2 years ago

Alabama rocket CEO and former Air Force leader warn of fierce competition for space

A skyward glance on a clear night for most people means a glimpse toward a place with actual peace and quiet, a place free from the type of conflict and demonstrations of force arising frequently around the globe.

Looks can be deceiving, though, according to two experts who spoke at last week’s Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

Tory Bruno, president and CEO of Alabama rocket builder United Launch Alliance (ULA), and former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson both concluded that the sought-after edge in modern warfare has driven a frenetic race among nations to control space.

Appearing with Bruno on a panel at the event hosted by the Aspen Institute, Wilson emphasized that America’s national security has become dependent on the use of satellites given the advanced technology of warfare.

“The United States is the best in the world at space – and our adversaries know it,” pronounced Wilson.

Which is why our nation’s foreign adversaries are working to deny America the use of space.

She said China and Russia have been “developing the capability” to interfere with or destroy American military satellites “in order to influence military operations on the ground.”

The potential for interference has sharpened the military’s approach to protecting the nation’s interests in space.

“Our responsibility is to look at the threat, to develop the strategies and the programs to be able to prevail should war extend to space,” Wilson outlined.

Bruno sees access to space as essential for the country to maintain its position of strength.

“We have the most capable space assets in the world,” he said. “We have the most capable and powerful military in the world.”

Bruno pointed out that while the U.S. military is not the largest in the world, “it is the most capable because it is enabled by space.”

He said other nations seeking to weaken the U.S. military are attempting to take space away because that is a far easier approach than conventional warfare.

“We have not recognized that threat until recently and so we are far behind countering that threat,” he warned. “We will catch up. This country has the most capable technological workforce in military on this planet. We absolutely will prevail but right now we are behind in the race, and it’s going to take some serious and hard work to fix that.”

As an example of ways other countries are developing strategies to interfere with satellite technology, Wilson drew attention to China’s launch of a missile the size of a telephone pole to destroy a dead weather satellite and Russia’s launch of a maintenance satellite with a grappling arm. Wilson wondered aloud why Russia would need a satellite equipped with such a device in the absence of any Russian satellites requiring maintenance. In addition to China and Russia, she identified India as a country capable of interfering with satellite functions.

What’s at stake?

The Air Force has 80 satellites in use, the Navy has 13 and the National Reconnoissance Office has 40 — the smallest the size of a toaster and the biggest the size of a school bus.

Of the 80 Air Force satellites on orbit, 33 are Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites, a fact which allowed Wilson to quip, “The blue dot on your phone is not provided by your cellphone company; it comes from the United States Air Force.”

She elaborated that the Air Force provides GPS coordinates for about 1 billion people every day and enables an $80 billion piece of our economy. With its satellites, the Air Force takes pictures, gathers intelligence, facilitates global communication, monitors weather and conducts the critical task of providing timing signals for the New York Stock Exchange and every ATM in America.

As part of intelligence gathering, satellites provide missile warnings. When North Korea launches a missile, American satellites gather the intel. Wilson informed that the satellites stare at the earth and use infrared technology to identify the hot plumes of gas that come from the end of rockets and then calculate the trajectory and warn the national command authority.

Wilson believes the importance of these activities raises some critical questions moving forward.

“What are the capabilities that we need to have in crisis or war?” she asked. “How will we think about interference with commercial assets on orbit, in particular? Is there more to do? You bet. Particularly when it comes to changing the culture of the institution of space warfighters. From providing a service…to being and thinking like warfighters.”

Having so much at stake will also require drawing a hard line for those seeking to harm American interests, according to Wilson.

“We need to let our adversaries know that there will be consequences for interfering with our satellites in time of crisis,” she said.

What’s next?

Wilson and Bruno recognized the continued building of assets in space as valuable to American interests.

However, based on his expertise as a launch provider, Bruno shared the difficulty that comes with making that happen.

“It is a narrow highway to space,” he said. “So all of those critical assets have to get there on top of a space launch vehicle – which is in itself a technological marvel. A 30-story building that blasts itself into space with an incredibly delicate space craft on top.”

He sees ULA’s participation in the Air Force’s national security launch program, a program to develop new and innovative rockets, as helping to bolster the nation’s space assets.

“We will have access to space that is so much more agile, so much more flexible,” he remarked.

He considers it a program designed to confront “the tremendous strategic challenge of a contested environment in space.”

This is the same program numerous members of Alabama’s congressional delegation have fought to preserve. ULA was one of three companies awarded contracts as part of the public-private partnership.

An effort popped up in Congress to scrap the program in order to allow companies who lost out in the first round of awards to get a second bite at the apple.

Bruno’s view is that opening the process back up to companies who failed to win an award in the first go-round would run counter to the spirit of the competitive process.

“It’s not competition if everybody gets an award,” he remarked.

In the meantime, Bruno expressed excitement for his company’s progress on the new rocket, including the start of fabrication.

And Wilson observes significant progress with how the nation’s leaders have reacted to the competition for space.

