to be known, covering topics as diverse as deployments and time off to beards and race relations, all sensitive issues as the Navy transitioned from conscription to an All-Volunteer force.
Saltzman’s initial C-Notes aren’t detailed policy statements, but rather a window into the CSO’s thinking on what he sees as three critical lines of effort:
- Fielding Combat-Ready Forces
- Amplifying the Guardian Spirit
- Partnering to Win
The three letters represent Saltzman’s first direct, broadly published guidance to Guardians about where the Space Force is headed under his leadership. Fielding Combat-Ready Forces
“First and foremost, we must field resilient, ready, combat-credible forces,” he said in a Jan. 28 talk with Air & Space Force Association volunteer field leaders gathered at AFA’s Arlington, Va., offices. “Each of these descriptors is important and must be clearly understood. A resilient force is one that can withstand, fight through, and recover from attacks. A ready force has the trained personnel, equipment, and sustainment capacity to accomplish missions and tasks in a high-intensity operational environment. And a combat-credible force has demonstrated the ability to conduct offensive and defensive operations against an adversary. All three are important.”
Saltzman said it will take both technology and trained, ready personnel to achieve military objectives, not just technology alone.
“Technology makes space operations possible. But the Space Force does not present technology systems or capabilities to the joint force, we present Space Forces. … As the Russian military in Ukraine is showing us right now, a high-tech weapon system will be operationally ineffective” without the trained personnel and sustainment systems needed to execute the mission.
“Let me offer a few observations about this war, looking at it through a spacepower lens,” Saltzman added. “First, it’s clear that space is viewed as a critical enabler to both militaries [in the conflict in Ukraine]. Both sides have attacked SATCOM capabilities to degrade command and control, and there’s been a concerted effort to interfere with GPS to reduce its effectiveness in the region.
“Second, the clear connection between space and cyber became apparent with a Russian cyber attack against a commercial satellite communications network used by Ukraine’s military.
“Third, the value of proliferated constellations and commercial augmentation was clearly demonstrated with Ukrainian integration of SpaceX’s Starlink SATCOM system. Acquiring access to this system enhanced the Ukrainian [command and control] structure and it’s proven much harder to target and degrade than previous systems.
“And finally, we’ve observed that even the best military equipment does not ensure success on the battlefield. A modern military must have well-trained operators, well-rehearsed multi-domain operations, effective tactics, and robust logistics and sustainment.”
Saltzman is concerned about the weapons China could bring to a fight in an effort to deny space to U.S. forces. “The Chinese have multiple ground-based lasers, numerous jammers targeting wide swaths of SATCOM frequencies and GPS,” he said. “Both Russia and China have invested in cyber capabilities which threaten our ground networks. … Anywhere the Space Force operates, there are threats. And these threats can attack across multiple domains and multiple attack vectors.”
China too has integrated space into its overall military operations, with 290 ISR satellites, 49 precision-navigation-and-timing satellites, and “a growing number of rapid-response launch capabilities,” Saltzman noted. The U.S. Space Force must develop its own counters to those new Chinese systems.
Commanders must ensure that operators are ready to employ the technology the Space Force acquires, and that they understand tactics—not only U.S. tactics, but the nature of the threat they face from adversaries. U.S. forces need training, and support, and training plans, he said. They can’t just be told “Do the best you can.” So the gist of his first line of effort is a question: What do Guardians need in the way of doctrine, infrastructure, and organizations to become combat-credible in the future?
Combat capability cannot merely be a centralized concept presented to the nation through U.S. Space Command. “We tend to think about the global nature of space operations,” he said, noting that the responsibility for the entire space domain belongs with the unified U.S. Space Command. But Space requirements can also be regional and local.
“Let’s talk about missile warning,” he said. “I think most people would say missile warning is a global enterprise, right? You have satellites spread around the ring. They’re monitoring the whole earth, from Colorado, and when they get a missile event, they process it and they disseminate it back out to the warfighters.” But U.S. Space Command does not deliver warnings to local commands; instead, they go to a regional Air Operations Center (AOC) and may not reach forward operating bases (FOB) and refueling points. “How do [those Airmen] get missile warning?”
