This week, thousands of space industry types from around the world are gathered in a resort in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for the the Space Symposium, a major annual conference. Attendees spend three days hearing from dozens of professionals in the commercial, civilian, and military space sectors, as well as leaders of space agencies from 15 countries. On Monday, some spent the day tweeting pictures of themselves grinning from inside a mockup of a Blue Origin crew capsule, which stood outside the hotel along with the company’s New Shepard rocket.
On Tuesday, another set of tweets revealed a more serious side of the Space Symposium. Major General David Thompson, the vice commander of the U.S. Air Force Space Command, addressed a group of participants in a small ballroom:
In no uncertain terms, space is a war fighting domain, not because we want it to be but because adversaries are threatening peaceful use— AF Space Command (@AFSpace) April 4, 2017
“Our strategic competitors are actively threatening our space capabilities and we must be ready,” Thompson told the room, according to another tweet.
Like others working in the U.S. military space sector, it’s Thompson’s job to be wary of actions by other spacefaring nations, and to remind the public of the country’s readiness in the face of a potential attack. Thompson’s comments may seem particularly ominous to a public for whom star wars are machinations of George Lucas, not Vladimir Putin. But his remarks are part of a recent shift in rhetoric among current and former U.S. military leaders that suggests they are increasingly concerned—or just want the public to be increasingly concerned—about threats from other space-faring nations.