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Document created: 1 June 04
Air & Space Power Journal - Summer 2004

Commanding the Future

The Transformation of Air Force
Space Command

Gen Lance W. Lord, USAF

Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the changes in the character of war, not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after changes occur.

—Giulio Douhet

No one would deny that the character of war has changed over the past century. The twentieth century saw a transition from attrition warfare in both world wars to guerilla warfare in Vietnam. The global-security situation has evolved from a standoff between superpowers throughout the Cold War to regional conflicts in the Balkans and Southwest Asia, humanitarian operations, and the global war on terrorism. The latest evolution of Air Force basic doctrine reminds us of the necessity to remain “aware of the lessons of the past—alert and receptive to future technologies and paradigms” because they may, in some manner or another, “alter the art of air and space warfare.”1 Air Force Space Command is on a path today that takes these words of wisdom to heart. This article outlines that path by looking first at some key lessons learned from recent conflicts, the foundation laid early on in military space operations, and, finally, the vision for the Air Force Space Command of the future.

Space Today

Today, events unfold before our eyes around the world as if we were there. We have advance warning of adverse weather as it develops. We can communicate with people 10 or 10,000 miles away with equal ease, and a small receiver tells us our exact position and how fast we are moving in the air, on land, or at sea. New technologies move large amounts of data around the world at the speed of light. Although a century ago people would have considered such feats science fiction, modern space capabilities make these, and so many more things, unquestionable facts. Space power has transformed our society and our military. Today, at the outset of the twenty-first century, we simply cannot live—or fight and win—without it.

Although many people refer to Operation Desert Storm as the first space war, it did not mark the first use of space capabilities during conflict. During the war in Vietnam, space systems—communications and meteorological satellites—provided near-real-time data that was essential for combat operations.2 The Gulf War of 1991, however, was the “first conflict in history to make comprehensive use of space systems support.”3 Since then, we have worked hard to integrate the high-tech advantages provided by speed-of-light space capabilities into all our forces—air, land, and sea. Those efforts significantly improved our American joint way of war, and they paid off during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

American forces led a coalition that set benchmarks for speed, precision, lethality, reach, and flexibility. As President George W. Bush said on 1 May 2003 aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, “Operation Iraqi Freedom was carried out with a combination of precision and speed and boldness the enemy did not expect, and the world had not seen before. From distant bases or ships at sea, we sent planes and missiles that could destroy an enemy division, or strike a single bunker.”4 In a matter of minutes—not hours, days, or weeks as in past wars—commanders identified and engaged targets and received timely battle damage assessment. Lt Gen T. Michael “Buzz” Moseley, the combined force air component commander, reinforced the role that space capabilities played when he said, “The satellites have been just unbelievably capable . . . supporting conventional surface, naval, special ops and air forces. They’ve made a huge difference for us.”5

Space warriors deployed to the coalition’s air and space operations centers (AOC); some served as expert advisors to the combined force land component commander; and others deployed to wing-level units where they integrated, facilitated, and generated space-combat effects. In the evolving nature of warfare, though, not all of our space warriors need to deploy. Space forces operating from home stations backed up those deployed experts and in many cases provided direct support and information to joint and coalition forces in the field. Throughout the conflict, our space AOC orchestrated and integrated this time-critical reachback support with theater operations.6

Working with other highly trained, highly skilled, highly connected, and highly integrated combat warriors, we can generate unprecedented combat synergy on the battlefield. This synergy—something we have come to expect—is aided immeasurably by eyes, ears, links, and beacons from the “high ground” of space.

There is a face to space—space capabilities and their effects touch every facet of our combat operations, but not until we start looking at specific examples does the impact of those effects really hit home. Lt Gen Dan Leaf describes this impact: “Space systems were woven through every bit of [the] moving, shooting, and communicating our land forces did.”7 He likes to share a story from Iraqi Freedom that illustrates the synergy of our forces today.

In late March 2003, the lead elements of the 3rd Infantry Division engaged enemy forces just south of the Iraqi city of Najaf. Members of Charlie Troop of the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry, encountered Iraqi forces at night in a dust storm and were surrounded. They had sporadic contact on the east and on the south as well as fairly persistent contact with a large, armored enemy force on the west while another enemy force was moving down from Hallah towards Najaf. This contact was so close that Iraqi rocket-propelled grenades ricocheting off US armored tracks were killing Iraqi soldiers. The severe weather forced the Iraqis to pack their T-72 tanks and other armored vehicles very tightly together. During the intense fighting, US Army soldiers dismounted their tracks and picked up enemy AK-47 rifles from the dead and wounded to fire back at the enemy.

