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Home : News : Transcripts : Transcript View
TRANSCRIPT | April 8, 2024

Media Round Table Exercise Vulcan Guard and National Guard Space Operations

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:00:21] Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Media Roundtable on international space exercise Vulcan Guard and National Guard space operations. I'm Major Jennifer Staton, and I will be moderating today's event. This event is being recorded and everything is on the record. The recording will be uploaded to our YouTube channel following the conclusion of the event. Following today's opening statement, I will ask each of the reporters by outlet for questions. In the interest of time, please keep it to one question and one follow up. If time permits, I'll come back around to the reporters for additional questions. The zoom chat window will be monitored throughout today's event. A quick reminder to everyone to keep your microphones muted when you are not speaking. I'm honored to introduce today's panelists. We have Air Force Major General Richard Neely, Adjutant General, Illinois National Guard. This is a correction from the original advisory which mistakenly listed his service as Army. Army Major General Laura Clellan, Adjutant General, Colorado National Guard. Air Force Brigadier General Samuel Keener of the Air National Guard, director of joint forces development and training, US Space Command. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Ian “Quack” Harper, space operations functional area manager and exercise planner for Vulcan Guard. Air Force Staff Sergeant Dhurva Poluru, deputy director of joint commercial operations, training and exercise division. With that, I'll turn it over to General Neely – Sir.

Maj. Gen. Richard Neely [00:01:47] Well. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us this morning. I’m Major General Rich Neely, the adjutant general for the Illinois National Guard and commander of the Illinois National Guard. For the last five and a half years, I've been known as the “Cyber TAG”, as the first adjutant general who had a cyberspace operations background. As the Illinois tag with a technology background, I’ve served on numerous boards to include the Atlantic Council Geotech Committee. I’m chairman of the Army National Guard Cyber Readiness Advisory Council and I'm also a member of the National Guard's Cyber General Officer Advisory Council. Prior to Governor Pritzker's appointing me as the Illinois Adjutant General, I was assigned to the Pentagon for the National Guard Bureau, as the deputy director for cyberspace and space operations, and was the Illinois and was the Air National Guard's chief information officer. During this assignment, I was responsible for the National Guard Space portfolio, a portfolio I personally watched grow significantly from 2016 to 2018, as the Air Force asked the National Guard to take on a new space mission. The National Guard has a proven track record with over 28 years of conducting space missions. Vulcan Guard was a great opportunity to work with our partners in NATO, including Poland and several other al- allies who had joined us for this exercise. We reviewed lessons learned from the war in Ukraine, such as the use of space for SpaceX's Starlink for drone warfare. Illinois does not have a space unit, but the National Guard's importance in space operations transcends the National Guard space units. This is why we had so many cyber operators that were also involved with Vulcan Guard. The National Guard absolutely should remain in the Space Force mission. And this is not just important to those states that have the space units, but in the entire National Guard. If you look at the Department of Defense's space strategy, they clearly delineate four areas of focus: prioritize cooperations with allies regarding space, expand our warfighting advantage, develop and strengthen key relationships, and integrate commercial and interagency and academic partners. Looking at those four areas, I'd ask you who else is better positioned to contribute to those four areas than the National Guard? In the National Guard we have our state partnership program with more than 100 countries. We have our formal connections to all 50 states and territories and informal relationships across educational institutions, business groups at all levels, and we have our civilian acquired skills. We are known as a hometown military with an international reach. I'm proud that Illinois's 30-year state partner, Poland, who played such a important role in this year's exercise and I was able to be there to see this interaction. As the DoD says, cooperation with our allies is vital. We learn together. Defending against an attack in space has important implications, not just for our nation's military infrastructure, but our allies’ military capabilities as well. For example, an attack against GPS or a global positioning system and time synchronization could affect our entire nation and democracies around the world. I'll quote Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks. Recent conflicts have starkly illustrated the indispensable role of space in our nation's defense capabilities. Space has emerged as our most essential warfighting domain, integral to our national security, our coalition interoperability and global stability. And this was the 10th of January, this year. Vulcan Guard is an excellent illustration of the National Guard's importance in this critically important domain. I look forward to our discussion today on Vulcan Guard, and the great partnerships and relationships that National Guard brings to the space domain. Thank you.

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:06:12] Thank you very much, sir. At this time, I'll open the questions up, starting with the New York Times.

Eric Lipton (New York Times) [00:06:21] Eric Lipton from The York Times. Just can you tell me about some of the tools that you guys have to. When you talk about tactically responsive space, you in terms of and also the mobility. I mean, I guess you're talking about moving, ground-based jammers, but what other types of tools are you actually do you have access to - to play a role in the space defense efforts?

