“Delivering More Together” – U.S. and Allied Space Leaders Highlight Importance of Joint Coalitions at AFA 2023


Since the first aircraft was used in combat more than 100 years ago, the air domain has been one of the most strategically important and mission-critical domains for the U.S. and its allies to dominate and control. During the 2023 Air, Space & Cyber Conference, military leaders from the U.S., and its allied nations, convened to examine what it takes to “partner and win” in a new warfighting domain: space. Officials from the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia acknowledged that space is the newest and most critical frontier that they must tackle together in order to gain and hold military advantages over their adversaries.

During one session at this year’s AFA conference, “Partnering to Win in the Space Fight,” military officials from the U.S. and its allies assembled to discuss the current state of their military coalitions in space, the joint capabilities they have leveraged to gain dominance in the domain, as well as the work that is still left to be done in order to hold a strong deterrent position over space adversaries. Session speakers included:

  • Space Systems Command’s Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein,
  • Royal Canadian Air Force’s Lt. Gen. E.J. Kenny,
  • Australian’s Air & Space Attaché’s Air Commadore Angus Porter
  • RAF Air and Space Commander Air Marshal Harvey Smyth

According to Air Commodore Porter, a century of joint warfighting as allies have proven that the four nations are capable of protecting any domain that must be defended from adversarial aggression. “The last 100 years have really demonstrated to us the value of working closely with partners,” said Porter. “Particularly with capabilities…and [conducting] warfighting training exercises together, we feel like we’ve been in the environment together before we arrive.”

But the idea of space as a warfighting environment poses a new challenge that the allied nations must come together to solve. As session moderator Col. Charles Galbreath (Ret.) put it, “The space domain is more congested, contested, and competitive than ever. The challenges and threats facing the United States and our allies are growing at an alarming rate.”

But as the session unfolded, it was clear that the four space leaders held the conviction that through their “collaboration, cooperation, and coalition” as spacefaring nations, they indeed will be able to partner and win in the domain.

Opening an international space dialogue
For Air Marshal Smyth, he attributes the standing up of the U.S. Space Force and Space Command as a hefty contributing factor to the U.K. opening a formal discussion around their own military space operations. “I think it’s probably fair to say that had we not seen the U.S. Space Force and a U.S. Space Command, I’m not confident that I could have landed the argument across the government to stand up a U.K. Space Command,” he said.

He went on to acknowledge that at this point in military history, having his nation prioritize space as a warfighting domain is critical as the pace of space threats are picking up speed as well as continuously manifesting themselves in different ways. “Those two things have really aligned us in the U.K. to accelerate our approach,” Air Marshal Smyth explained. “It’s also fair to say that we would not have been able to accelerate that approach had it not have been for the dialogue with the U.S. We’ve been very grateful for that clear partnership of bilateral and multilateral…space ops initiatives.”

But the gratitude of these multilateral partnerships is not just directed towards the U.S. from its allies. According to Lt. Gen. Guetlein, the conflict in Ukraine has served as a reminder to him of the critical importance of international partnerships in the space domain. “I would say going into Ukraine, we probably were not thinking about coalitions as much as we possibly should,” he said. “I will tell you though, now that we’re fully ingrained in that conflict, it all becomes about coalitions. And what we do know going forward, especially in the space domain, is that we can’t do it alone.”

He went on to say that the U.S. must continue to leverage allied partnerships in order to stay one step ahead of its adversaries. “If I look at what is the U.S.’ competitive advantage, it’s our partnerships,” he explained.

As it pertains to space, the competitive advantage of allied partnerships comes in many forms. For Lt. Gen. Kenny, allied coalitions represent a monumental opportunity to bring together and share joint space capabilities.

“We need to work together as allies and partners,” he said. “From a Canadian perspective, one of the things that we’re focused on is what are some of the niche capabilities? What are some of the gaps that we can help fulfill, so that we’re not duplicating efforts, and that we’re building a more resilient and proliferated orbit and capability that can allow us to conduct operations worldwide, as allies and partners?”

Tackling the space threat together
For Lt. Gen. Guetlein, the founding of the Space Force has created many different avenues for tackling the space threat alongside U.S. allies. “[Space] is not new for the U.S.,” he said. “What is new for the U.S. is…we are actually talking about the threat [with allies] at levels that I was never allowed to talk about my entire career, and we’re doing it openly in the public…[The dialogue] is no longer ‘what can you give me.’ It is ‘what can we each provide, in a certain synergistic effect to get after the space threat.’”

Air Marshal Smyth agreed with Lt. Gen. Guetlein by saying that the open dialogue between the allied nations has benefited an international, integrated deterrence in the space domain. “We’ve seen the doors open from the U.S.,” he explained. “We’re delivering more together and building a coalition so that a potential adversary doesn’t see the world through the lens of ‘it’s us versus another country’…But they see it as ‘us versus everyone else.’ That in itself is a very deterrent position to be in.”

Lt. Gen. Guetlein agreed that the more aligned the U.S. and her allies are on the topics of space values, responsible behavior in the domain, as well as deterrence, it sends a very strong signal to the coalition’s adversaries. “Our competitors are not operating responsibly nor safely in space,” he explained. “But we are. We’ve got to continue to keep sending that signal…They may be able to take on one of us at a time, but they cannot take on all of us at once.”

To learn more about this year’s Air, Space, & Cyber Conference, click HERE.

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