Major General John Olson is the Mobilization Assistant to the Chief of Space Operations for the U.S. Space Force at the Pentagon. In this position, he assists with organizing, training, and equipping space forces; develops and acquires military space systems; and conducts space operations to advance and protect U.S. and allied interests. He will discuss how the Space Force is working to build a force ready to outpace competitors while harnessing data and technology to maintain space superiority with allies and partner nations across the globe.
MODERATOR: Okay, welcome to The New York Foreign Press Center. We’re honored to have Major General John Olson, Mobilization Assistant to the Chief of Space Operations for the United States Space Force. My name is Melissa Waheibi. I’ll be your moderator today. This briefing is on the record and being recorded. The video and transcript will be posted on our website later today at fpc.state.gov. As we begin, we ask that your Zoom profile reflects your name and media outlet. Major General Olson will offer opening remarks and then we’ll have a period of Q&A, which I will moderate.
Sir, at this time the floor is yours.
MAJOR GENERAL OLSON: Well, good afternoon. Good day. It is a pleasure and an honor to be able to speak and interact with all of you. I’m here as a senior representative of the United States Space Force, also as an Air Force member. Today marks the 75th anniversary of our Air Force Reserves, so it’s a extra special day for us.
What I wanted to highlight is the fact that as we look at our Chief of Space Operation, the head or leader of the Space Force, we have three lines of effort. The first is to produce capable, ready combat forces for execution of our space missions. The second is our Guardian Ideal or the Guardian Spirit. And the third, which I want to focus on today, is Partnering to Win. And Partnering to Win involves very important international, interagency, and industry relationships, but obviously focusing on the international aspects that is such an important part of our overall mission approach.
And so as we talk about that, I also am in the leader of our foreign area officers for the 70,000 men and women of the Air Force Reserves. So given that it’s our 75th anniversary today, it’s an extra special privilege and opportunity to speak with you about the importance of international engagement, collaboration, cooperation collectively to achieve peace, stability, and security, not just for our nation, but for the world writ large and humanity in general.
So that’s my opening statement, and I look forward to a great round of questions. And I think, given the rich and diverse constituency that we have lined up today, I think this will be an interesting discussion.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. It’s now time for the Q&A portion of this event. As a reminder, in order to be called on, your Zoom profile must reflect your name and media outlet. You can ask your question by raising your virtual hand, and I will call on you. At that point, please turn on your mike and your video. You can also type your question in the chat feature. We also received several pre-submitted questions, and I will offer up those throughout the briefing. And for those of you in the room, same process: Please indicate that you have a question, and I will call on you.
So our first question the front, Manik, please state your name and organization, and ask your question.
QUESTION: Yeah, my name is Manik Mehta. I’m syndicated. Your point number three, Partnering to Win, could you be a little more specific on that? Does this also entail transfer of technology to countries that are interested in partnering with you? And do you have any limitations on that? For instance, if you wish to partner a country in India – a country like India, would you also be open to the idea of transferring technology? Because India has a huge space program and they also collaborate with their armed forces. How do you see that?
MAJOR GENERAL OLSON: Well, thank you for the question. Indeed, it is an important one. In particular referencing India, I had the privilege and honor of going to India to be the keynote speaker when I was at NASA for the 50th Anniversary of your space program and that was a tremendous time. But I’ll use that as an example of the United States writ large, whether it be NASA or whether it be the United States Space Force, we are absolutely interested in partnering with likeminded nations, allies, and coalition members because we believe the richness and diversity of sharing and the richness and diversity of cooperation leads to better outcomes.
In particular, when we talk about technology sharing, one of the elements that we are guided by is some U.S. laws and policies, particularly related to the international reduction – or ITAR, international traffic and reduction in arms*, is an important driver. But at the same time, we also try and actively look for areas where collaborative, cooperative information exchange, knowledge, partnerships, joint or collaborative efforts, exercises, training, and other types of programs make sense. This can occur both at the governmenttogovernment level; it can occur at the interagency or the interdepartmental level, with industry, and with citizens, as well as across the educational element. So, yes, there’s lots of opportunities, and I believe with India being the largest democracy in the world, I think there’s already a deep, a deep and strong structural relationship.
As we look at the importance of space, one thing that was highlighted by my trip there to India in the past is, in those 50 years, it was clearly focused on the benefits to India – the earth imagining, the ability to share educational tools and connectivity across the populations. We strongly and firmly believe those are important endeavors to enhance the safety and security and knowledge of all. But I think as we look at your very own human space flight programs, and I ask the question and they said because the future is filled with prosperity from and into and through space, we also share those same ambitions.
