The Air Force’s new civilian boss pledged on Saturday to reinvigorate the service’s space mission while building a new generation of bombers and fighters to keep dominance in the air.
Barbara Barrett, an aerospace industry insider and former ambassador to Finland, formally took over as Air Force secretary during a swearing-in ceremony at the Air Force Academy north of Colorado Springs, inheriting more than 685,000 airmen and civilian workers along with a $205 billion budget.
“One of the most important things in space is to keep up with the technology,” said Barrett, who headed Aerospace Corp., a major player in military space missions, before taking the Trump administration post.
Barrett spoke with The Gazette after taking the oath of office.
Barrett takes over the Air Force at a time of transition, as the service works to field new fleet of planes while spinning off its space troops into a separate service branch. The Air Force is also working to counter growing Chinese power and a resurgent Russia.
“Guided by the core values, the United States Air Force is the best in the world at what we do,” Barrett told a crowd, including several of the service’s top generals, who gathered in the academy’s Polaris Hall for the ceremony.
Barrett, confirmed by the Senate last month, takes over from Heather Wilson, who left her Pentagon post to take the top job at the University of Texas at El Paso. It is the first time an armed service has had a woman follow another woman in the top civilian post.
A pilot, Barrett has trained for space flight and also served on a Pentagon advisory panel that pushed a 1993 change that allowed women to fly in combat.
“She has championed the advancement of women every step of the way,” said Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist, who oversaw Barrett’s swearing in.
Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force’s top officer, said his interactions with Barrett have shown him much about her character.
“The most important attribute I value for building a relationship of trust with our senior civilian leader is a pure heart,” he said, describing Barrett as a kind, but tough boss who drives hard deadlines.
Neither Barrett nor Norquist would explain the passing of a deadline to pick a permanent home for U.S. Space Command, which is now temporarily housed in Colorado Springs.
The Pikes Peak region is competing with Alabama and California for the command, which oversees all military space missions. A decision was expected in the summer, but was delayed without explanation.
“I have no news to update you on that one,” Norquist said.
Barrett also said she’s not willing to jump the gun on creating the proposed Space Force.
“We’re kind of waiting on Congress to see how that’s decided,” she said.
A budget measure that includes provisions for the space service is caught between the House and Senate, which have offered different versions of the Space Force legislation.
The Pentagon is living on a temporary budget bill, which is set to expire this month as wrangling over a permanent budget remains gridlocked between Democrats who run the House and Republicans who rule the Senate.
That isn’t slowing Barrett from professing her love of all things in orbit.
“Everything we do, space is involved,” she said.
Barrett said she’s also happy to work for President Donald Trump, who has been more involved in space issues than any president in recent history.
Trump, during his first weeks in the White House, took up the cause of a separate space service and made “Space Force” a rallying cry at his campaign events.
“It’s a godsend to have a leader who understands the importance of space,” she said.
Barrett said that while planning for the future, she’s also keeping focus on the Air Force’s key missions in the Middle East and Afghanistan — the post-9/11 wars that the Trump administration has pledged to wrap up.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240 Twitter: @xroederx