While the Air Force wouldn't take direct aim at Trump administration trial balloons about creating a new military branch for space, leaders Tuesday used the Space Symposium to show such a force isn't needed -- the Air Force can do the job just fine.
The symposium, expected to draw more than 14,000 people to The Broadmoor through Thursday, is the biggest forum for military leaders to signal new space policy or push against proposed changes. It was the scene last year of a congressional speech that sparked the push toward a new space force.
The message from Air Force bosses in 2018, however, is that they've done enough in the past 12 months to prove they are the right people to command military efforts in orbit.
"I would say we have done a 9-G turn toward space superiority," Air Force Space Command boss Gen. Jay Raymond said, using a pilot term of art to describe the tightest turn a jet fighter can accomplish in a dogfight.
He was later echoed by Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein, who touted the Air Force's growing space budget and commitment to a "space smart" force.
"We must and we will embrace space superiority with the same passion and ownership we apply to air superiority today," Goldfein said. "The nation demands it and we will own it."
In the past several years, the Air Force has warned of the possibility of warfare spreading to orbit, leading Alabama Republican U.S. Rep, Mike Rogers to call for the creation of a separate "space corps." That idea, which passed the House but died in the Senate last year, gained new life last month when President Donald Trump told a California crowd that he was considering the creation of a "space force."
But times have changed, Raymond said. While he was worried about his command's preparedness to deal with a war in space last year, he has no worries now, even as nations including North Korea, China, Russia and Iran refine their capabilities to target military satellites.
"We are ready to fight it and win it," he said.
The change comes as Raymond takes over supervision of the space efforts of the Navy and Army as well as his service. By integrating the Pentagon's space efforts under a single boss, Raymond said, coordination has improved and the ability to respond to enemy attacks has increased.
Raymond said his command also has significantly improved partnerships with American allies.
National Reconnaissance Office chief Betty Sapp told the symposium crowd Tuesday that her agency also has grown its relationship with Space Command, with the two working together to plan defense of American satellites.
"We are significantly unconcerned with who does what in terms of survival in space," said Sapp, whose agency runs America's spy satellites.
It was announced earlier this year that the National Space Defense Center in Colorado Springs had moved from war planning to actual operations to protect satellites. That center brings together the military and American spy agencies to detect threats to satellites and enact countermeasures.
Air Force Gen. John Hyten, who leads U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, joined the choir of leaders who say America is better off in space than it was a year ago.
"We have the threat that's driving us to respond and we have," Hyten said.
Raymond, who oversees aerospace and military issues for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, said the soothing words from the brass were great news for the Colorado economy.
A new space force, which could impact the three Air Force wings and the Space command headquarters in Colorado, could send tremor through the state's $15.4 billion aerospace industry.
"We're on the right path and the Air Force is moving out aggressively," Raymond said.
But it remains unclear if the Air Force brass have done enough to calm the man none of them would name: Donald Trump.
Insiders say the brass is moving carefully to avoid a direct confrontation with the sometimes-tempestuous president over the space force issue.
Even Vice President Mike Pence steered clear of the space force controversy in his Colorado Springs stop Monday.
Later Tuesday, though, Hyten took a slightly more direct approach. He didn't criticize the White House. He said he's open to change. But: "I believe the leadership we have now can step up to the mission we need to address," he said.
In any case, he said, the color of the uniforms or the branch of service really doesn't matter.
"The organization is secondary," Hyten said, "The need to deal with the threat is primary."
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240