As we look at your successes, I think there’s lots of fertile cooperation potential. And as we are clearly focused on protecting the space for the utility of the United States and our partners and allies, I think this is an important area forward.
So the short answer is, yes, there’s lots of opportunities there, and we continue to look for those opportunities together because the Indo-Pacific Region is an absolutely incredibly important area for us in the United States, and we know that your deep knowledge and experience will only make both sides of the relationship stronger.
QUESTION: May I just ask a small follow-up question?
MAJOR GENERAL OLSON: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have different sets of regulations for NATO members, so-called Allies?
MAJOR GENERAL OLSON: We do.
QUESTION: And you have a different set of requirements or restrictions which are applied to nonNATO members. So how – where does India figure? Although it’s a friendly country, India is part of the Quad as you know.
MAJOR GENERAL OLSON: Yes.
QUESTION: How would you designated India exactly?
MAJOR GENERAL OLSON: I would designate India as a very important participant – true, not a NATO member, but the Quad is indeed a recognition of the critical importance of the IndoPacific region and the key partners and players in that. And I think as we look at India and Japan and Australia and the United States, that unique relationship there is one which I personally and we organizationally would like to see expanded and grown further.
I must say that I am very impressed by the array of progress and most importantly the affordability and creativity and efficiency by which India has made significant strides in space, whether that be in launch, whether that be in spacecraft, whether that be in hypersonics or reusable vehicles, to exploration of Mars. I think there’s lots of opportunities there, and so on behalf of not just the United States but also the United States Space Force, I think that’s an area that we would definitely be interested in for dialogue and constructive dialogue that leads to productive outcomes.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MAJOR GENERAL OLSON: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll go to those who have indicated that they have a question online. Alex, we’ll begin with you. Please open up your mike, and your video if you choose.
QUESTION: Thank you so very much. Can you please hear? Can you hear me?
MODERATOR: Yes, please state your name and organization.
QUESTION: Of course. Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency of Azerbaijan. Thank you, Major General, for your time. My question is about the greatest threats in this arena. Judging from the U.S. National Security Strategy, are they China and Russia? I’m asking because we see them testing weapons now in space domain. What kind of new behavior have you been – that you have been observing lately?
And my second question – this actually adjacent to that. If you could please speak to the Space Force’s role in helping Ukraine, whether through military satellites or differently. Space is one of the unseen frontiers in the war, of course, but how much of the war in Ukraine has underlined the growing importance of space to armies on the ground – not only Ukraine, in the wider region? As you know, I represent Azerbaijani news agency. Thanks so much.
MAJOR GENERAL OLSON: Well, thank you for the two questions. I’ll start with the first one. Indeed the National Defense Strategy and the National Security Strategy both highlight the challenges before the United States and our partners and coalition allies. And those include the fact that China is our pacing competitor in this arena, and right now Russia is an acute – is an acute issue, as outlined in those two policies. And so as we look at the broader context, as we look at the broader engagement, we view space as a congested and contested and competitive environment. And so we’re firmly focused on providing a safe, secure, and stable environment in that domain and driving towards norms and standards of behavior that are responsible, ways that enable greater and enhanced communication, as well as freedom of action with an ability to communicate and have predictable actions in that domain.
So we view this as very important. I think as we’ve seen the tremendous growth in potential in just the past couple of years both in launches and in spacecraft out in orbit and the critical importance that space holds for every facet of our modern life, whether that be from weather, whether that be from position navigation and timing like through GPS, through banking, and timing through observation and security, it pervades every aspect of our lives. And so too does it pervade our security posture.
And so our modern way of integrated deterrence, of defense, of security, of cooperation, collaboration, verification – and we hope that it remains a peaceful and safe environment, but we also are absolutely preparing to support and defend those interests of the United States and our partners and allies. And that’s both offensively and defensively.
But when we talk about the Ukraine in particular, which is the second part of your question, sir, the Ukraine conflict – which is unwanted and illegal and a very challenging environment, today being day 415 of the Ukraine conflict – it has been certainly a kinetic war and a war of attrition, but it is also the first war of cognition, I would proffer. And what I mean by that is space has shown to have a profound impact in terms of visualization, in terms of awareness, in terms of monitoring the logistics and the movements and the progress, in terms of weapons and targeting, in terms of information transfer and flow.