During this engagement, an Air Force tactical air controller engaged a reported 20 T-72s and some 10 to 15 other armored vehicles with four 2000-pound global positioning system (GPS)-aided Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) from an Air Force B-1 bomber. The bomber received the tasking via satellite communications and, because of GPS navigation satellites, put its weapons precisely on the enemy, destroying the Iraqi force. When the dust cleared, Charlie Troop had not suffered any casualties. Coalition forces turned a potential disaster into a decisive defeat of the enemy while visibly demonstrating the asymmetric advantage that integrated air and space capabilities can bring to the fight.

Another example that puts the “face to space” comes from World War II and the daylight bombing raids on Schweinfurt, Germany, in 1943. The targets were five ball-bearing factories essential to German fighter production. On the first mission, which took place on 17 August, 200 B-17 Flying Fortresses dropped 760,000 pounds of ordnance. Thirty-six aircraft were lost on that mission alone. On 14 October, America lost an additional 60 aircraft, and another 138 were damaged out of 291 sent on the raid, for a two-mission total of 68 percent damaged or destroyed! The United States Army Air Forces could not sustain deep-penetration missions without fighter escorts—the damages were too severe. As a result, the Allies suspended attacks for four months, and German production returned to preraid levels.

Today a single B-2 or B-52 mission with five GPS-guided JDAMs (10,000 pounds of ordnance) would have much better effects versus the 24 million pounds dropped on Schweinfurt that destroyed the targets but caused significant collateral damage and numerous civilian deaths. Once again, this example illustrates the asymmetric effect of integrated air and space forces. The lessons learned from every contingency operation since Desert Storm highlight the importance and urgency to fully integrate space into the fight. Today, our integrated team of dedicated space professionals and the space and missile capabilities they bring are essential to any fight and, maybe more importantly, to deterring conflict before it begins. Military space is not in the back room behind the secret door anymore.

Although we rightfully tout our recent combat successes, Air Force Space Command must move forward to face even greater challenges in the future. Space capabilities provide an ever-increasing asymmetric advantage for our nation’s military. We must not let that significant advantage become a disabling vulnerability. Future adversaries understand the importance of space and the advantage it offers our forces. We have to assume that those same potential adversaries are developing methods to challenge our capabilities. It has been said that “you never really know what you have until it is gone.” Imagine the effects of tugging on the string of space—a string tightly interwoven into the fabric of our joint force. Our capabilities would quickly begin to unwind. We have enjoyed a period of unchallenged dominance in military space that has enabled our success since Desert Storm. Our jobs would become much easier if we could expect this trend to continue, but we would be living a dream.

Space Yesterday

These concerns and recent lessons learned will significantly influence that future, but Air Force Space Command also has to look to the past as it develops the space force of the future.

Foundation for the Future

A small group of visionaries played key roles in establishing the foundation of our nation’s military space power. These space pioneers led the technical innovations that pushed America through—and helped us win—the Cold War. In 1954 the Air Force Research and Development Command established the Western Development Division and named Bernard A. Schriever, a brigadier general at that time, the first commander.8 General Schriever and his team developed the systems that formed the basis of every one of our current space and missile capabilities. They provided a momentous beginning to the Air Force’s leadership in military space power.

The Western Development Division developed the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program, the Corona/Discoverer satellite-imagery program, and our launch programs. The division was the home for communications, weather, and navigation satellites as well as for MIDAS, the first missile-detection program. Technical competency and technological superiority laid the groundwork for amazing progress—progress absolutely essential to keep pace with, and ultimately surpass, the Soviets in a race for survival. Then, like now, the key to that progress—the key to that technical competency and superiority—was not the systems themselves, but the people who took those systems from concepts on a drawing board and made them a reality.

