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Transcript: The Path Forward: Space Force with Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond

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MR. IGNATIUS: Welcome to Washington Post Live. I am David Ignatius, a columnist for The Post. Today our special guest on “The Path Forward” is General Jay Raymond, who is the Chief of Space Operations for the U.S. Space Force, is the newest member of the joint chiefs of staff. General Raymond is a space guy. While he was still serving as an Air Force officer, he was commander of Space Command.

General Raymond, it is great to have you with us today. Thanks for joining us.

GEN. RAYMOND: Oh, David, I can't thank you enough. I really appreciate it. It is good to see you again.

MR. IGNATIUS: Good to see you, sir. So, folks probably don't know a whole lot about the Space Force, and maybe we could begin by your describing for our viewers what you see as the mission of this newly created branch of the military, and what you see as the nature of the threat that you are facing.

GEN. RAYMOND: Absolutely, and again I appreciate the opportunity to talk about it. As you showed in that opening video, you showed pictures and you described a little bit about what the Space Force is and what NASA is. Let me start by saying we are not NASA. NASA is a civilian agency that is all about exploring space and planetary exploration and science. We are an armed service, and our service is focused on providing capabilities for our nation that fuel our American way of life, and they also fuel our American way of war.

And so, the average American, you know, before you get up in the morning or after you get up in the morning and before you have your first cup of coffee, you have used space on several occasions. We operate a GPS constellation. We operate communications satellites, missile-warning satellites. We launch those satellites into orbit. We acquire those satellites. And more importantly, today, we protect and defend those satellites, because they have become so critical for our nation and for our military. There are adversaries out there that are building capabilities to keep us from accessing those critical space capabilities for our advantage. And so, we are in the protect-and-defend business as well.

So it is a complete cradle-to-grave, from acquiring to launching to operating those capabilities to tracking those capabilities to acting as the space traffic control for the world to make sure that the domain is safe for all, to integrating those capabilities into operations of every single service and joint partner that we have, and to make sure that just as every American, when you walk in the room and you turn on the light switch, the lights come on, that when America needs space it is always there.

MR. IGNATIUS: General Raymond, I want to ask you to take that a little further. Strange as it seems to most of us, when we gaze up into the sky, space is now potentially a warfighting domain. And I want to ask you how you think, as a military commander, about defense and offense in this warfighting domain.

GEN. RAYMOND: It is clear, David, that space is a warfighting domain, just like air, land, and sea, and it is something that has really materialized here over the last handful of years as both China, which is our pacing threat, and Russia have developed weapons that can either disrupt our satellites or destroy our satellites, from on the ground or in space, or in cyber.

And so, our view is that although it is a warfighting domain, our goal is to not get into a conflict that begins or extends into space. Our goal is to deter that from happening, and to do that, in my opinion, the way you do that is you do that from a position of strength, and you do that by denying--or changing the deterrence calculus of a competitor and adversary. And that is either denying benefits or imposing costs.

And so, our goal is, again, to deter that conflict. We do not want to get into a conflict that begins or extends into space. We want to keep the domain safe for all. We want to make sure that every American and every one of our global partners around the world has those space capabilities at their fingertips when they need it, and to do so we've got to be able to protect and defend, and we have also got to be able to imposes costs, if needed, to change that calculus.

MR. IGNATIUS: Something you and I have talked about a little bit in the past is how deterrence might work in this domain. What we know of deterrence is largely from the era of nuclear weapons, it basically meant the ability to inflict the same damage on your adversary that the adversary might try to inflict on you. Is that the same model of deterrence that you are adopting as you think about space?

GEN. RAYMOND: Yes, sir. I don't think there's anything--I get asked a lot about space deterrence. I don't view it as space deterrence. I think it is just deterrence, and it feeds into the broader deterrence calculus. You can deter in multiple domains, in multiple ways, and we can amplify that from space as well. So again, it is all about the calculus. The deterrence calculus is either denying somebody an advantage or an opportunity or imposing costs. We think there are things that we can do in space that can contribute to that overall deterrence calculus. I think it is broader today than just the nuclear deterrence piece. And our goal is if we can deter conflict from beginning or extending into space, we can then deter conflict from spilling over into other domains as well.

