As Air Force Aims For Space, Colorado Plays Important Role

Jun 6, 2018

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson is a 1982 graduate of the Air Force Academy. Now she's responsible for the more than 670,000 active-duty Air Force personnel and their families. She also oversees the military branch's more than $132 billion budget. Wilson was in town recently for the Air Force Academy graduation and the change in command at NORAD and NORTHCOM. While here, she sat down with 91.5 KRCC's Andrea Chalfin to talk about space.

Interview highlights:

On space as the new frontier for the Air Force:

The Air Force has been the leader in space since the 1950s, but the United States as a whole is the best in the world at space, and our adversaries know it. I can't think of a military mission today that doesn't depend on space. 

So our adversaries are seeking to deny us the ability to freely operate in space during crisis and war. And our obligation as the Air Force is to ensure that that doesn't happen. 

On what it means, "to operate in space:"

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson
Credit courtesy U.S. Air Force

About 90% of what's done for the military in space is done by the Air Force. We've had that mission since the 1950s, much of it done here in Colorado, or out of Colorado. We have 77 satellites that we operate, about 33 of those I think are GPS satellites, the global positioning system. The blue dot on your phone is brought to you by the United States Air Force. 

We also have about 10 weather satellites. We have 20-plus communication satellites to be able to communicate all around the world, for the Commander in Chief to stay connected to his military forces in the field. So it's a wide variety of services that the Air Force provides from space.

It used to be an uncontested domain, there wasn't anything anybody could do about our satellites, but our adversaries are developing the capability to interfere with our satellites or to destroy them, or keep them from operating, and we have to prevent that from happening.

On the PFC water contamination linked to firefighting foams once used at Peterson Air Force Base:

This came up as an issue when this was put forward as a chemical to watch. The Air Force really took it to heart, and we actually went out and surveyed all of our bases. We're 99% surveyed to see whether we had a problem at any of our bases. We didn't wait… This is a chemical from a fire fighting foam that's not just used by the Air Force but we decided to find out, so first to identify if we had a problem. We found 19 installations where we thought we had a problem, or at least it was in soil, not necessarily in the water. And then we're starting to mitigate that problem, so doing cleanup plans and so forth to make sure that everybody's drinking water is clean. Then the final thing is the Air Force is preventing any future problem by shifting away from the use of that foam.

So we have 175 installations, 174 have of them have been transitioned. I'm pleased that the Air Force leaned forward, face a problem if it's there, and just address it.

"The blue dot on your phone is brought to you by the United States Air Force." - Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force

On the relationship between Colorado Springs and the Air Force, generally speaking, moving forward:

Well, we were just laughing about it this morning. If I could move the headquarters of the Air Force to the Rampart Range, I would, but I think somebody would notice. 

The Air Force probably plays a bigger role in the Colorado economy than in any other state in which we operate. We not only have our Academy here, so kind of part of the heart of the Air Force is here, but we have bases here, and of course National Guard and reservists here. So, it is a big part of the Air Force in the continental United States, and I would expect that that will continue. 

And we want to be a good neighbor here. Colorado is important to the Air Force, and I hope that the Air Force is important to Colorado.