Space and Missile Pioneers

Each year Air Force Space Command recognizes individuals who played a significant role in the history of the Air Force’s space and missile programs. The achievements of these pioneers are nothing short of astounding. Their effort formed the capabilities that are still the best in the world. With a depth of technical expertise and unfailing determination, they did something that no one had done before. The United States placed unparalleled trust in these pioneers at a time when failure was simply not an option. This past year, the inductees included Brig Gen Martin Menter, who, from the late 1950s onward, was an international leader in the fields of aeronautical and space law. His legal treatises on space law were the first of their kind anywhere in the world.9 Another inductee in the class of 2003, Col Albert J. “Red” Wetzel, directed the Titan ICBM program from its concept stage to operational readiness in 1961.10 Lt John C. “Jack” Herther designed a three-axis stabilization system during the late 1950s that enabled Lockheed’s Agena space vehicle to become the workhorse of the Corona reconnaissance program.11 Finally, Capt Robert C. “Bob” Truax, US Navy, played an instrumental role over the course of three years in the early stages of the Thor intermediate-range ballistic missile and WS-117L, the Air Force’s advanced reconnaissance system, at the Western Development Division.12 These innovative pioneers designed, launched, and overcame all obstacles. They laid the foundation and set Air Force Space Command on a success-oriented path that served the nation well in the decades which followed. Our successes in recent contingency and combat operations were also enabled by a concerted effort to more fully “operationalize” our space operations.

Operationalizing Space Operations

Over the last 12 years, operationalizing space operations served as a central tenet of the Air Force Space Command agenda, and that emphasis paid off. Taking advantage of lessons learned from air- and missile-operations missions, the command emphasized disciplined and structured space operations based on sound technical data coupled with robust crew-force training, evaluations, and inspections. As a result, operational success, readiness, and competency soared. Air Force Space Command built an extensive knowledge base for space systems founded on expertise in operational weapon systems while pushing responsibility down from midgrade officers and senior noncommissioned officers to lieutenants and junior Airmen.

These lessons from the past—the technical foundation laid by the men and women of the Western Development Division, the examples set by our space pioneers, and the significant progress in operationalizing space operations within Air Force Space Command—point clearly to the next step in space power. As our nation’s dependence on space capabilities grows, it is critical that we create and then develop a cadre of space warriors who are equally skilled in operational art and technical expertise. Military space operations must have a depth of technical and operational expertise in each mission and weapon system in order to face increased and even more uncertain threats than our nation confronted during the Cold War.

These lessons from the past, when coupled with the uncertain threats looming in the dynamic and changing security environment of the twenty-first century, necessitate a change in focus for military space operations: “Defending the United States of America through the control and exploitation of space.”13 To that end, our charter for the future of Air Force Space Command is to maintain the highly successful force-enhancement roles the command provides our joint forces today and to increase its focus on producing war-fighting effects with space superiority and strike capabilities—in short, to become a full-spectrum space-combat command.

Space Tomorrow

Space capabilities are inherently global in nature and joint in terms of the effects they produce. Air Force Space Command must develop and deliver the full spectrum of space-combat effects. To do that, command and control capabilities must deliver the right combat effect to the right place at the right time. Doing so requires a fundamental shift in our thinking. In the past, we focused largely on the force-enhancement role of our space systems and the deterrence role of our nuclear forces. The space and missile operations of tomorrow will focus on developing and projecting combat power. To make that vision a reality, Air Force Space Command has implemented a strategy we call “Commanding the Future”—our flight plan for transformation.

Space Professionals

One of the key components of that flight plan is the human aspect of this crucial business—space professionals. World-class scientists, engineers, and operators can be found in academic institutions, industry, government agencies, and all our military services.14 Sustained excellence in the scientific and engineering disciplines is essential to the future of the nation’s national-security space program. As the Space Commission pointed out, we cannot take it for granted: “Military space professionals will have to master highly complex technology; develop new doctrine and concepts of operations for space launch, offensive and defensive space operations, power projection in, from, and through space, and other military uses of space; and operate some of the most complex systems ever built and deployed.”15

To shape the future, the team of tomorrow—made up of these space professionals—must build on the success of today as well as the immense legacy of the space and missile pioneers. Last fall I had the opportunity to speak about officership to cadets at the Air Force Academy; I was impressed. Their technical and professional military education is truly second to none, and their leadership’s “Agenda for Change” is really making great progress. These outstanding young men and women, along with those of the Reserve Officer Training Corps and Officer Training School, are the future leaders and pioneers of our Air Force. They will operate, employ, and sustain the systems we are designing and building today. The space professionals of today are working hard to define and shape the future—but these young people will live it!