MR. IGNATIUS: You described China a moment ago, General Raymond, as the pacing threat, and I thought that was an interesting phrase. Looking at the testimony that was given by the director of National Intelligence and the CIA director this month in their annual threat assessment, they said this about China: "China has counter-space weapons capabilities intended to target U.S. and allied satellites, that China has fielded space-based, anti-satellite weapons, weapons in space, prepared to attack our weapons, and has ground-based lasers probably intended to blind or damage sensitive optical sensors." You have also talked about Chinese satellite Shijian 17 that has got a robot arm that can reach out and grab other satellites.

So, the basic question is, is China seeking dominance in this domain, and what can you do to prevent China from establishing that dominance?

GEN. RAYMOND: So, first of all, and I agree with the testimony that you just read from DNI. There is a whole spectrum of threats, everything from reversible jamming of communications satellites and GPS satellites to lasers that can blind or dazzle our satellites, as you described, or satellites on orbit, like the SJ-17, that has that robotic arm, or missiles that can launch from the ground and blow up a satellite, like they did in 2007, when they blew up one of their own satellites to demonstrate this capability, and blew that satellite into 3,000 pieces of debris.

Again, our goal is to deter that, and the way that you do that, in my opinion, is to be able to do so from a position of strength. So, there is not just one thing. It is a multi-domain effort. It is the full weight of the Joint Force that will be employed to be able to deter that conflict from happening. It is going to require an increase in how we train our operators, and we have already done that with the establishment of Space Force. It is going to require increased partnerships with our allies, and we have taken that from what used to be largely a one-way data-sharing arrangement. So now, two-way partnerships, just like we enjoy in other domains, to where we operate together, we train together, we exercise together, we wargame together, and today, for the first time, we are actually building capabilities together.

It is partnerships with our interagency partners. You talked about the intelligence community today. We enjoy the best relationship that we have ever enjoyed with the intelligence community. In fact, earlier this week I was out at Vandenberg Air Force Base with the DNI, and we spent about a day and a half together, along with the director of the National Reconnaissance Office.

And it is developing partnerships with our commercial partners. And if you look at what is going on in space, in all three sectors, whether it is the National Security Space Sector, which is the Space Force, and whether it is civil sector, which is NASA, and going back to the moon, you know, with the goal of going back to the moon here in the coming years, and with commercial industry, which is very visible and has--it is a terrible word to use when you are describing commercial space--but an explosion of commercial space activity. We think all of that comes together and provides our nation advantage, and would give an adversary pause from beginning or extending a conflict into space.

MR. IGNATIUS: I want to come back to this question of partnerships, both with other parts of the government and with the private industry. You mentioned something, talking about the Chinese having shot down a satellite and created 3,000 pieces of debris, that made me think about the problem of--I'm going to call it, for use of a better term--space junk, all these debris objects in space. I have seen accounts that there are 30,000 objects in space, only 4,000 of which are actually satellites.

Space sounds like it's getting messy, and I'm wondering whether you have begun to think about picking up the litter, whether there is some way to clean up the mess so it is less potentially dangerous.

GEN. RAYMOND: Absolutely. Your stats are pretty accurate. We track about 30,000 pieces of debris, or 30,000 objects in space. Of that, the vast majority of that is debris. A couple of years ago, the number of active satellites was probably only 1,500. What we are seeing is an increase, a significant increase in the numbers of satellites, and largely they are commercial satellites, in great numbers, in lower orbit. You will hear a term referred to as "proliferated, low-earth orbit constellations."

And so, we are seeing an increase in the amount of objects that are going in space. The reason why that is happening is the cost of launch has gone down, and satellites that are smaller are more operationally relevant. And so, what used to be great power competition between then the Soviet Union and the United States is now down to students at universities launching satellites.

And so, the trend is putting things in space. There are about probably a half a million other objects that are too small for us to track. And so clearly the domain is a congested domain. We act as the space traffic control. We warn the world. We do all the analysis to make sure that two objects in space don't collide, and we warn the world if we see that that is about to happen.

So, for example, if there is a Chinese satellite on orbit and it is about to potentially collide with a piece of debris that they created when they blew up their satellite, we will warn them and tell them to maneuver. And satellites prefer to just stay away, to keep from colliding with other objects. We do that because we want to keep the domain safe.