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:06:48] General Keener, I'll open this question to you to begin.

Brig. Gen. Keener [00:06:54] So, again, I'm, Brigadier General Sam Keener, the director of joint training and education at US Space Command. So, the – the National Guard brings, several different capabilities, in that, in that arena to the – to the fight. As you mentioned, both the on the offensive side with the ground-based jammers and then they're also standing up a defensive unit that helps, monitor and protect our own networks is probably the biggest, asset that we bring. I don't know if, Colonel Harper, if you want to add anything to that.

Lt. Col. Ian “Quack” Harper [00:07:31] Yeah, I would just add that we also operate satellite communication constellation MILSTAR and advanced EHF, as well as conduct missile warning missions both in Colorado and Alaska. And our Alaska unit also operates a radar that does space domain awareness that helps us, know where all objects are, floating in low Earth orbit. So, we definitely contribute to that global picture with our Guard capabilities.

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:08:03] Thank you, gentlemen. At this time, I'll transition questioning to NBC News. We’ll come back to NBC. Colorado Springs Gazette. We'll come back to Colorado Springs Gazette. Task and Purpose.

Patty Nieberg (Task and Purpose) [00:08:48] Hi, thank you guys for doing this. I was wondering if you can just talk a little bit now that, it's, I believe that exercise is over. If you can talk about kind of some of the realistic training scenarios that were done.

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:09:01] Yes, ma'am. I will turn this over to Lieutenant Colonel Harper to initiate that conversation.

Lt. Col. Ian “Quack” Harper [00:09:08] Yes, ma'am. So we, as part of this exercise, brought in realistic counter space threats from our, near peer adversaries, and how we believe they would employ those threats, in any sort of conflict. And that is how we, bring in realistic, you know, real time threats through our, modeling and simulation software that we execute in real time. So, the operators would get, different injects across the week and have to take those in and take them into consideration with their mission planning efforts for both their, on orbit and ground, capabilities that they were planning for.

Patty Nieberg (Task and Purpose) [00:09:48] Are you able to just say a little bit more like what one of the threats. Kind of an example of example of one.

Lt. Col. Ian “Quack” Harper [00:09:54] Yeah. So we played out, kind of the whole gambit of Russian counter space capabilities from, reversible. An example would be, ground-based jamming, non-kinetic effects all the way up to, kinetic, non-reversible effects such as a direct ascent, anti-satellite weapon.

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:10:16] Thank you Sir. Sergeant Poluru you have anything to add with that?

Staff Sgt. Dhruva Poluru [00:10:21] Of course, kind of going alongside the, the topic of, like, near real time information. We're able to integrate, simulation, orbital data for the allied satellites as well as, simulated near peer adversary satellites. And, we were able to send out this information in a simulation over live method. So, the operators and the mission participants were able to see the entire big picture of the orbital, constellation as we see both, geosynchronous and low Earth orbit. And, they were able to pick out key pieces of information for the satellites that they were, specifically interested in. So we are able to, combine that as well, as simulation launch information as, Lieutenant Colonel Harper mentioned for the direct ascent, anti-satellite weapon system. So we were able to simulate all these different scenarios as well as combine the live information to provide a realistic picture origin participants to see and conduct their mission planning with. Thanks.

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:11:28] Thank you very much. At this time, we'll move to Politico.

Connor O’Brien (Politico) [00:11:33] Hi. Thanks. Connor O'Brien. With Politico. I'd love to direct this to, to, Major General Neely and Major General Clellan. Just there's been a there's been a debate back and forth over the last few years about, the structure of Guard space forces and whether there should be a, whether there should be a separate, a separate Space Guard to directly supply the Space Force with, with, Guard space forces. So, you know what, if anything, did this tell you, I think about how the how the structure, is working and what needs to be done there and how forces are currently supplied to the Space Force? And just as a quick follow up, your thoughts, if any, on the, the, the Air Force's legislative proposal to just to authorize the Secretary of the Air Force to transfer those Air Guard space missions to the Space Force.

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:12:36] General Neeley, will you kindly kick us off?