Warrior Culture

Culture, another key component of our Commanding the Future flight plan, is directly related to the space-professional concept. Members of the Space Commission cited in their report the importance of culture and recommended that the Air Force “take steps to create a culture within the Service dedicated to developing new space system concepts, doctrine and operational capabilities.”16 It is the duty and fundamental responsibility of Air Force Space Command to generate, maintain, and ensure space superiority. We must see to it that our nation and allies can operate in space and deny that same advantage to our adversaries. Air Force Space Command is developing a warrior culture, a warrior ethos, to meet that responsibility.

As Airmen, we recognize the importance of gaining and maintaining air superiority in all conflicts. We design and build aircraft and weapon systems to this requirement and emphasize this point throughout our professional military education as we train our warriors and leaders to achieve it. It is the sum total of our service culture. Space should be no different. Space superiority is our mandate, and space superiority must roll off our tongues as easily as air superiority. The world today is much more unsettled than it was during the Cold War. Threats are more unpredictable, and adversaries have increasingly more technological savvy. Space capabilities have become both a military and economic center of gravity for our nation and our allies.17 We assume that these capabilities will always be available and deem them more critical than ever before.

Space Superiority

Just as we gain and maintain air superiority through offensive and defensive counterair operations, so do we achieve space superiority through offensive and defensive counterspace operations. Air Force Doctrine Document 2-2, Space Operations, tells us that “space situational awareness (SSA) forms the foundation for all counterspace and other space actions.”18 In other words, robust situational awareness is absolutely essential to our mandate of ensuring space superiority. Historically, the command has focused efforts in this area around space surveillance; although that is still important, there is more to SSA than simply space surveillance.

Based on data from the 1st Space Control Squadron, located in Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colorado, there are over 1,150 satellites in space today—over 300 of those are US satellites, about 60 of which are military. We also track over 13,500 objects in space for collision avoidance.19 Although we know and track what’s up there, we must know more. We need to know what capabilities are available to potential adversaries and need to understand what natural or hostile events can disrupt our use of space or present threats against our interests on Earth. Adversaries know the value and benefit we derive from space—a value that enhances, improves, and transforms our military operations. We must assume they will increasingly try to deny us the asymmetric advantage that space provides. This assumption proved accurate during Operation Iraqi Freedom when coalition forces faced a GPS jamming threat—and that is only the tip of the iceberg for what lies in store for the future. We simply must have the ways and means of detecting, characterizing, reporting, and responding to attacks in the medium of space. Space is no longer a sanctuary, and our vision—our culture—must transform appropriately. Space superiority must be our first thought. It must become our way of life.


In Air Force Space Command, our Commanding the Future efforts are on track to realize our vision of a full-spectrum space-combat command that is preeminent in the application of space power for national security and joint warfare.20 Key to that thought is the idea of full-spectrum capabilities—kinetic through nonkinetic—across the entire spectrum of conflict. We will be able to rapidly bring the full weight of space power to bear globally, generating war-fighting effects when and where needed. We will also be aware of, and be able to counter, an adversary’s attempt to exploit this same set of advantages.

What is the key to making this vision a reality? Actually, it is very simple—people! Our space professionals will be warriors—they must have that focus. Space professionals must understand the comprehensive set of space capabilities and the effects they can deliver, but they must also understand how those effects are integrated with those generated in the air, on land, or at sea. They will be experts—not only in operations but also in the acquisition process. The new space cadre will have a broad space-education background with in-depth expertise in weapon systems. Why so many requirements? Are we asking them to be space pioneers? Well, in a word, yes. The next generation of our space capabilities, which we are developing today, will be more complex, more dynamic, more integrated, and more responsive to both theater and global requirements.21 The space professionals of the future must take advantage of those capabilities.