So what we have seen is that for the first time that the incredible convergence of industry and of governments and of an international – a strong international coalition led by NATO and led by united countries of likeminded support for the rule of law and for the – supporting the people of Ukraine, this is very important. And so space is indeed an integral part of the activities in Ukraine from an awareness, from an action, and from an outcomes perspective.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Staying on the topic of Ukraine, we received a question from Felix Holtermann from Handelsblatt, Germany: “How are systems like Starlink interfering with state sovereignties in space, with the example in the Ukraine war?”
MAJOR GENERAL OLSON: Guten tag. Wie geht es ihnen? It is an incredible enabler when we look at Starlink as a company given – and given what you’ve asked, it’s brought ubiquitous and resilient and very capable data and communications activities to the people of Ukraine to help make life more viable and palatable. And as we look at that, it does indeed bring new paradigms to bear as we look at that in terms of it is – it is, as SpaceX has said, it is not specifically a military capability. In fact, it is designed to enable the people of Ukraine to have open ability to communicate and ability to go about their lives that they otherwise would not have as a result of the conflict.
But I think we’ve seen a pervasive level of applications – creative applications – and utilization out of necessity. And I think as we look at this, much like I said previously, this does bring into question new paradigms relating to what it means to have capabilities in space and how pervasively they can be used. I think by no means is that a settled area of operations or law or action. But I think what we are seeing is, as space systems proliferate and provide extraordinary value to every facet of our lives, it is a critical economic and commerce and life-enabler, but it is also a critical part of our resilient and effective architectures and approaches to space operations in a contested and competitive environment.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We received a question in the chat feature from The Nation, Nigeria: “Are Nigeria and the rest of Africa involved in your work in any way?”
MAJOR GENERAL OLSON: I don’t have any specific examples directly related to Nigeria. But I will tell you that the – that African countries are an extraordinary area of interest and vitally important to our broader U.S. national policies and strategies. I think as we look at the opportunities for space and the benefits that can be leveraged for economic and human improvement there, I think it’s extraordinary.
Much like we’ve seen a generation leap – where we went with the advent and proliferation of cell phones, where we skipped brick-and-mortar banking systems and more structurally, and we went directly to digital handheld mobile – I think that the proliferation and democratization and ready availability of data and internet services is going to be tremendous. When we start looking at the space programs across the African continent, I think that’s some of the fast – most fast-paced, greatest opportunities that can be leveraged.
I think it’s an extraordinary moment. It’s a unique moment in history. I think we have several nascent space agencies that will have a tremendous growth trajectory. I think this is an area that we need to firmly develop and continue to expand partnerships in. I think these need to be win-win, mutually beneficial. And I think that as I look to that region of the globe, I see nothing but positive opportunity, and I see a stance of the United States of one being forward-leaning and engaging and one which we’re excited to embrace.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We received three questions from Mohamed Maher in Al-Ain News, UAE. I’ll ask them to you separately.
The first one: “Do you in the United States Space Force have cooperations with international partners, specifically any cooperation with any of the Arab countries from the Middle East?”
MAJOR GENERAL OLSON: Well, that was a two-part question.
MODERATOR: In one question.
MAJOR GENERAL OLSON: I’ll answer the first part. The part one of that is, as I mentioned, it’s one of our core lines of effort: partner to win. And so from an international perspective, the answer is absolutely yes. We have – building strong partnerships, particularly international partnerships, is a core priority for the United States Space Force. And we think those great partnerships are built on a win-win or a mutually beneficial arrangement. We think we’re stronger and better and richer and more diverse when both sides or both parties team and partner.
And I will specifically say that as we’ve seen the growth of international space agencies – of course, NATO recently stood up a space agency; France; Germany; Australia; Japan is doing some incredible work. We’ve got a lot of great cooperation with – between Norway and Japan and the United States. We are also – this spans all the sectors, whether it be from launch to satellite to communications to interoperability, sharing. So yes, it’s an integral part of everything that we’re doing.
But the second part of that question is where I’d like to focus more explicitly and specifically, is on the Middle East. And having spent six months in Qatar, I was personally responsible for what we called STAR, which is Science and Technology Advancement of Relationships**, which is leveraging civil and national security space for collaborative dialogue and discussions and growth there. That is just one example.