To Saltzman, the answer is the new Space Component Commands that the Space Force has been standing up. The first was in U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in November, and it has since added them in Korea and at U.S. Central Command. These organizations help grease the wheels of communication between the services and their component commands.
“The space component has a responsibility to make sure that the missile warning track that gets to the AOC now gets to every single person that needs it,” Saltzman said. “That’s a very dynamic environment. FOBs and FARPs [Forward Arming and Refueling Points] are changing constantly.”
The Air Force’s focus on Agile Combat Employment, in which forces move dynamically to different operating locations to be less predictable and more complicated for adversaries to target makes that a an even more fluid, complex task. “We are bouncing forces around continuously to keep our enemies guessing where our forces can be and that doesn’t stop a missile warning architecture from having to get them missile warning data wherever they are,” Saltzman said. “Space Command can’t do that, … there’s too many of them. So you need space experts who understand procedurally and architecturally how to provide this warning in local areas.
“A capable and resilient weapon system will be operationally ineffective if its personnel, expertise, tactical employment, and sustainment are insufficient for the mission,” Saltzman wrote in his C-Note on readiness. Resiliency concepts apply not only to satellite constellations, but to “ground stations, networks, data, and mission-critical support facilities” that are under constant cyberattack.
Amplifying the Guardian Spirit
Expanding on the Space Force’s Core Values of Character, Connection, Commitment, and Courage, Saltzman defined three core traits of the Guardian Spirit:
- Principled Public Servant: Guardians are expected to demonstrate the Space Force’s core values as members of the profession of arms, a critical part of the U.S. public’s trust in the military.
- Space-minded Warfighter: Guardians should have a “deep understanding” of space operations and be “experts” in deploying space capabilities against an adversary.
- Bold and Collaborative Problem Solver: Guardians should “engage with, analyze, and debate new ideas and perpetually challenge the status quo,” without fear of failing or adapting. They should also seize the initiative and be “comfortable empowering subordinates to act.”
Together, these traits are the keys to “taking care of Guardians,” Saltzman said, promising more details in a forthcoming “Guardian Handbook,” which will expand on the “Guardian Ideal” released in September 2021, the service’s foundational approach to talent management.
Saltzman acknowledged that in the Space Force’s quest to take care of Guardians, “we have not reliably hit this mark in the past,” an apparent reference to complaints about the “Semper Soon” catchphrase used by Guardians frustrated by the service’s slow progress on structures and policies. The CSO said he is committed to personnel processes that are “transparent, predictable, and professional.”
Partnering to Win
Emphasizing the need for cooperation with a broad range of different organizations, Saltzman wrote in the third letter that “even with superlative talent and exceptional capabilities, the Space Force will not succeed without robust joint, coalition, international, interagency, academic, and commercial partnerships.”
As examples of those partnerships, Saltzman noted the Space Force’s close ties with both the Air Force, which provides much of the service’s support functions, and the National Reconnaissance Office. But Saltzman also wants the Space Force to engage with international allies, academia, industry, and others. “Foreign exchanges, deployments to industry, university partnerships, reverse industry days, security cooperation initiatives, and shared PME opportunities” are all avenues for partnering to make the Space Force stronger, he said.
The Space Force’s University Partnership Program has more than a dozen members, and it has already held a number of so-called “Reverse Industry Days,” where industry shares what it has to offer, as opposed to listening to service officials describe their needs. The Service’s partnership with Johns Hopkins University is another key partnership, one that will largely replace the need for its own War College.
Describing the three letters together, Saltzman said he hoped the newly defined lines of effort (LOEs) will generate “serious discussion at all levels,” and that “command teams are empowered to accelerate activities that align with these LOEs and discard activities that don’t.”
