Keeping space conflict-free
Over a 35-year career in the U.S. Army, Gen. James Dickinson MS ’96 has seen the country’s space capabilities evolve dramatically. From the space technology that played an integral role in the first so-called “space war” of Operation Desert Storm to now having the Space Force as a separate branch of the military and the reestablishment of U.S. Space Command—which Dickinson currently oversees—as a unified combatant command in 2019, the interest in everything 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, above sea level only continues to grow.
“The future, I think, is absolutely bright. There is a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm for space, and you see that every day,” said Dickinson, who is the first Army officer to lead U.S. Space Command.
But that excitement also requires people like Dickinson to make sure new ventures remain conflict-free. “My responsibility is that I am here to deter conflict in space, deliver combat power and make sure that I’m able to protect and defend on-orbit assets that support our nation, and, in particular, our nation’s leadership,” he said.
Dickinson said his day-to-day work includes checking on-orbit assets, or satellites, and trying to understand what other countries are doing in the space domain as well. Dickinson has served in a number of leadership positions throughout his career, including in Germany and the Middle East during Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, as well as at the Pentagon and various military installations throughout the U.S. That leadership experience, as well as his technical training from Colorado State University and Mines, equipped him for a career in Air and Missile Defense, where he started as a second lieutenant and ultimately progressed into his current role.
That formal training in technical areas, such as when he completed his master’s degree in mineral economics at Mines, has helped Dickinson understand the “sophistication” of Space Command, he said.
“Space impacts nearly every aspect of our daily lives, and our adversaries are pursuing ways to deny us the ability to operate in space. U.S. Space Command exists because of this shift in the strategic environment of space,” Dickinson said. “Like any other domain such as land, air or sea, the United States must have the ability to deter conflict and, if necessary, defeat aggression, deliver space combat power to our military forces and defend vital U.S. interests with allies and partners.”
Between the recent rover landings on Mars and the growth of SpaceX in the private sector and its recent Starlink project building a satellite internet constellation, Dickinson has seen “a lot of great energy and forward movement” in the space domain, which has, in turn, brought more attention and money to the aerospace industry.
“Space is always important,” he said. “From 30 years ago to today, our leverage or our ability to use space assets, whether it’s for everyday life or for military operations, has just grown and grown and grown, and will continue to grow in the future.”