We also have significant dialogue ongoing with lots of interest from Middle – several Middle East countries interested in developing and expanding their own space agencies, their own space capabilities. And as we see Qatar and Saudi Arabia and the UAE all looking to expand beyond oil and petroleum-based economies into the knowledge-based economies, space is at the forefront of that, and I think that’s really of interest to us. There’s lots of private investment, as we’ve seen as well. And more specifically, we have stood up as one of our three components within U.S. Space Force the space component – we have a Central Command Space Force component that has conducted its first space forum with countries from around the Middle East. That was at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, and that was just this past February 15th and 17th – 15th through the 17th. Additionally, we’ve done our Space Force – or our Space 101 course, our first one of those.
So this is just the beginning of what we hope will be a long and productive level of engagement and discussion. I personally believe that as you look at the importance of the region, as you look at the importance of an integrated global perspective that space can bring, there’s lot of opportunities ahead there.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Second question: “Some experts say that the United States concern about China and Russia’s ability to neutralize key U.S. satellites is the reason behind the establishment of the U.S. Space Force. How do you respond?”
MAJOR GENERAL OLSON: Well, the United States Space Force was fundamentally established for the primary reason to recognize the fact that space is critical to our modern way of living, but most importantly, it’s also critically to important – important to defend U.S. and allied and partner interests in space. And so it is focused on that mission.
We know that 72 percent of the world is covered of by water; 100 percent is covered by air and space, right? And as we look at the largest area of responsibility, it’s essentially 100 kilometers and higher is the domain and area of responsibility of the Space Force. This for launched satellite operations; doing missile warning, missile track; Earth observation; intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance; space data transport; and position navigation and timing. These and so many more missions are absolutely core and essential enablers as war fighting functions, as defense-driving and security functions and verification functions. So these are really important, and that’s where we’re solely focused.
So what I would say is – is no, the Space Force is indeed focused on the – and built and generated for that important mission. And so we continue to expand. We’re just – our third anniversary, our third birthday, was the 20th of December, and so we are very much in the growth stage. We continue to have a broadening of our mission objectives, and yet that is also helping us to align in focus and build out these international partnerships, build out the industry partnerships so that we can have a solid foundation.
I firmly believe, although we are the smallest service by design, focused on being the first service born digital, the first new service in 75 years – but it will be one that is leveraging the most talented, the most innovative, the most creative workforce with all the digital tools of the modern world so that we can accomplish that mission in a safe, effective, and affordable manner.
MODERATOR: Thank you, and the final question from Mohammed: “Major General Olson, what do you think about the unidentified aerial phenomena, UAP, and UFOs?
MAJOR GENERAL OLSON: Well, this is a very hot topic, and I appreciate the question. I know, admittedly, Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force is quite a mouthful in an acronym. I’ve gotten that question a couple other times – what do you think about UFOs or aliens? And quite frankly, having flown 83 different airplanes and had lots of hours, we’ve all seen lots of unexplainable elements. And the cosmos – the space realm is so large. If we look at the Earth, it is this tiny blue dot in an unlimited, almost incomprehensibly large cosmos. I personally believe that there absolutely, from a probability perspective, is life out there.
However, this task force is a very serious U.S. Government approach to systematically investigating and understanding these, because of course unidentified elements present a national security concern, present a safety of flight, present a risk that we must take and diligently pursue.
But I think the question is actually more broadly put, and that is – is we will continue this effort, and in fact, I believe it will be getting more funding and more of a structural support level within the department. But I also believe that this is part of our never-ending quest to learn and understand and explore. And as we have on our probes that have exited the solar system to our probes to the Moon, we have gone in peace to explore and discover. And we continue that yearning to see and discover is there life out there and what does that mean for humanity.
MODERATOR: Thank you. A question from another Azerbaijani, Ralph Gore, Free Eurasia Media: “The space race for the Moon between two post-Cold War rivals, the United States and Russia, to achieve superior spaceflight capability has apparently restarted. Yesterday, Russian President Putin approved the development of technologies that are necessary for Russian lunar program. This was reported on April 12th. What can the U.S. Space Force do to prevent Russians from obtaining high technologies for rockets and other devices to reach the surfaces of the Moon?”
MAJOR GENERAL OLSON: Well, that’s a multi-part question, several encapsulated within. I’ll break those down a little bit. Indeed, the United States went to the Moon in 1969 and following the Apollo missions, we have not sent humans back. That’s why NASA, our civil space agency, has been so firmly focused on the Artemis missions in order to take human – humanity back through the Artemis program to the surface of the Moon and land with the first female as well as the first person of color. And we think this is very important – exciting news rolled out by NASA of the Artemis II crew further builds on the success of the Artemis I mission, and of course Artemis III will be the first that actually touches down on the surface.
