This commander’s next role could be boon to U.S. military space backers

SPACE SYMPOSIUM, COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — U.S. Air Force Gen. John Hyten’s nomination to become the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would put him in a position to assist those who want to rapidly build new U.S. military satellites for communications, tracking of hypersonic missiles, and what the acting defense secretary has described as “lethal” applications.

Hyten, whose nomination was received by the Senate late Monday, also would become chairman of the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, a powerful advisory board that approves the requirements for new military equipment.

As the current commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Hyten has sought to improve U.S. space defenses, including creating a U.S. Space Command “focused 100 percent of the time on the space problem,” he said in March during a hearing of the Strategic Forces subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

As JROC chairman, Hyten could be in a position to further streamline approval for space-related programs. Todd Harrison, director of budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said Hyten has already pushed for change to the performance-driven, lengthy timelines that characterize the current development process.

“He’s been saying we don’t need the 99% gold-plated solution. We need the 80% solution and we need it fast,” Harrison said.

“By defining JROC requirements in broad terms and not overperceiving the solution,” Hyten could streamline the approval process for new space programs, Harrison said.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Strategic Command declined to comment on what Hyten’s priorities for JROC might be, citing a need to not “get ahead of the confirmation process.”

However, Hyten seemed to give a window into his philosophy during a Tuesday press conference, saying that “we need to understand how to take risk again” to maintain U.S. superiority in space.

Critiquing today’s process, he said: “You can’t have a test that fails, you can’t have a program that fails, you can’t have anything that fails.” He added, “And so we put this huge bureaucracy in place to make sure that nothing fails, and when you do that you basically say, ‘I won’t take any risk.’ And if you don’t take any risk, by definition you will move very slow.”

Hyten pointed to Pentagon agencies that are taking risks and “doing things differently” — the Air Force with its Space and Missile Systems Center and the newly created Space Development Agency, which has been charged with developing the country’s next-generation satellite constellations.

“That’s understanding risk and moving forward,” he said. “That’s what this country’s good at.”

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This commander’s next role could be boon to U.S. military space backers