Offering familiar themes refined with his personal prescription for ensuring superiority in space, Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, told an influential audience March 7 that an evolving but clear-eyed “theory of success” is required to guide the still young Space Force and position it properly to carry out its essential missions.
“A theory of success provides Guardians with shared purpose, and common understanding of our overall strategy towards this objective,” Saltzman said during his keynote address at the Air and Space Forces Association 2023 Warfare Symposium.
But because space is complex and the Space Force is still young, Saltzman added an important caveat – this theory of success, which he dubbed “Competitive Endurance,” is only the starting point for a blueprint that will be constantly tested, refined, re-thought and adapted to conditions.
“This theory is a starting point for a debate I believe is critical – absolutely critical – to the success of our young service,” Saltzman said.
Saltzman, who became the service’s high-ranking military officer in November, has been methodically merging the Space Force’s current posture with some new and revised approaches he has embraced to ensure its continued growth and success in a complicated and increasingly crowded warfighting domain.
In January, for example, Saltzman published his assessment of the qualities, culture, and hardware necessary to make the Space Force successful. That effort is broadly defined in “three lines of effort” that were detailed in memos sent to all Space Force personnel.
The three “lines” are fielding combat ready forces; amplifying the Guardian spirit; and partnering to win.
Saltzman added detail and depth to those priorities in his speech.
“The United States established the Space Force to protect our nation’s interests in space,” he said. “Our formative purpose as Guardians is to contest and control the space domain. That is why we are a military service. Military service gives you the tools, the depth, and institutional experience necessary to specialize in domain control so that you may then exploit it.”
The challenge in space, Saltzman noted, is so different than what is present in other domains and demands a unique set of tactics, equipment, and practices. That is why Space Force must have “space-minded warriors who are the embodiment of space domain specialization.”
While Saltzman explained this reality in considerable length during his speech, the essence is this: In conflict taking place on land, sea and air, brute military might be often the determining factor. In space, however, open conflict would result in widespread – and uncontrollable – space debris that would damage or destroy U.S. capabilities in addition to those of adversaries.
“Consequently, unlike in other domains, our concept for domain control in space cannot rely on overwhelming destructive force,” Saltzman said.
“Instead, our goal is perpetual competition, locked in a battle for stability in the domain, neither driving our adversaries towards disrupting the space domain nor towards desperation. That is the essence of competition. That means orienting ourselves around the idea that there is no end-state, there is no victory in space because if you do this right, you never fight,” he said.
The ultimate goal, he said, “is [to] ensure the Joint Force’s ability to achieve space superiority when necessary while also maintaining the safety, security, stability, and long-term sustainability of the space domain.”
In real life, that concept means having “resilience” in space so that the essential functions can never be fully erased. He said that means using “passive attributes like disaggregation, distribution, diversification, protection, maneuverability and proliferation.”
“If you complicate targeting, you get resiliency, you raise the threshold for attack, which equates to deterrence,” he said.
Underpinning all of it, he said, are highly trained, highly motivated Guardians. The Space Force must “double down on education and training during times of relative peace. I want to minimize the lessons learned in blood by getting it right now,” he said.