‘Backdoor’ to Attack Satellites: Ground Systems Vulnerable to Cyber
By Greg Hadley
The Space Force and the Pentagon have put considerable effort into making proliferating satellite constellations to make them more resilient against attack, but the ground stations and networks that communicate with those satellites pose a “backdoor” risk through which adversaries could potentially attack space capability, said Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman.
Speaking with reporters Jan. 31 at the Pentagon, Saltzman said vulnerabilities in ground systems highlight the extent to which space and cyber warfare are interconnected—a key lesson he’s drawn from the Russian-Ukraine war.
“Satellites in space are not useful if the linkages to them and the ground network that moves the information around and communicates with the satellites is not assured, is not capable, is not accessible,” Saltzman said. “We’ve witnessed some cyber activity that has hurt satellite operations. … When we think about satellite operations, if we’re not thinking about cyber protection of our ground networks, then we may have a backdoor, if you will, to negate satellite operations without counter-satellite operations.”
China and Russia’s counter-satellite capabilities have received scrutiny in recent years, from Russia’s direct-ascent anti-satellite missile test to China’s satellites with robotic arms that can “grapple” with other satellites. U.S. officials have begun warning those two countries could turn space into the next battlefield.
But the importance of ground networks hasn’t been lost on military space leaders. In May 2022, the Space Development Agency awarded a $324 million contract to General Dynamics Mission Systems to establish the ground operations and integration segment of Tranche 1 of what was then called the National Defense Space Architecture but is now dubbed the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture.
At the time, an SDA official said the award “really is the most critical element of Tranche 1,” noting that “without a ground segment, our space vehicles orbiting around the Earth can’t really do what we need them to do. They can do things autonomously, but really in order to make things work as a complete network, as a complete enterprise, you really do need the ground segments to manage the enterprise and the mesh and the control of the space layer.”
Around the same time, Lt. Gen. Stephen N. Whiting, head of Space Operations Command, warned that “cyberspace is the soft underbelly of our global space networks.”
Also in May, Saltzman told reporters that those worrying solely about the Russians shooting down satellites are “missing the bigger picture,” and that the Space Force would need to establish its own component within U.S. Cyber Command, as it has recently with other combatant commands.
Saltzman cited several other lessons he is drawing from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: the criticality of space to functions like command and control, and the importance of commercial space assets for things like connectivity or satellite imaging.
And he tied one more lesson back to the three lines of effort he recently released to Guardians and his overall focus on “combat-credible forces.”
“High-quality equipment alone doesn’t make you successful,” Saltzman noted. “If you don’t have the training, the logistics, sustainability, the operational concepts to operate multi-domain axes—I think the Russians on paper had very good equipment, but they didn’t necessarily have the sustainment behind it, they certainly didn’t have logistics. And so this is … a comprehensive look at what it means to put a force on the field that is going to be effective.”
Saltzman has emphasized the importance of the Space Force maturing its own training and operational concepts and said his other lines of effort are focused on “Amplifying the Guardian Spirit” and “Partnering to Win.” But he said Jan. 31 that he would not dictate how Guardians should go about pursuing those LOEs.
“We’re trying to … strike a different tone with those Guardians that are out there, the commanders that are out there in the field, that have to actually execute the operations. … I’m not going to be prescriptive,” Saltzman said. “I’m saying this is generally what I think is important. You tell me what activities you’re currently doing that supports these efforts, and let’s make sure we’re on the right track and they’re properly resourced and your timelines are consistent with how fast we need them.”
Saltzman said he wants Guardians to speak up and share their thinking about “opportunities you’re not taking advantage of, or things that you need to be doing differently or that you don’t want to do so that you can realign your activities.”
The idea of his C-notes and other means of reaching out to share his thinking with the field is not to dictate how things should be accomplished, but rather set the mark of what needs to be accomplished. “I really want this to be feedback from the field rather than a top-down prescriptive needs. The Service’s partnership with Johns Hopkins University is another key partnership, one that will largely replace the need for its own War College.