But the trends on this are going to where there are more objects. So how do you solve that challenge? The first thing you do is you quit creating debris in the first place. And so, it is irresponsible behavior to take action to where you blow a satellite into 3,000 pieces of debris, for example. You increase your engineering standards to make sure that the satellite at its end of life doesn't break up into pieces. You increase your engineering standards so when you launch something into space that you don't litter the space domain with debris upon launch. And you share data broadly to be able to make sure that objects don't collide.

And so, our view of this is the way you solve this debris problem is to help from creating debris in the first place. There are a lot of folks out there thinking through how would you then go clean up space? It is a big challenge. Space is a very vast domain, and objects in space are going at 17,500 miles an hour, just to stay in space. And so, it's a big challenge. Our goal is to be responsible users of space, to be transparent in what we are doing to keep the domain safe for all, and to limit the creation of debris in the first place.

MR. IGNATIUS: Just to press this issue, because it is an interesting one, would you be an advocate in the debates that are going on of having some effort, maybe an international cooperative effort, to clean up some of the debris? Is that a thing that people should be working on for the future?

GEN. RAYMOND: I would encourage people to work on that. I think it is going to be important. You know, most of the objects in low-earth orbit eventually will come down, you know, will burn up in the atmosphere. It depends on the size of the object and how high they object is. But I would encourage people to continue to work on that.

I would also encourage--I'm sorry--the other thing I would encourage is norms of behavior, and they talk a little bit about responsible behavior in space. Right now, it is the wild wild west. Short of you can't put a weapons of mass destruction in space, or you can't build a military base on a celestial body--those are both mandated out of the Outer Space Treaty in 1968--other than that, it is pretty much the wild wild west. And we are also working very closely with our international partners and our interagency partners to try to put together a framework for here's how we're going to operate, and then to operate that way and demonstrate that good behavior like we do each and every day, and then to attract partners to adopt those same things.

MR. IGNATIUS: I wanted to ask you about partners and other key actors in space, starting with the return of the SpaceX Crew 1, if I am describing that the right way, tomorrow. I assume that will be principally a NASA SpaceX mission, but will Space Force be involved? What is your interface with that event tomorrow?

GEN. RAYMOND: Yeah, so on that specific event, when we launched--those crew members launched into space, they launched off of Cape Canaveral in the range that we operate in Florida, and so we support the launch of that. We have got a very close partnership with NASA. One of the astronauts that you just talked about, Colonel Mike Hopkins, is a Space Force member that we gave to NASA, to serve as a NASA astronaut. For the landing of the capsule and the crew we will track that object, just like we track all the other objects in space. One of our highest priorities is to make sure that our astronauts that are either on the Space Station or coming home from the Space Station are safe.

And then, actually, U.S. Space Command, which is the warfighting organization, if you will, the operational command for space, has a recovery mission that will support this event as well, to make sure that we can safely recover those astronauts upon landing.

MR. IGNATIUS: Would you foresee, General Raymond, greater collaboration going forward between Space Force and NASA? So many of the missions do seem to have some overlap. Does it make sense to have more coordination and integration?

GEN. RAYMOND: We enjoy a great partnership today, a really strong partnership. We have enjoyed that for 50 years. I think it is important that we distinguish between the two organizations. We have different missions, but we operate in the same domain. We have members of NASA that sit in our Operations Center that does all the tracking of objects, again, to help us protect and defend those astronauts and the International Space Station.

We have just here, since the establishment of the Space Force, we have partnered with NASA for some training opportunities. There are some capabilities that they have that they used in training--their procedures, and it started back in the Apollo days, that we thought would be really helpful to us as we train our crews. And so, we entered into a partnership with NASA on that front.

There is also, I mentioned on the norms of behavior front, NASA has a program called the Artemis Program, which is the program that is going to return astronauts to the moon. They have something called the Artemis Accords, and that is the international partners that they have that are part of that mission. They are developing standards and norms of behavior. And so, we think there are some opportunities there as we also develop those norms of behavior.

And I think there are opportunities to leverage the partnerships that we both enjoy. And so, I really believe that although we are separate, we operate in the same domain, there are partnership opportunities that allow us to do things more effectively, allows us to save costs, and allows us to provide for the security of our nation, either through exploration or through national security.

I would like to take a moment and congratulate former Senator Bill Nelson for his recent confirmation as the new NASA administrator. I really look forward to working with him in the future as we build this partnership and continue to strengthen.