She recalled crafting an opening statement for her confirmation hearing which had ‘space’ and ‘warfighting’ in the same sentence. While reviewing it with an Obama administration holdover, the official proceeded to strike it out based upon the policy that those two subjects should not be discussed together. According to Wilson, she told them, “‘You’ll have to get somebody more senior to tell me to take it out.'”

Having left her post as secretary on May 31, Wilson will assume the president’s office at the University of Texas at El Paso on August 15.

She leaves feeling confident in the direction of America’s national security space program in the face of ever-increasing competition.

“We have come a long way in talking about the threats that are there and the things that we need to do about them,” she concluded.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

48 mins ago

Alabama basketball completes the sweep against Auburn

Fresh off of winning the SEC regular season championship for the first time in 19 years, the Alabama Crimson Tide on Tuesday completed a sweep of Auburn for the first time in six years after defeating the Tigers at home 70-58.

Jayden Shackelford led the way for Alabama in Tuscaloosa, as the talented sophomore guard went 5-9 from behind the arc to finish with 23 total points in the win over Auburn.

Sophomore Jahvon Quinerly scored 11 points off of the bench and provided sparks for Alabama in crucial moments of the game.

While Alabama led by as much as 16 points in the first half, Auburn was able to cut the lead to five in the second. However, Alabama’s defense began to stiffen up, and seniors Herbert Jones and John Petty stalled the Tiger’s offense out before they could get too hot.

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For the Tide, the three-ball has become a major part of their offense. Second-year head coach Nate Oats always tells his players to get at least one touch in the paint first before shooting. This green-light mentality is becoming more and more popular throughout college hoops.

Bama has done really well with this philosophy by becoming one of the most dominant teams from downtown in the conference. Tuesday’s game showed that even when the three doesn’t come through for the Tide, they have other ways of scoring.

Alabama drove the basketball extremely well in the second half against Auburn and proved to be the more physical team in their win on Tuesday night. When tournament time begins, they may have to lean on this more physical style of play in certain games.

The Tide have one more regular season game against Georgia in Athens on Saturday. Bama will look to finish the regular season on a win before the SEC Tournament in Nashville gets underway.

The Tide are currently projected to be a two seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Hayden Crigler is a contributing college football and college basketball writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him through email: hayden@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter: @hayden_crigler.

1 hour ago

Alabama House recap: Bills to increase executive branch oversight, update sex ed language pass chamber

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama House of Representatives met Tuesday and passed six pieces of legislation, including bills that would increase oversight of executive branch agencies and update language in the state’s policy on sex education.

After convening shortly after 1:00 p.m. the chamber spent much of the next five hours in extended debate on two bills, with members of the Democratic Party engaging in protracted discussions of legislation they began their remarks saying they would ultimately vote for.

Seeing the most debate were HB 392 from Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) and HB 103 from Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville).

Jones’ bill creates a joint legislative committee to oversee large financial agreements made by the executive branch, and Kiel’s would prevent the state government from picking which businesses close during states of emergency.

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More information on Kiel’s bill is available here.

The legislation from Jones, chair of the powerful Rules Committee, would create the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Obligation Transparency. The committee would have the authority to approve or disapprove of contracts, leases and agreements by the executive branch and the agencies therein.

Under the proposed law the committee would meet to review any financial agreement greater than $10 million or 5% of the agency’s annual appropriation from the State General Fund.

Making up the committee would be the chair, vice-chair and ranking minority members of the committees in each legislative chamber that oversee taxation.

The proposed oversight committee would be able to meet when the legislature is in or out of session. It would have to issue approval or disapproval within 45 days of a state agency submitting a proposed contract.

If the proposed committee disapproved of a contract it would be delayed from going into effect until the end of the current or next occurring general session of the legislature.

Jones noted in remarks on the floor that this delay would give lawmakers time to address via legislation the proposal disapproved of by the committee, and added that new legislation would be required to put a halt to any state contract of which the proposed committee disapproved.

HB 392 ultimately received unanimous support in the House, with a final vote of 98-0.

Also passing the House on Tuesday was HB 385 sponsored by Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville). The bill updates language in the legal code that governs how Alabama educators must teach sex ed.

It also deletes from the Code of Alabama language that requires those teaching sex ed to emphasize that “homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.”

Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) and Rep. Charlotte Meadows (R-Montgomery), two staunch conservatives with backgrounds in education policy, spoke in favor of the legislation on the House floor and voted for its passage. The bill passed the House on a vote of 69-30.

Three other pieces of lower profile legislation passed the chamber on Tuesday:

HB 255 from Rep. Randall Shedd (R-Cullman) that would add a tenth member to the advisory board of directors of the Department of Senior Services, and let ex officio members name a designee to serve in their place.

HB 330 from Rep. Alan Baker (R-Brewton) that would change the outdated language in the state legal code concerning video depositions in criminal prosecutions.

HB 136 from Rep. Chip Brown (R-Hollinger’s Island) that would designate the aquarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab as the Official Aquarium of Alabama.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

5 hours ago

Alabama House passes bill that would block the government from picking and choosing which establishments close during states of emergency

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would prevent the state government from designating which types of businesses were allowed to stay open in situations such as the one experienced during the advent of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020.

