Space Force Service Components: Join the Fight

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  • By Brig Gen Anthony Mastalir, US Space Force

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In its third year of existence, the US Space Force fielded combat-­ready forces in the presentation of service components assigned to combatant commanders. On order of the Secretary of Defense, US Space Forces Indo-­Pacific was the first of these component commands to activate and begin integrating across all domains to maintain a free and open Indo-­Pacific. However, the value proposition of activating space components extends into building better partnerships with allies and partners in the region—as well as new ventures in the commercial space industry.



Over the past three years, the United States has placed increased emphasis on the space domain, making bold investments at the start of what President Biden has called the “decisive decade” with strategic competitors around the globe.1 This flurry of organizational change within the Department of Defense kicked off with the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which immediately launched the US Space Force (USSF) into existence. The service’s mission is to organize, train, and equip Space Forces to protect US and allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force. Consistent with the other services, the USSF has created new component field commands to present forces to combatant commanders, the first of which the Secretary of Defense assigned to US Indo-­Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) late last year. The new command is called US Space Forces Indo-­Pacific (USSPACEFOR–INDOPAC) and is headquartered at Joint Base Pearl Harbor–Hickam, Hawaii.

The USSF’s contribution to the war fighters in USINDOPACOM could not come at a more critical juncture in US national security affairs. China has made unprecedented investments in its on-­orbit capabilities over the past three years, launching more than 160 new satellites in 2022 alone and developing orbital and suborbital spaceplanes. While many strategists are rightly concerned about China’s (and Russia’s) fielding of antisatellite weapons—designed to degrade or destroy US satellites in space—it is important to note that much of China’s space investment enables its long-­range precision strike capability within the first and second island chains. Space has become a critical enabler to People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces, which are tasked with backing China’s rising challenge to the rules-­based international order. As a result, it is increasingly likely that USSF Guardians will need to defeat China’s space capabilities to secure US interests and protect the lives of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Guardians assigned to USINDOPACOM. In his statement to Congress earlier this year, Gen B. Chance Saltzman, USSF’s Chief of Space Operations (CSO), explained, “the Space Force has two fundamental missions: to provide essential services to the joint force and to protect the joint force from adversary hostile uses of space systems. The ability to perform these missions is at risk today and that risk is increasing over time.”2

The activation of a USSF component in Hawaii is a significant step toward achieving the national security priorities and objectives in the Indo-­Pacific. It provides the commander of USINDOPACOM with a subordinate commander who can focus on the space domain and further synchronize operations across all war-­fighting domains. At a minimum, the new command must optimize space effects across all the other service components operating in the area of responsibility, including satellite communications, overhead persistent infrared missile warning, precision navigation and timing, and weather.

While these capabilities are essential to the daily operations of our war fighters, establishing and maintaining space superiority over the terrestrial battlespace becomes imperative if competition escalates to crisis or conflict. The component plays an important role in articulating the combatant command’s requirements back to the service, as Guardians in-­theater are immersed in the mission and know better than anyone what the requirements are to get the job done. In demonstrating the ability to execute, the component becomes an important aspect of integrated deterrence.

A USINDOPACOM Space Force component also has the potential to enhance partnership capacity. The CSO refers to this as Partnering to Win, and civil space has a rich history of international collaboration. The Apollo program is a notable example, with allies and partners providing significant assistance, such as Canada providing the landing gear for the Eagle lunar lander and Liechtenstein designing the protective coating used by the Apollo astronauts and their equipment. Australia hosted the ground station that received the footage of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. The International Space Station is another prominent example of what can be accomplished when nations collaborate in space. Currently, 15 countries (plus the European Space Agency) participate in the program, with an increasing number of commercial companies providing support as well.

Since its inception, the USSF has been committed to collaborating with like-­minded nations interested in national security space. This commitment was underscored by the recent International Space Chiefs Forum hosted by the CSO, where space chiefs from 17 nations gathered in April 2023 to discuss collaboration. During the forum, General Saltzman highlighted the benefits of establishing subordinate commands around the world to enhance cooperation with allies and partners.

The USSPACEFOR–INDOPAC has moved out expeditiously, meeting with military leaders from 12 nations across the Indo-­Pacific to advance international cooperation and collaboration efforts to address security concerns in the region. To further strengthen the ironclad alliance with the Republic of Korea, US Space Forces Korea, a subordinate unit, was established to support US Forces Korea. In the recent Freedom Shield exercise, efforts to better integrate space have significantly bolstered security and stability on the Korean Peninsula and across Northeast Asia.

The planning for a similar unit to augment US Forces Japan is currently underway, which aims to increase space participation in key exercises like Keen Edge and better facilitate collaboration on projects of mutual interest. One such project is Japan’s Quasi-­Zenith Satellite System Hosted Payload (QZSS–HP), which is designed to place US space domain awareness (SDA) sensors on Japan’s premier precision navigation satellites. Collaborating with Japan’s new Space Operations Group, which is focused on SDA, will create opportunities to set the conditions to ensure US forces maintain a readiness posture to successfully execute regional operations.