Describing the three letters together, Saltzman said he hoped the newly defined lines of effort will generate “serious discussion at all levels,” and that “command teams are empowered to accelerate activities that align with these LOEs and discard activities that don’t.”
‘Keep It Simple, Stupid’—Senior Military Space Leaders Focus on Streamlining Acquisition
By Chris Gordon
Senior U.S. military space and intelligence leaders drove home a clear and consistent message at a gathering of space industry and government officials Jan. 24: The Department of the Air Force and the Intelligence Community must move from a bloated, complicated acquisition process to one in which space systems can be fielded faster and better meet requirements.
In remarks at a conference held by the National Security Space Association, leaders from the Department of Air Force, Space Force, and Intelligence Community framed the issue in blunt terms.
“We have a culture we have to break,” undersecretary of the Air Force for space acquisitions and integration Frank Calvelli said.
While Calvelli had some critiques of industry, he put much of the blame for issues he sees on the Department of Air Force’s own lack of clarity on what it wants from specific space programs. Calvelli noted that the Pentagon often rethinks and modifies programs to fit the current budget, shifting scheduling, and adding and removing capabilities.
Calvelli has outlined clear goals for the way he wants the Department of Air Force to conduct business: shorter, three-year start-to-launch times, smaller systems, more use of commercial assets, and the use of fixed-price contacts to prod industry to deliver programs focused and on time.
“We like to build new,” Calvelli said. “New is cool. But we have to stop building new and take advantage of existing designs if we really want to drive schedules to be faster.”
Calvelli noted that he does not want to hamstring future technologies, but he does want to increase speed in the acquisition process and proliferate the sources of America’s space assets to complicate targeting for America’s adversaries.
He pointed to his time as a senior official at the National Reconnaissance Office, which he said takes a more hard-line approach to contracting than the Department of Defense’s process, which defense leaders, experts, and elected officials have long said needs reform.
One common DOD practice Calvelli cautioned against is awarding contracts to the lowest bidder. He said the Department of the Air Force must take a hard look at whether contractors for its space projects can actually deliver before spending millions of dollars on a project that is ultimately canceled.
“You get to the mode where you’re just reviewing the proposal, and you don’t take into account knowledge about the company, or you don’t know about the company,” Calvelli said. “You can end up awarding a significant space program to a part of a company or to a company that has absolutely no experience and no chance of actually executing the program.”
Another of Calvelli’s points of emphasis was moving toward as many commercial assets as feasible, both to take advantage of existing technology and proliferate the sources of America’s space assets to complicate targeting for America’s adversaries.
Calvelli’s views are shared across the military space enterprise, according to the deputy commander of U.S. Space Command.
SPACECOM is focused on “staying in our lane,” Lt. Gen. John E. Shaw told reporters, instead of “unnecessarily or prematurely” focusing on broad solutions that don’t align with specific operational requirements, which may be more limited.
Similarly, as the Space Force enters its fourth year, it cannot lose sight of its core missions of maintaining and building systems that allow the entire U.S. military to fight, the service’s deputy chief of space operations for intelligence said.
“Keep it simple, stupid,” Space Force Maj. Gen. Gregory J. Gagnon said. “Let’s just do small things, do them really fast, and continue to move forward. I think that’s absolutely the right way ahead.”
U.S. officials have noted that because space is a largely classified realm, frank discussion about issues with an asset can be limited.
But while Calvelli said he is sometimes frustrated with DOD’s space acquisition process, one of the nation’s most senior intelligence officials said some of the same issues extend to the rest of the federal government’s national security enterprise.
“We recognize that we have to figure out how to move faster in our acquisition realm,” said Stacey Dixon, the principal deputy director of national intelligence.
Dixon noted the Intelligence Community is naturally risk-averse, methodical, and still working out how to fix its processes.
“We will continue to try to decrease the amount of time that it takes to do work with us and the amount of time that it takes for decisions to be made of which they’re waiting on our input,” Dixon said.