Maj. Gen. Richard Neely [00:12:39] Yeah, I sure will. And then I'll pass it over to, General Clellan, so she can, clean up whatever I might have missed. Yeah. Thank you, Mister O'Brien, for that that question. And, you know, it's very important question. It's something that as an Adjutant General and, you know, I mentioned early on, my background in space, is very, I’m very passionate about the issue and the concern there that we've got significant capabilities, within, space missions right now. 28 years, the National Guard has supported, the Air Force when space was, squarely in, the Air Force's service. And as it's transitioned to Space Force, you know, the National Guard Adjutant Generals like myself, are all very concerned that we, retain that capability, not only as, commanders of the National Guard, but really as taxpayers, as someone who is a service member and that understands the capability, that the National Guard brings. And what do I mean by that? I mean, a thousand people currently today doing those missions and the, operational risk that we create, when we move this completely away from the National Guard. What many don't fully understand is that it'll probably take $500 million to replicate and seven to ten years to rebuild these units. Because when they transition out of the National Guard to the active duty, there's nobody to take that mission right now. And so you're creating a significant strategic gap. And really a, tactical gap, in operations when you're, when you're considering doing this and, and the concern is, is that the governor's with this, you know, recent, legislative proposal, the governors wouldn’t this would be sidestepping the governors to be able to have any input into that important conversation. Why should governors have important input to that? Well, because of their capabilities being pulled away from states. It is a mission that the governors are very familiar with and understand, and, and can speak to. And so, they should be part of that, debate, early on, just like we do all our other standard business. And so, I think there's a really important, piece of this that, you know, Space National Guard should be there. This exercise we, you know, shows really the importance of the vital partnerships that the National Guard brings, the experience the National Guard brings, to this. And if you all of a sudden take away that capability, which is where the Air Force is wanting to go, and you pull that out away from the National Guard, you now have a significant risk. You won't have this capability. You just don't have those close relationships, with these different international partners like the National Guard does on top of our amazing space units that are doing incredible work today. So, I'll pause there and, pass it to General Clellan, for further discussion. Thank you.

Maj. Gen. Laura Clellan [00:15:59] Hey. Thanks. General Neely. You did a great job. I'll just fill in a couple of things. You know, Vulcan Guard was only possible because of the relationships the National Guard has with our partner nations through our State Partnership Program. And if 480 were to go through as General Neely said, the DoD and the Space Force would have a very difficult time, even if they could replicate this exercise, because the Guard wouldn't have space missions anymore, and the Space Force wouldn't have the enduring relationships that we have as Guard with our state partners. You know, LP 480 would create this huge gap. And, you know, just to throw out some numbers so you understand. General Saltzman testified last year that 33% of America's total space capacity resides in the Air National Guard space units. And of that, 60% are, electromagnetic warfare capability. So, we conducted a poll, a survey last February with all the space units in the National Guard, and there's about a thousand Airmen right now doing this mission. We found that between 60 to 86% of those service members said they would not transfer to the single component Space Force. Now, keep in mind, it takes about nine years to build a level seven space operator from the ground up. And the Space Force is only 8600 military service members strong. So, those 1000 in the Air National Guard that they're targeting would make up a substantial amount of their total end strength. And if up to 86% say they're not going to transfer over and it takes up to nine years to replace each one that doesn't transfer. That's going to create a huge gap in the capability of the Space Force that they will not be able to just fix by recruiting.

Maj. Gen. Richard Neely [00:18:01] And if I could just add one last thing that I missed, for the Space National Guard to get stood up is a no cost to it would be absorbed inside the National Guard's top line of its budget. It's literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in name type changes and sign changes. It is nothing significant for us to remain and operate this way, unlike standing up a separate Space Force capability. It's not been proven and that would cost 500 million, probably in equipment, hiring, establishing new facilities, all those kind of things. My question is, what's wrong with the status quo? Thank you.

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:18:48] Thank you sir. Thank you ma'am. Inside Defense.

Vanessa Montalbano (Inside Defense) [00:18:55] Hi thank you so much for, hosting this. I just wanted to ask a little bit, more about that legislative proposal. I was hoping that you all could explain a little bit about how that transition would impact the specific work that, you do.

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:19:13] Thank you, ma'am. General Clellan. May I toss this one to you?

Maj. Gen. Laura Clellan [00:19:19] Yeah. Thank you for the question. As we said, it's going to create a capability gap. The we are currently doing space missions. 20/47 365 days a year. Like I said, I've got electromagnetic warfare squadron overseas right now, deployed, doing a mission. It's going to take that capability out of the Guard. And as I said in, you know, my answer previously, it takes, if those folks don't transfer over, it's going to create a capability gap in talent, that the Space Force is going to have a hard time recreating. And as General Neely said we can fix this. The solution is create a Space National Guard, allow us to continue to do the mission, and we won't have the capability gap. And it doesn't cost, you know, more than a couple hundred thousand dollars to transfer name tapes and guidons. You know, I think the one thing that I'll point out about this legislative proposal and Governor Polis stated that it would set a dangerous precedent. And it would jeopardize our national security. I mean, the removal of these capabilities from our National Guard, we would stop doing the mission if this goes through, and the Space Force would have to pick it up and figure out how to do that. And as I said, 86% of our force said they would not transfer over. That's a huge gap. If these capabilities, are taken out, then the Space Force has to recreate and build those capabilities back into the Space Force. And that, as General Neely said, is the huge capability gap that, is ultimately going to affect our national defense.