MR. IGNATIUS: And another question about government space agencies, organizations that have similar functions. You mentioned visiting Vandenberg Air Force Base and your relationship with the NRO, the National Reconnaissance Organization. Again, a common-sense question would be, do we really need two military organizations that are doing these space-based activities? It is like the question people ask about Cyber Command and the National Security Agency. But are you convinced that we need both an NRO and Space Force?

GEN. RAYMOND: Yeah, let me just say, right up front, that the partnership that we enjoy with NRO has never been better--never been better. We operate very closely with that organization. Again, we have a shared view of the space domain. We have a shared view of the need to protect and defend. We have a shared ConOps on how we go about doing that. We share people. About 800 Guardians in the Space Force are assigned to that organization. We share capabilities. We develop capabilities together. And so that partnership has never been stronger. We operate our command and control centers together, focusing on protecting and defending.

But there is a different mission set today. They are in the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance business and we are in the DoD space business. So, there is a different mission set. The law that established the Space Force back in December of 2019, did not include the NRO as part of it. Our job is to work very closely with them for advantage, and I will tell you, we are doing that today.

MR. IGNATIUS: And, General, maybe you could just briefly tell folks that don't know the origin story of the Space Force. This is a new branch of the military. Just briefly explain why, after so many years when the Air Force was minding space, when you, as combatant commander of Space Command, were part of the Air Force, why was the decision made to create a separate force? What are the benefits of that?

GEN. RAYMOND: I think there are a lot of benefits, and I think the decision to do so was absolutely the right decision. The United States--this has long been debated. This was debated for 30-something years, and over the course of the last, I would say, 5 or 6 years, the debate really picked up. And the thought was we're the best in the world at space, and that is absolutely true. We remain the premier space power around the globe. The thought was our competitors, our adversaries, are moving really fast. China has gone from 0 to 60 really quick, and not only have they gone from 0 to 60, they have operationalized these capabilities that we have been talking about throughout the course of this interview.

And so, the thought was if you stood up an organization that was focused on this primarily, that you could move at speed and be able to stay ahead of the front. And so, the advantages of establishing this service that we purpose-built this from scratch for the domain in which we operate in. We elevated the leadership to a service chief position and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That allows us to ensure that space is fully integrated into the thinking across the department. We elevate from a service chief our voice and requirements. We elevate our voice in budget. We elevate our voice in being able to have international partners. And, in fact, after the United States established the Space Force, France, the U.K., Australia, and Japan have all elevated space in their organizations as well. And we elevate our voice and our ability to interact with commercial industry.

And so, on all accounts, I would tell you that we are better postured today, just 18 months after establishing the Space Force, than we were even back then, and we were the best in the world at space. We are the best in the world today, and because of the changes that have been made, I am convinced that we will remain the best in the world going forward.

MR. IGNATIUS: One of the good things about creating something new is that you can break from past practices and procurement, in rules and procedures. You don't have legacy systems because you are new. And I want to ask you what you are doing to try to see how the Space Force can buy things, develop things more efficiently, more quickly, make better use of the incredible--you used the word "explosion" earlier; it is right--explosion of commercial interests in space. How can you tap into that effectively and at lower cost?

GEN. RAYMOND: Yeah, I think, David, this is probably the biggest opportunity that we have. I would bet on U.S. commercial industry any day. We are the leaders across the globe, and I couldn't be more proud of what is going on in the commercial industry, and it is from multiple sources.

Historically, what has been commercially viable are commercial launch operations and big commercial satellites that provide communication satellites. That are what was commercially viable. As launch costs have gone down, largely due to commercial space, and as technology has allowed smaller satellites to be more relevant, we now have opportunities to expand those partnerships. And if you look at what commercial industry is doing, commercial industry is doing in months what it has taken the government to do in years. We have got to go faster. We believe, with the Space Force, we can build this service that has a more fused relationship with commercial industry.

Just look at what NASA did. I mean, we launched a rocket from Florida, a commercial rocket with a commercial capsule, with a NASA crew, from a DoD range, a Space Force range, and sent it to the International Space Station. We really believe a business model that is developing with commercial industry, an assembly line type of model, will allow us to diversify our architectures to be able to do so at much lower costs, and to actually posture ourselves for advantage in the future.

