SecAF Nominee's Top Priority: Creating a 'Warfighting Ethos' Within Space Force

Then-Backup Spaceflight Participant Barbara Barrett during a press conference on Sept. 29, 2009, at the Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Then-Backup Spaceflight Participant Barbara Barrett during a press conference on Sept. 29, 2009, at the Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

President Donald Trump's pick to be the next Air Force secretary is all in on the U.S. Space Force, but says creating the new service branch will not be easy.

In written answers to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee, Barbara Barrett, who would be the service's fourth female secretary if confirmed, said a Space Force is necessary in order to deal with future threats, and creating a specific service that would oversee a space-only mission "is overdue."

"Today's Air Force must solidify readiness gains and continue prioritized, cost-effective modernization," Barrett said in the 69-page survey, provided to on Wednesday. "To meet the needs of the future, the Department of the Air Force must continue today's mission while building the operational Space Force, which will be pivotal to America's future defense."

Related: Outgoing SecAF Worries About Developing Service Culture at New Space Force

Barrett said if she's confirmed, she'd "face a wealth of significant challenges as identified in the National Defense Strategy," but noted that "standing up a Space Force to meet America's future needs will be a key challenge."

She is set to testify before the committee Thursday morning alongside Ryan McCarthy, the current under secretary of the Army, in a joint hearing ahead of their confirmation vote to be the next civilian leaders of the Army and Air Force. The White House on Monday sent over their formal nomination packages after SASC lawmakers scheduled a hearing date last week.

The president announced via Twitter in May that Barrett, a former diplomat and businesswoman, was his pick to be the service's 25th secretary.

In light of emerging threats from Russia and China, Barrett said space may need even more attention.

"Reliable access to our space assets is essential to our national defense," she said.

While Space Force will fall under the Department of the Air Force, according to a directive signed by Trump in February, the service so far has purview over only Space Force's initial creation, allocating dollars out of its budget as the first step in implementing the DoD's long-term vision.

Still, Barrett said the Air Force should outline best practices in order to recruit the right people and create the appropriate identity of the service.

"Cultivating a strategic warfighting ethos within the U.S. Space Force would be a top priority of my tenure," she said. "Specifically, I would work to prioritize space capability within the new Space Force. I would leverage Air Force infrastructure where logical to do so. The U.S. Space Force must move forward smartly with focus on capability."

She continued, "If confirmed, recruiting and retention would be among my top priorities. Many of today's youth are not focused only on compensation; instead, they calculate their total reward, fulfillment from the job and the quality of the life they choose. The Air Force and Space Force offer young people jobs that inspire."

A former chair of the Aerospace Corporation, Barrett previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Finland under President George W. Bush. She was nominated to be Air Force secretary in 2003 but was never confirmed, according to a report from Defense News. In 2009, she trained in Russia as a backup astronaut for a flight to the International Space Station, according to the Ravalli Republic.

According to the biography she provided to lawmakers, Barrett was also a vice chair of the Civil Aeronautics Board, a Federal Aviation Administration deputy administrator, and served on the boards for defense contractor Raytheon and Piper Aircraft, among others.

"Integrating the Air Force with the community, I served as the honorary commander of Luke Air Force Base, [Arizona]," she said. In 2018, Barrett reportedly began a campaign at the base "to build new facilities for enlisted and junior officers," according to an op-ed published in the Arizona Republic.

Space Force wouldn't be her only priority. According to the survey, Barrett said she plans to move forward with the readiness goals set by the Defense Department so airmen and aircraft can meet deployability standards and improve where possible.

That includes more focus on sexual assault prevention programs, as well as more resources to prevent suicide, she said.

The service is currently attempting to stave off a rising trend of suicide within the ranks.

"A few years ago, the Air Force joined the other services and [the Office of Secretary of Defense] to improve tracking and reporting of suicides among family members and dependents across all components," Barrett said. "If confirmed, I would also consider partnering with local communities and civilian resources to encourage data sharing."

Barrett is friends with Sen. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, who was the first woman to fly in combat. McSally in March disclosed she was raped by a senior officer while she was on active duty.

In line with McSally's ongoing efforts for reform, Barrett said "more effective action is needed to end sexual harassment and sexual assault" at the Air Force Academy, but also within the total force.

Barrett also said she is familiar with how cost-cutting across the force has created setbacks and resulted in an Air Force too small to meet ever-increasing operational demands.

To meet some of those demands, she supports buying a new fighter -- the proposed F-15EX -- as well as contracting for more adversary air, which the service can use to give its fighter jets some relief.

"Given current budgetary realities and readiness requirements, I understand the [fiscal] 2020 president's budget submission of 48 F-35s and an initial buy of F-15EXs will put the [Air Force] on the path for the optimal mix of fighter aircraft required to meet the challenges listed in the 2018 National Defense Strategy," she said.

"I agree with what the Air Force stated publicly earlier this year: 'We are not buying fighters fast enough to replace the ones that are getting too old to keep flying.'"

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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