Maj. Gen. Richard Neely [00:21:08] But. And the one thing I would.

Maj. Gen. Laura Clellan [00:21:09] Would you like to add anything?

Maj. Gen. Richard Neely [00:21:11] Yes, ma'am. Thank you. And the one thing I would add, to that is the new formation that the Space Force currently has, the active-duty reserve, a unique hybrid, is a new model that's not really been tested before. It's not been utilized. This isn’t like a standard, model. And so when General Clellan talks about the only a handful, a small percentage, about 15% of the Air National Guard members would consider going over. It's because of the, unique requirements to be on active duty so often and back and forth. It's very, it's not very well structured. It hasn't been tested before. Again, I would ask, why would you move away from something that's working fine? That is working very well. We're bringing forward 33% as General Saltzman said in testimony where the National Guard has done an exceptional job in bringing 33%, one third of the space capability, for the Space Force. Why would you change that? And yank it away from the National Guard, who has, you know, proven over the last 28 years to be very successful partnering. Thank you.

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:22:28] Thank you sir. Thank you ma'am. The Washington Times. We'll open it up to Kyodo News. Air Force Times. Army Magazine.

Karli Goldenberg (Army Magazine) [00:23:08] Hi. Good morning. Good morning. Thank you so much for having this you all. It's been really interesting to listen in on. One thing that I'm curious about, big picture wise, is, a lot of people have been speaking about lately how the next big war that will be involved in, [unintelligible] beyond conventional battlefields. So, I would love to hear the Army Guard perspective on how we are incorporating that into our capabilities and our approach for future conflict. Thank you so much.

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:23:45] Thank you, ma'am. I'll start with, General Neely, Sir, if you have anything on that.

Maj. Gen. Richard Neely [00:23:53] Yes. You know, what I would say is, you know, we're all seeing the non-kinetic effects of, the next war that's occurring. We're seeing that in the cyber domain, and we see, parallel tracks to that, as well, in, in space. And that's why I think, you're hearing people like the deputy, defense secretary, state, the, the space war fighting the space domain is our most important warfighting domain now. But I think, General Keener probably has a, the best insight on this, given his experience and track record, with space units and the Space Force. So, I'll pause for his comments. Thank you.

Brig. Gen. Samuel Keener [00:24:44] Okay. Thank you Sir. So before, before I make any remarks, I'll, pass the General Clellan, because I think the question was directed at the Army National Guard and, and, and the Army capabilities first so I'll, I'll pass it to my colleague General Clellan.

Maj. Gen. Laura Clellan [00:24:59] Thank you. So great question. And I'm fortunate enough to be the adjutant general of an Army Guard state that has the only Army space, National Guard battalion. We have the 117th, Space Support Battalion in Colorado Springs that supports First Space Brigade. And there's also a reserve slice to that as well. And what we see right now is that the Army writ large, compo one, is wanting to put more, force structure in those space support teams. Those small space support teams are made up of six people, and they have been, rotating through CENTCOM and EUCOM nonstop. So the reserves and guard and First Space Brigade have been just constantly sending those capabilities forward. And I think the more we pivot toward a large-scale combat operation, the more they're going to see the need to incorporate space. Combatant commanders absolutely see the need. And the big Army writ large is seeing the need because they've just, said that they want to put more, more force structure in the space units. So, I think we'll see a growth in the Army, as, as it pertains to space capabilities and cyber as well.

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:26:27] Thank you ma'am. WHBF.

Sharon Wren (WHBF/Our Quad [00:26:33] Good morning, everyone. My name is Sharon Wren with WHBF. We were speaking earlier about, warfare moving into space. Do you, and we’re speculating here. Do you think that might be an end to more land-based conflict like we've seen through the centuries? Just everything moving into cyberspace and outer space?

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:26:58] General Keener, Sir, do you have any insights on that?

Brig. Gen. Samuel Keener [00:27:01] Sure. I'll start off, so, to answer your question, I don't think that, precludes or shows that, conflicts on a terrestrial or then in the oceans or anything like that would change. I think what, what we're seeing is that, our adversaries have spent the last several decades studying, how the US and its allies go to war and, and, and focusing their, capabilities on mitigating our advantages. And, I think space and cyber, are both, advantages for the US and our allied partners. And, I think that's why our adversaries are focusing on those capabilities at, at the beginning of a conflict and throughout the conflict. But I don't think it will change. What happens in the remainder of, any potential conflict, whether it's in the INDOPACOM area or in EUCOM?