Collaborative efforts in the space domain with Australia were already strong even before the unveiling of the Australia–United Kingdom–United States (AUKUS) alliance, and the pace has only increased. Space integration with Australia in exercises such as Pacific Sentry is on track to reach an unprecedented level of allied cooperation. Australia’s support for acquisition programs like the Deep Space Advanced Radar Capability (DARC) remains critical to enhancing SDA from locations in the Southern Hemisphere. Moreover, Australia’s recent Defence Strategic Review calls for structural changes within the nation’s Defence Space Command, as well as a defined career path for space professionals. Both changes will facilitate increased cooperation with USSPACEFOR–INDOPAC Guardians.

India represents a potential growth area for increased cooperation and collaboration in national security space initiatives, particularly in the areas of SDA. The United States and India held their first strategic space dialogue in 2015, and India’s interest in space security has continued to increase in subsequent years. In 2019, India conducted its first direct-­ascent antisatellite (ASAT) test for deterrent purposes, marking a significant departure from its previous policy of primarily focusing on maintaining the peaceful use of space. India, like many Indo-­Pacific allies and partners, has recognized that simply demonstrating an ASAT capability is insufficient to defend against China’s expanding space weapons arsenal. As like-­minded, space-­faring nations continue to explore international norms of behavior in space, definitions of hostile intent or hostile acts, and the inherent right of self-­defense, India’s contributions to the dialogue will be crucial.

The CSO’s Partnering to Win strategy also encompasses commercial space, which has gained a steadily increasing market share over the past five years. Much of this success can be attributed to SpaceX, whose early efforts to reduce the cost of access to space coincided with the United States’ decision to eliminate its dependency on Russian-­made RD-180 engines. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, which was put into service in 2018, now provides the most economical spacelift ever available, at a mere USD 1500/kg to low Earth orbit. This price point has enabled business cases once deemed impossible, resulting in an explosion of new commercial space opportunities that have fundamentally altered the paradigm under which we operate.

Consider that at the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it was widely believed that Russia entered the conflict with space superiority, with a significant advantage over its adversary in every category. However, in a matter of months, no less than eight different commercial space companies answered Ukraine’s call for support. As a result, some argue that Ukraine effectively achieved space parity without launching a single rocket, thanks to the contributions of commercial vendors.

The USSF components play a vital role in leveraging commercial space capabilities. Since activation, USSPACEFOR–INDOPAC has engaged with numerous commercial companies to explore how their offerings can address the unique war-­fighting challenges in the Indo-­Pacific. This effort is likely to lead to various demonstrations and exercises aimed at bolstering US and allied efforts to maintain a free and open Indo-­Pacific. For example, commercially available tactical remote–sensing capabilities can ably augment existing collection strategies, providing redundancy for high-­value collection. Multiple concepts are under development to perfect rocket cargo or just-­in-­time logistics provided by a deorbiting platform. The concept of responsive launch, which has eluded military programmers for more than a decade, may finally have a viable business case. On-­orbit refueling options will fundamentally change the way we think about maneuvering within the space domain. In addition, developments in applied materials and additive manufacturing are likely to render ideas and concepts previously dismissed a reality. The commercial space market is on a trajectory to revolutionize the way we think about capability acquisition.

The decision to integrate USSF components into combatant commands was the logical step toward normalizing operations across the Joint Force. For far too long, space operators and planners have operated independently of their terrestrial war-­fighting counterparts, hidden away in a top-­secret vault. With the commander of USSPACEFOR-INDOPAC now seated alongside counterparts in the air, land, and maritime domains, we can enhance the integration of capabilities at the operational level of war. This will enable us to fully exploit the combat capabilities derived from space-based assets. The value proposition for the USSF components is even greater when we partner across the components, including our allies and partners in the region, and explore opportunities brought about by commercial space ventures, USSPACEFOR–INDOPAC stands ready to make an impact on the US ability to compete and, if necessary, prevail in crisis or conflict. Semper Supra! ♦

Brig Gen Anthony Mastalir, US Space Force

Brigadier General Mastalir is the first commander of US Space Forces Indo-­Pacific, headquartered at Joint Base Pearl Harbor–Hickam, Hawaii. The component field command plans, coordinates, supports, and conducts employment of space operations across the full range of military operations and security cooperation in support of US Indo-­Pacific Command objectives. Brigadier General Mastalir earned his commission as a distinguished graduate of the Northwestern University Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps. He is a credentialed Guardian, having completed a series of operational, staff, and command assignments in spacelift and range operations, satellite command and control, space electronic warfare, space policy, space security and defense, legislative affairs, and joint operations. He has commanded at the Air Force squadron, group, and wing levels and at the Space Force delta level, and has deployed in support of Operations Inherent Resolve, Freedom’s Sentinel, Spartan Shield, and Allies Refuge.

1 National Security Strategy (Washington, DC: White House, October 2022), preface,

2 Department of the Air Force Posture Statement, Fiscal Year 2024, Department of the Air Force Presentation, Before the Committees and Subcommittees of the United States Senate and the House of Representatives, 118th Cong., 1st sess., (2023) (statement of Frank Kendall, Secretary of the Air Force; Gen Charles Q. Brown, Jr., Chief of Staff, USAF; and Gen B. Chance Saltzman, Chief of Space Operations, USSF), 3,


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