If this seems like a lot of change, it is, but there should be no question that this process is absolutely necessary. Air Force Space Command must focus on the future and be ready for whatever it brings. If our past experiences have taught us anything, it is that we must be ready for new and unexpected challenges—we must be ready for surprises. To do that, we have to transform our way of doing business. Through this transformation, though, some things will remain the same. In a speech to the National Defense University in January 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reminded America’s military of another time of such dramatic changes: “In 1962, during a similar time of upheaval and transformation, as our forces prepared to meet the new challenges of the Cold War, General MacArthur addressed the cadets at West Point, and he said, ‘Through all this welter of change, your mission remains fixed, determined, inviolable: It is to win wars.’ The mission of the armed forces remains equally fixed today, equally determined and inviolable.”22

The evolution of Air Force Space Command over the next few years will make certain that we continue to meet that goal and accomplish our mission. The character of war is truly dynamic, and our anticipation of those changes will ensure that victory continues to smile on us all.  


1. Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, 17 November 2003, 105.

2. David N. Spiers et al., eds., Beyond Horizons: A Half Century of Air Force Space Leadership (Peterson AFB, CO: Air Force Space Command, 1997), 169.

3. Conduct of the Persian Gulf War: Final Report to Congress (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, April 1992).

4. “President Bush Announces Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended: Remarks by the President from the USS Abraham Lincoln at Sea Off the Coast of San Diego, California,” 1 May 2003, http://www.whitehouse. gov/news/releases/2003/05/iraq/20030501-15.html.

5. Lt Gen Michael Moseley, “Coalition Forces Air Component Command Briefing,” United States Department of Defense, News Transcript, 5 April 2003, http:/www.defenselink.mil/news/Apr2003/t04052003_t405mose.html.

6. This AOC is located at Vandenberg AFB, CA.

7. Lt Gen Daniel P. Leaf, Air Force Space Command, Peterson AFB, CO, interview by Maj John Wagner, 14 August 2003. Currently the vice-commander of Air Force Space Command, General Leaf served as director of the Air Component Coordination Element for the combined force land component commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

8. Gen Bernard A. Schriever, “Military Space Activities: Recollections and Observations,” in The U.S. Air Force in Space: 1945 to the Twenty-first Century, ed. R. Cargill Hall and Jacob Neufeld (Washington, DC: Air Force History and Museums Program, 1998), 15.

9. Air Force Space Command Historian’s Office, “Brigadier General Martin Menter,” Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers, http://www.peterson.af.mil/hqafspc/ history/menter.htm.

10. Air Force Space Command Historian’s Office, “Colonel Albert J. Wetzel,” Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers, http://www.peterson.af.mil/hqafspc/history/Wetzel.htm.

11. Air Force Space Command Historian’s Office, “Mr. John C. Herther,” Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers, http://www.peterson.af.mil/hqafspc/history/herther.htm.

12. Air Force Space Command Historian’s Office, “Captain Robert C. Truax (USN),” Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers, http://www.peterson.af.mil/hqafspc/history/ Truax.htm.

13. Annual Performance Plan (Peterson AFB, CO: Headquarters Air Force Space Command, 2003), 2.

14. Report of the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization: Executive Summary (Washington, DC: The Commission, 11 January 2001), 18.

15. Ibid. Space Commission is the term commonly used to refer to the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization.

16. Ibid., 23.

17. Air Force Space Command Strategic Master Plan, FY06 and Beyond (Colorado Springs, CO: Headquarters Air Force Space Command/XPXP, 1 October 2003), 23.

18. AFDD 2-2, Space Operations, 27 November 2001, 14.

19. The 1st Space Control Squadron tracks objects down to about 10 cm (softball size), which could do extensive damage to a manned or unmanned spacecraft.

20. Air Force Space Command Strategic Master Plan, 3.

21. These capabilities include, but are not limited to, space-based space surveillance (SBSS), space-based radar (SBR), space-based infrared system (SBIRS), and transformational communications.

22. Donald Rumsfeld, US secretary of defense (address, National Defense University, Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, DC, 31 January 2002).


Gen Lance W. Lord (BS, Otterbein College; MS, University of North Dakota) is commander of Air Force Space Command, Peterson AFB, Colorado. He is responsible for the development, acquisition, and operation of the Air Force’s space and missile systems. The general oversees a global network of satellite command and control, communications, missile warning, and launch facilities and ensures the combat readiness of America’s intercontinental ballistic missile force. He leads more than 39,700 space professionals who provide combat forces and capabilities to North American Air and Space Defense Command and US Strategic Command.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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