Sponsored by Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville), HB103 would not infringe on the governor or state health officer’s ability to implement public health guidance. It would only say that any business or house of worship that followed public health guidelines would be allowed to open.

“I think if it is safe enough to go to the liquor store and wear a mask and socially distance, then it is safe enough to go to church and wear a mask and socially distance,” argued Kiehl on the House floor.

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The vote on the floor was 75 in favor and 22 opposed with three members abstaining.

The bill applies to declared states of emergency that involve a “pandemic, epidemic, bioterrorism event, or the appearance of a novel or previously controlled or eradicated infectious disease or biological toxin,” per the text of the legislation.

In explaining what inspired him to author the legislation, Kieh said of last spring, “I saw businesses in my town that were suffering,” adding that some small business owners he knew were “scared to death they were going to lose their livelihoods.”

Governor Ivey’s “Stay At Home” order, in place for most of April 2020, allowed major retailers like Walmart to remain open while smaller retail stores that did not sell groceries were forced to close.

Kiehl feels that this arrangement was unfair, and that small shops and establishments deserved the chance to stay open if able to implement the health guidelines. Ivey has expressed regret in recent months about creating the distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” businesses.

“[W]hat we were really doing is were we driving all the customers that would have been in all these other stores — in the small mom-and-pops, the Hibbetts of the world — we were driving all those to one central location to buy clothing. That cannot be good for the spread of the pandemic — to bring everybody together in one location or a few locations,” Kiel told FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show.”

The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) is strongly supporting the passage of the legislation.

Kiel’s bill now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

5 hours ago

Alabama Senate passes Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act

MONTGOMERY — On a party line vote, the Alabama Senate on Tuesday passed SB 10, the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act.

Sponsored by Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville), the bill would ban the performance of medical procedures and the prescription of puberty-blocking medications and sex-change hormones used as transgender therapies for minors, with certain exceptions.

The vote was 23-4, with the only four Democrats present all dissenting: Sens. Billy Beasley (D-Clayton), Vivian Figures (D-Mobile), Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) and Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham).

Shelnutt, since first introducing a version of the legislation last year, has said his goal in bringing the bill was to simply protect children from making harmful longterm decisions that they may later regret once more mature.

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“The primary concern here is the health and well-being of Alabama’s children,” stated Shelnutt. “We must protect vulnerable minors who do not have the mental capacity to make life-altering decisions of this caliber. The efficacy and effects of these particular surgeries and methods of treatment are not well-sustained by medical evidence, and actions of this severity cannot be undone.”

“I believe it is our responsibility as lawmakers to do all we can to keep our children out of harm’s way,” he added. “Protecting minors from these powerful drugs and consequential procedures will help ensure they do not feel responsible to make a decision they may wish to later undo, ultimately causing more harm.”

The House Judiciary Committee last week approved as amended the lower chamber’s companion version of the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Wes Allen (R-Troy). HB 1 now awaits consideration on the House floor.

In response to the passage of SB 10, Scott McCoy — SPLC interim deputy director for LGBTQ Rights & Special Litigation — released a statement.

“The Alabama State Senate is dangerously close to passing yet another piece of discriminatory legislation that likely will lead to long and expensive litigation at high cost to Alabama taxpayers,” McCoy decried.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 hours ago

Alabama GOP Senate candidate Lynda Blanchard: 2020 election ‘stolen from President Trump’

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Lynda Blanchard on Tuesday called upon the Alabama House Constitution, Campaigns, and Elections Committee to vote down a bill that would legalize no-excuse absentee voting in the state, among other alterations of Alabama’s elections laws.

The committee is set to meet on Wednesday regarding HB 396, which is sponsored by State Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville). The bill was originally backed by Secretary of State John Merrill, although he has now withdrawn his support for the measure.

Blanchard served in the administration of President Donald J. Trump as his ambassador to Slovenia, the home country of then-First Lady Melania Trump.

The Montgomery resident is Alabama’s only declared U.S. Senate candidate ahead of the 2022 race to replace retiring U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL). Blanchard in a written statement said HB 396 significantly weakens Alabama’s absentee balloting rules.

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“Absentee balloting invites corruption, cheating, and fraud, so it should be allowed only in rare and unavoidable cases,” she said. “The bill that has been introduced in the Legislature leaves the door wide open for ballot harvesting and other abuses that allowed the recent presidential election to be stolen from President Trump.”

“The bill also begins a dangerous process of watering down Alabama’s election laws, which could lead to the repeal of our photo voter ID requirements and other safeguards that Republicans have put in place,” Blanchard continued.

She concluded, “Alabama should focus on strengthening, not weakening, our honest election reforms, and we certainly shouldn’t implement no-excuse absentee voting, which is often used by liberal Democrats who have refined election fraud and ballot stuffing into an art form.”

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) and Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) have already voiced opposition to HB 396.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn