Air Force Must Leverage Space Capabilities, General Says
Air Force Space Command Commander, Gen. C. Robert Kehler discusses space and cyberspace at the Air Force Association's Air and Space Conference and Exposition, National Harbor, Md, September 14, 2010
Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Andy Morataya

The U.S. Air Force must make better use of its space capabilities to support warfighters on the ground and in the air, according to the outgoing commander of the Air Force Space Command.

Better space capabilities can build on existing satellites and other assets rather than just launching more into Earth's crowded space lanes, said General C. Robert Kehler.

"We know today what resources are available to us," Kehler said. "It's all about leverage. What are we going to do with what we have?" [Most Destructive Space Weapon Concepts]

The general spoke during the Air Force Association's recent Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition held in Oxon Hill, Maryland on Sept. 14.

One example of using existing assets comes from shuffling around the Global Positioning System's satellites, so that GPS users on the ground get better coverage whether walking between city buildings or in the canyons of Afghanistan.

"This way we are taking advantage of those satellites that are already on orbit but repositioning them in a way that has real operational benefit," Kehler explained.

The Air Force already began repositioning some GPS satellites a year ago, as part of a process expected to take 12 to 18 months and boost overall coverage.

Kehler also pointed out that the Air Force already knows what space systems it will have 10 to 20 years from now, given the long delay involving development and deployment. Such systems "are leaving the launch pads today," he added.

For instance, a new advanced communications satellite that launched in August was meant to ensure open lines between the president, military commanders and troops on the battlefield even during all-out nuclear war.

But a propulsion glitch meant that Air Force controllers had to devise a new way to raise its orbit slowly, delaying operations by six or seven months.

Space Command also needs to integrate better within the Air Force's air and cyberspace domains, Kehler suggested. But he warned that no one strategy would work for every mission that requires space capabilities.

"We need to bring innovation when thinking of those strategies. We cannot abandon innovation to avoid risk," Kehler said.