Maj. Gen. Richard Neely [00:27:59] And if I could add just a little bit more to that, you know, I think, General Keener has it exactly right. And what we're seeing is more gray zone warfare. Right? Before we go kinetic. And we're seeing our adversaries taking advantage of that. Knowing that, the United States and many of its allies really are dependent upon the technology that we use through our critical infrastructure, through, our, our space capabilities and the assets that we have there. That it becomes a little bit of, it becomes more of a, a challenge for us to defend so much, of our critical infrastructure. And so what we're seeing is our, allies, our excuse me, our adversaries starting to look for our weaknesses in those particular areas, that they may be able to take advantage, of, even prior to the kinetic, portion of the war or a, you know, a war that may never go kinetic. We could see, you know, like we are now in cyberspace, attacks happening, from, you know, our adversaries around the world, even prior or even if a conflict, a hot conflict doesn't break out. So, hopefully that that helps out a little bit with that answer. Thank you.

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:29:25] Thank you, gentlemen. At this time, we have time for one more question. PBS. Signal Magazine. Air and Space Forces Magazine.

Kimberly Underwood (Signal Magazine) [00:29:52] Hi. Can you hear me?

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:29:54] Hi. Oh. Yes, ma'am we’ve got you. Yes ma’am.

Kimberly Underwood (Signal Magazine) [00:29:52] Sorry, this is, Kimberly Underwood from signal magazine. Sorry, it took me a minute to unmute.

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:30:01] No worries, we’ve got you.

Kimberly Underwood (Signal Magazine) [00:30:02] Thank you for your time today. I wanted to ask, kind of what were the challenges with Vulcan Guard of integrating, you know, intelligence, and cyber, especially across, you know, the different Guards and then the NATO partners and kind of how did you work that out that maybe was different than before, or building on kind of what he had done before. Thank you.

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:30:26] Thank you, ma'am. Sergeant Poluru, will you start us with that, please?

Staff Sgt. Dhurva Poluru [00:30:31] Ma’am, of course, so Sergeant Poluru. And, I work at the joint commercial operations, training and exercise division. Within the name of that cell joint commercial operations, we focus on commercially available, commercially, off the shelf available information publicly available information. So the foundation of that, that mission set is, is non-classified. It's not government data. Just the sales are government ran. So the information itself as a non-classified base to it, that makes it the easiest and most shareable mission set, to any foreign partners or potential partners and allies, members of that sort. So we were able to, combine both simulation and, live information from these, orbital tracks that we were able to get from our commercial data providers and combine them with, publicly available information to gain context and work with the, Vulcan Guard internal white cell or, mission planning or, the exercise planning teams to then, you know, simulate and bring out the, the, the injects for our, member nations. And I can, pass that over to, Lieutenant Colonel Harper to expand on that.

Lt. Col. Ian “Quack” Harper [00:31:50] Yeah. Thank you for your question. To be, specific about Vulcan Guard and some of the challenges. So we bring in, cyber, intelligence and space operations professionals that are really, tactical experts in their fields or in their, weapons system that they operate. And so Vulcan Guard is an opportunity for them to really look at how the other, capabilities in those three fields operate, what their planning and processes are, how they can integrate together with you, what are their capabilities and limitations. And so I think that's, you know, it's both a challenge, but something that we tried to bring out in Vulcan Guard so that when they go into planning for a contingency or crisis, that they understand kind of the whole gambit of what goes into planning for both space, cyber or sorry for all three space, cyber, and intel, and can achieve a greater effectiveness together and understanding how those three pieces come together.

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:32:47] Thank you very much, gentlemen. Thank you everyone.

Kimberly Underwood (Signal Magazine) [00:32:50] Thank you.

Moderator (Maj. Jennifer Staton) [00:32:52] Thank you ma'am. Thank you everyone. That's all the time we have for today. Thank you so much to our panel members for your time and expertise, and to the reporters for taking the time out of your day to talk about this important exercise and National Guard space operations. If any of you have additional questions that were not addressed today, please reach out to the National Guard Bureau Public Affairs media team and we will run down answers for you. You can find the email address pasted into the chat window. A transcript of this roundtable will be posted on later today, and the recording will be uploaded to the NGB YouTube page. Have a great rest of your day.

Maj. Gen. Richard Neely [00:33:28] Thank you for joining us.