So NASA and the Space Force does support, through a broad level of enabling and supporting missions, those broader civil space activities. And so we view civil – civil and commercial space as leading the charge back to the Moon. However, throughout history there’s always been a need to protect and safeguard those activities and operations, and that fully falls within the sphere of the United States Space Force.
But in particular, the question was focused on between Russia and the United States and with the recent Russian announcement. I would say we’ve already been investing and have been clearly on that vector with the Artemis program and with the space program. So I think that it’s an important validation of how important the Moon is to the Earth-Moon economy and the cislunar space, but I think China is another country which is making extraordinary investments in this, and both Russia and China have laid out plans for a joint – a joint Moon base. And what I would say is, is I think there are incredible opportunities afforded by the Moon, and I think it’s just a reflection of the broader strategic competition.
But I do believe, as we’ve seen with the International Space Station, the richness of international cooperation can lead to extraordinary scientific discovery and inventions that benefit all of humankind. So we prefer to have a safe, stable environment in space, but we’re also very realistic about the need to be pragmatic and the need to prepare and the need to deliver on our plans and ambitions.
So I am excited about our own United States and partners and collaborative efforts. The Artemis Accords have been extraordinarily constructive, but they’re also looking at focusing on good standards and behaviors and a likeminded approach to a rule of law and an international order and respect for humankind that are all encapsulated in those Artemis Accords. So we’re strong supporters of that and we regularly interact and support and enable NASA’s lead on those missions.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I see we have a question from Ethan Holmes. Ethan, when you get a chance, please open up your mike, turn on your video if possible, and state your name and organization and ask your question.
QUESTION: Hello. Can you hear me all right?
MAJOR GENERAL OLSON: Loud and clear.
QUESTION: Awesome. This is Ethan Holmes with Sputnik News, Russia. Does the U.S. Space Force maintain or plan to establish any sort of deconfliction lines with Russia or China for the space domain as it becomes more and more strategically contested? Kind of piggybacking off of another comment you made, how does the U.S. plan to balance that civilian space cooperation with strategic military competition in that sphere?
And secondly, off of UAPs, is there any cooperation with allies or partners on the UAP question and probe? Thank you very much.
MAJOR GENERAL OLSON: Yeah, appreciate both questions. The answer is – is communication and deconfliction are really important enablers for the safety, security, and stability of space, and as we get more congested and contested and competitive in space, I think that is very important. We already have a red phone – a red line, if you will – between the U.S. and Russia, and I think that is very important. It can be used for any particular matter of importance.
I think as we continue to engage in dialogue, it is very important to have those constructive dialogues between the two nations. Right now we have a very contested and dynamic environment related to the Ukraine conflict, and, of course, space is, as we’ve discussed, a key part of that. I think maintaining a level of stability, a way to de-escalate, a way to clarify – and as long as we create opportunities for those to drive professional conduct, drive greater communication and discussion, I think those are all steps in the right direction.
I think the second part of your question was related to UAP, or unidentified aerial phenomenon, and that UAP Task Force. And as far as I’m concerned or am knowledgeable about that, I do believe it does involve collaborative inputs and information exchange with all kinds of countries around the globe, because I think these are not just solely actions or events that occur within the confines of the United States. They’ve occurred globally, and I think we’re collecting that information. We’re sharing information. We view that as an open and transparent effort and activity through the United States Congress and executed by our UAP Task Force office, and so I would encourage greater collaboration and cooperation in that, and particularly I think as we see various technologies that will help demystify or debunk or clarify.
But I think it’s also important one of the reasons that we’re doing this effort is because national security concerns are of paramount importance, and so is safety of flight and deconfliction and collision avoidance and issues to preserve and protect human life. So when we can better share and exchange information, I think that’s better, much like we do in the International Civil Aviation Organization or otherwise known as ICAO, or in any other international bodies as well. I think there’s a fertile and important opportunity to be pursued there.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. If there are no other questions, this concludes our briefing for the day. Thank you, General Olson, for being here. Thank you for those who participated in the room and also those online. Again, the transcript and video will be available on fpc.state.gov later today. Have a good afternoon.
Go to State.gov to view the video of the interview