So, one of the big things that we worked on the first year of our existence is being able to develop this capability of development process that moves just towards digital. And it is a digital force design, and what does the architecture of space need to look like, what does the satellite architecture, if you will, need to look like, how do you do the requirements, and to do that requirements process at speed and do it digitally, how do you acquire differently. And so, we reorganized our Space and Missile Systems Center out in California to be able to tap into commercial industry more effectively. We have synchronized unity of effort across the department with other acquisition organizations that also do space acquisitions. We have built a--or planned a, how do you test these capabilities and do it at speed? Our goal is to harness and leverage commercial industry to reduce costs for the taxpayers, increase capability for our nation, and to make sure that any time anybody needs space, it is there.

MR. IGNATIUS: This is an incredibly fertile area of innovation. Some of our best-known entrepreneurs--Elon Musk, our own Jeff Bezos of The Washington Post are passionately interested in space, so I'm sure you going to work with them.

I want to ask you a question that is a little bit off-the-wall, maybe, but hey, what the heck? We are talking about space. Two former CIA directors, John Brennan and Jim Woolsey, have said that based on what they know, what they think, they think it's possible that there is intelligent life in the universe that is trying to communicate with us. And thinking about our conversation I wondered, what would Space Force do if we were presented with evidence that there were other civilizations trying to connect with the United States? Would it be treated initially as an issue that the military would handle, or would it be other parts of the government? I am sure you must have thought a little bit about this. What can you share with us?

GEN. RAYMOND: Well, I'll tell you, a priority for us today is focusing on building a service that can protect and defend the national security interests that we face near term. But as we build this service, we are building this service not just for today and tomorrow but for the next 100 years. And so, we need to build this service to be able to respond to any threat that our nation might face, and if that were to materialize in the future, then I am sure we would have a part in this, as part of a broader whole-of-government approach. But our goal is a little bit more near term. It is focusing on what it is that we need to do today to make sure that every American has the space capabilities they need.

It is really hard for them to understand how reliant we all are on space, because you can't see it. You know, satellites are traveling 17,500 miles an hour, far overhead, and it's hard to have that connection. But every single American relies on space each and every day, and it underpins every instrument of our national power, whether it's our national security, our economic, diplomatic instrument of national power, and our job is to make sure that that foundation for all those remains unharmed.

MR. IGNATIUS: I'll save more Star Wars questions for the next time we invite you back. But I want to close with a question of space diplomacy, if you will. From where you sit, as commander, chief of this warfighting entity, the Space Force, what do you think about the wisdom of international agreements about space that go beyond the ones that exist today? Does it make sense to pursue that, to seek more rules, more limitations, or is this one of those situations where it will be so difficult to verify compliance with the rules that were set that we are just better off not going down that road? What do you think?

GEN. RAYMOND: Yeah, I get asked a lot, you know, what do you want your successors to have? What kind of technology do you want them to have? I answer that question this way: I want my successors to have some norms of behavior, some rules of the road. And so, it would be very tricky to be able to ascertain and to verify what is going on in space. I am not naïve to think that if we have rules of the road that everybody is going to just follow them. But I think if we have them, and we can build those with our international partners, that we would at least be able to identify those that are running the red lights.

And so, I am in favor of coming up with norms of behavior. I am in favor of working that with our allies and our partners, and we are doing that each and every day. And again, our goal is to keep this domain safe for the world. We are doing so by our actions, and I am really pleased with where we are and how we are postured to do that, after just 18 months after establishing.

MR. IGNATIUS: I feel like we've just begun a conversation about one of the most interesting, challenging, new things that the Pentagon is doing, that our country is doing as a whole. So, I want to thank General Raymond. Thank you for coming to talk to us today, and we hope you will come back.

GEN. RAYMOND: David, I sure will. I wish we could do this for longer. It's always good to talk to you. I'm really proud of the guardians of the Space Force. We have about 5,200 folks that have been hand-picked to come in the service. They come to work each and every day, focusing on providing for our nation, and protecting and defending this great country. And I couldn't be more proud to represent them, and I appreciate the opportunity to tell their story and to have a chance to chat with you and your viewers. So, thank you very much.

MR. IGNATIUS: We will see General Raymond again down the road, I hope.

I will be back on Monday with an interview with Jane Harman, former member of Congress, former head of the Woodrow Wilson Center, who has just written an interesting new book that discusses national security issues she has been involved in.

So, everybody have a good weekend. Thank you for joining Washington Post Live.

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