President Joe Biden on Wednesday tapped Space Force operations chief Lt. Gen. Chance Saltzman to head the service as the next four-star chief of space operations.
If confirmed by the Senate, Saltzman will become the second person to serve as the Space Force’s top officer since the service’s establishment in December 2019. He would succeed General John “Jay” Raymond, who will retire after 35 years of service in the Air Force and nearly three in the Space Force.
According to SpaceNews, which first reported on the election Thursday, Raymond strongly supported Saltzman’s selection as his successor.
Other candidates for the position included Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting, who heads the Space Force’s operations branch, and Lt. Gen. John Shaw, the second-ranking officer in the Pentagon‘s U.S. Space Command.
Saltzman has recently become the focal point for high-level military planning initiatives, from the Air Force’s corporate study on multidomain command and control in 2017 to serving as the Space Force’s first deputy chief of space, cyber and nuclear operations.
A proud graduate of Boston University, he joined the Air Force in 1991 as a nuclear missile operator before moving on to military space jobs. He later held senior program and planning positions, as well as a year-long tour as deputy commander of US Air Forces Central Command—the first non-aviator to hold the post.
Along the way, Saltzman has earned a reputation as an articulate big-picture thinker, leading the way in breaking down the Pentagon’s most entrenched barriers to joint operations.
“He has strengthened all of the space and cyber functions in the various divisions of the Combined Air Operations Center, increasing their stature within the divisions to ensure those pieces are also integrated into everything we do,” Air Force Col AFCENT Air, Space and Information Operations Director Byron Pompa said in a 2020 press release.
Since becoming Space Force’s chief of operations in August 2020, Saltzman has addressed the broader questions behind space warfare: how should the service define its readiness and how can it work seamlessly with other parts of the military behemoth.
The Space Force now has nearly 16,000 Guardians and civilians. Either wearing the service’s uniform or seconded from other branches, they operate US military satellites and radars for missions such as GPS, communications, missile warning and surveillance as part of the Department of Air Force.
Formed largely from the former Air Force Space Command, it includes missile launch bases in California and Florida, and a variety of other installations in Colorado and around the world.
The service has taken a leading role in naming and blaming foreign actors for what it sees as bad behavior in orbit, such as:
“Protecting and defending our space-based capabilities and defending our combined forces from irresponsible or hostile use of space-based capabilities is why your Space Force was formed,” Saltzman said at the 2022 GEOINT Symposium.
He envisions possible lessons from Russia’s war against Ukraine, in which commercial satellite constellations play a key role in intelligence gathering and public transparency, despite Russian cyberattacks.
“If you think the only way to drain space capacity is to shoot down satellites, you’re missing the big picture…since these cyberattacks are happening on ground networks,” Saltzman told reporters in May.
Two key challenges will be lobbying for a growing military space budget with lawmakers wary of bureaucratic bloat, and convincing the American public of the merits of their newest military branch.
He will also represent the service, which is trying to make its own mark on issues from troop recruitment and retention to a non-traditional approach to guard and reserve components.
The Space Force is working on the details to bring the Space Development Agency under its roof, to accelerate a huge constellation of commercial satellites for military use, and to take over parts of the Navy and Army space companies, among other things.
Saltzman must appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee before a confirmation vote by the full chamber. A Space Force spokesman told the Air Force Times on Wednesday that a change in command could occur towards the end of 2022.
Rachel is a Marine Corps Veteran, Penn State alumna, and Masters candidate at New York University in Business and Economic Reporting. She has also written for VTDigger and New York Magazine, and previously worked as an early bird brief editor for Defense News and Military Times.
Rachel Cohen joined the Air Force Times in March 2021 as a senior reporter. Her work has been published in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), the Washington Post, and others.