The Air & Space Brief: Space Command needs smarter satellites; The plan to buy wingman drones this decade; THC-positive recruits could get waivers to join

By Jacqueline Feldscher

Senior National Security Correspondent

Welcome to the Defense One Air and Space newsletter. Here are our top stories this week:  

A call for smarter satellites: Predictive analytics and the ability to refuel and repair assets in orbit top U.S. Space Command’s wishlist for new satellite technology, a top official at the command said last week. Lt. Gen. John Shaw, the deputy commander of U.S. Space Command, said the military is seeking new satellites and capabilities to take over missions typically performed by sensors on Earth, including detecting electromagnetic waveforms that could be an early sign of an attack from adversaries. “There is the need to really understand…pattern of life of those active capabilities, and using the most predictive analytics to understand what may happen next, or to look for change detection in that environment,” he said. 

Drones in this decade: The Air Force is figuring out its strategy to quickly field drones “in the mid to late 2020s” to serve as wingmen for the service’s next-generation fighter jets, said Andrew Hunter, the Air Force’s top acquisition official, according to Breaking Defense. The plan would be for pilots of F-22s, F-35s, and the sixth-generation jet still under development to command a fleet of between one and five drones and direct them to accomplish tasks autonomously, without actually giving control of weapons to an autonomous platform. 

Sex assault on the rise: Reports of military sexual assault increased 13 percent in 2021 compared to the previous year, even as troops’ trust in the military justice system tanked, according to a Pentagon report. Nearly 9,000 troops reported sexual assaults in fiscal 2021, but based on the low rate of report and a survey conducted in late 2021 and early 2022, the Pentagon estimates almost 36,000 active-duty service members experienced “unwanted sexual contact.” The Air Force had 1,701 reports of sexual assault, or 4.6 reports per thousand airmen—the lowest rate of reported sexual assault among the services.

“Sexual assault has no place in the Department of the Air Force; all Airmen and Guardians are responsible for cultivating a culture of dignity and respect where these corrosive behaviors are not tolerated,” Andrea Bryant, deputy director of the Air Force’s Integrated Resilience Office, said in a written statement. 

Dope of enlistment: Testing positive for THC, the chemical found in marijuana, may no longer disqualify prospective recruits from joining the Air and Space Force, Air Force Times reported. As more states legalize marijuana, recruiting official Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas said it’s important to “be realistic” as more applicants are testing positive for THC at Military Entrance and Processing Stations. The services are considering granting waivers to those who test positive at a recruiting station, but seem willing to give up the drug once they join.  

Sign up to get The Air & Space Brief every Tuesday from Tara Copp, Defense One’s Senior Pentagon Reporter. This week’s edition is brought to you by Jacqueline Feldscher, Defense One’s Senior National Security Reporter. On this day in 1976, a Russian MiG pilot landed in Japan and asked for asylum in the United States, giving Japanese and American officials an opportunity to study the Russian jet.

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Jacqueline Feldscher