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Space Force official discusses why the US is preparing for potential future conflict in space

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(NEW YORK) — The U.S. Space Force, operating under the Department of the Air Force, became the nation’s newest branch of the military after then-President Donald Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act in 2019.

“Now is the time to establish a team, a separate service totally focused on organizing, training and equipping space forces,” Barbara Barrett, Secretary of the Air Force, said at a Pentagon press conference at the time.

Under President Joe Biden’s 2024 budget request unveiled last month, funding to the Space Force would increase to $30 billion to “meet evolving threats” and “protect U.S. interests in space,” a Space Force statement said. Maj. Gen. John Olson, mobilization assistant to the chief of space operations for the U.S. Space Force, spoke to ABC News’ Linsey Davis about why the U.S. military is preparing for potential conflict in space.

LINSEY DAVIS: As humanity continues to reach for the stars, the U.S. is trying to keep pace with nations like China and Russia in space. And joining us now for more is Maj. Gen. John Olson, who is the mobilization assistant to the chief of space operations for the U.S. Space Force at the Pentagon. Thank you so much for your time, General Olsen. Appreciate you joining us here.

JOHN OLSON: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be with you, Linsey.

DAVIS: So let’s just start for the viewers at home who are saying, “Why should I care about potential conflict in space?” What’s the answer?

OLSON: Well, you know, space is absolutely essential to every part of our life. You know, we wake up in the morning, we check the weather, we drive to work with position navigation and timing, which is GPS. We have all of our banking and transactions done. So it’s really pivotal to every part of our life. But it’s also critical to the modern way of integrated deterrence and defense and national security. So it’s vitally important that we maintain our leadership in space. And so that’s really what the Space Force is focused on. It’s bringing that sense of stability, security and safety to the environment.

DAVIS: And you mentioned GPS, for example. Obviously, this relies on critical satellites that are there in space. Should we be concerned? Are those under threat?

OLSON: Well, you know, our global positioning system, we’re celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. So it’s really a big milestone for us. And as we already mentioned, it’s so critical to almost every facet of our life. So we are really focused on a resilient and effective space architecture, not just with the global positioning system, but also with all of our space architectures. And so that’s our paradigm that we’re pursuing through our investments to transform into a much more resilient and effective space architecture.

DAVIS: You know, when we talk about countries like China and Russia, and they seem to be really trying to fast track their increased space technology. And there are some who fear that the U.S. is losing that race. Would you agree?

OLSON: No, I wouldn’t. I think we have had a strong leadership position in space, and that’s civil, commercial, national security in international space through our close partners and allies. But we’re trying to keep pace, not just with our ground systems, but our launch vehicles and our satellites and on orbit systems, through not just Earth-centric — through geosynchronous orbit, low Earth orbit — but also looking at cislunar and lunar space and further.

DAVIS: What kind of resources would you say that the Space Force needs?

OLSON: Well, the Space Force has been genuinely pretty well blessed. Our president’s budget submit is about $30 billion a year, which represents $2.6 billion more than last year. And I think that’s a real recognition of the critical importance to not just our nation, but our national security and defense. And so as we look at the funding and investments, I think we’ve got a huge amount of modernization and development transformation to do and that also ties to our people, the most important facet of what we’re doing. We really have three lines of effort: fielding capable and ready combat forces, driving our guardian spirit, and last, it’s partnering to win.

DAVIS: And so I think you kind of just answered the question I was about to ask, but I am curious, because there are going to be people who say, “well, look, we have hunger and homelessness down here on this planet. What are you doing with the $30 billion?” Can you kind of give us an applicable way that people would say, “Oh, OK, I guess I understand why that’s necessary”?

OLSON: Sure. Absolutely. Well, Earth imaging helps us leverage and use our scarce resources in the most efficient and productive way. It allows us to operate more safely and more securely and more efficiently here on Earth. So that which we spend in space safeguards all the aspects and attributes of our life here on Earth. And it also is an important enabler, because as we look at the, you know, that innate desire to explore and discover, I think the information and new knowledge that we’re learning benefits all of humankind.

DAVIS: It feels like a big job. I’m just curious, with all of the wealth of knowledge that you have, is there anything in particular, if there’s one thing, that keeps you up at night, what is that?

OLSON: Well, you know, it is a big job. But we’ve got a great group of people. And, you know, our guardians and airmen across the portfolio are extremely capable, talented and qualified. But the one thing that I think keeps me up at night and that is, as we look at cybersecurity, there is no space without cyber. And so we need to ensure that we’re continually investing and being vigilant and diligent in that domain. And so that’s a core part of our broader national security imperatives, and so that’s what we’re focused on. And I think you should sleep well knowing that our guardians and airmen are hard at work.

DAVIS: All right. Hopefully, we’ll all be able to get a little more rest knowing that. General Olson, we thank you so much for your time and insight. Appreciate it.

OLSON: Thank you very much, Linsey.

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