Portsmouth Herald, N.H.
PORTSMOUTH -- U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Trent Edwards believes the United States has "to be prepared as a nation to conduct a conflict or a war that extends to or begins in space."
"I don't think it's a matter of if, I think it's a matter of when a conflict will extend into space," said Edwards, who grew up in Kittery and attended Traip Academy. He spoke during an interview this week with Seacoast Sunday. "And so we need to protect the satellites that are in orbit."
Satellites are important not only to the military, Edwards stressed, but also "our way of life."
"How many times do we use Google, how many times do we use GPS? Those satellites are flying in orbit and if we can't protect them and defend them, then it's easy for an adversary to disrupt or deny our access to those," Edwards said.
Edwards, who visited the Seacoast with his wife, who grew up in Portsmouth, and his family, served until recently as director of programming, financial management and comptroller at the Air Force Space Command headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado.
He pointed to a troubling scenario about how some country could potentially impact the U.S. economy by targeting our country's satellites.
"If an enemy were to disrupt satellites that affect trading on Wall Street, the time ... of when that trade was impacted," Edwards said. "That's all possible if we don't pay more attention to protecting satellites in orbit."
He believes Congress needs to increase defense spending so the U.S. military can better defend against such attacks, whether they're aimed at the military or disrupting the private sector. And he believes the military needs to "pay more attention in terms of resources and funding for cyber resources across the entire DOD (Department of Defense) network."
There were 1.3 billion "malicious connection attempts" in 2016 to just the Air Force network, he said. "Our cyber operators are out there defending the network every single day, but we need more of them, and we need more resources dedicated to cyber operations."
If North Korea were to launch a missile at the United States, it is space defense systems that would stop it, he said.
"We have the ability to stop (it), but we need to invest more to increase the probability of defeating or taking out that missile," Edwards said. "That will include increased budget share to increase that probability, which really just amounts to reducing the risk. We need to reduce the risk."
He pointed to the Precision Navigation and Timing system, or PNT, which does things like allow "the carrier strikes groups in the Navy to be at certain places at certain times."
"That allows the KC-135, which is the refueling aircraft, to meet up with the F-22, which is the fighter aircraft at the right point at the right time and give them gas," Edwards said. "If that is disrupted, we're in trouble."
After 27 years in the Air Force, Edwards is en route to his next post at the Pentagon, where he'll serve as associate director for budget operations and personnel. Once there, he'll play a key role in the Air Force's $80 billion budget.
"My job is to look at the process, the policy, the procedure and the relationships with Congress so I can articulate the need for additional dollars for certain weapons system for example," Edwards said.
Asked about the military's readiness, Edwards acknowledged "we need to focus on readiness to increase our readiness level.
"But," he added, "I would tell you when we say we need to be more ready, that doesn't mean we're not going to go. When the nation calls, we're going to go and we will kick butt."
He compared the military's readiness to the recent Georgia-Oklahoma college football game, which ended with an overtime victory for Georgia, captivating fans because it was so close.
"When we go into combat, we don't want a close game, we want to dominate 49-0. We need more dollars to increase the readiness so we can dominate 49-0," Edwards said. "Because every point scored against us is a potential lost life, it's a potential American life lost."
Edwards urged the public to reach out to their congressional delegations to ask them to pass the Department of Defense budget so the military can make smart long-term investments, rather than dealing with a series of continuing resolutions.
"From a taxpayer standpoint, I want the military to wisely invest and our job is to protect those taxpayer dollars," he said. "The very nature of continuing resolutions breeds inefficient resource planning and resource execution."
This will be Edwards' third post at the Pentagon, he said, including when he served there on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked America. Edwards recalled getting into work at the Pentagon outside D.C. and realizing "one of the planes had already hit the first tower."
"I remember the plane hitting the second tower and I remember one of our senior officers saying, 'We're under attack, we need to start getting the secretary and the chief of the Air Force ready,'" Edwards said.
His command action group was getting ready to prepare "the secretary of the Air Force and the chief of staff of the Air Force" to respond to congressional questions about the attack when Edwards felt "a big jolt, and impact and I physically went forward and then someone said I think we might have been hit."
"The impact point of the plane was directly across from where we were," he recalled about when one of the high-jacked planes struck the Pentagon. "If that plane had gone across the interior, the openness of the Pentagon and landed on the same trajectory, it would have landed right on us."
He remembers calling his wife, who was working in Washington, D.C. and telling her to "get out of the city," Edwards said.
He also served at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba as the chief of staff of the Administrative Review of Enemy Combatants. His experience there, Edwards said, taught him that the war on terror "was real."
"I also learned though that in some cases the story of being a cook or the driver and not really understanding that they were part of something bigger, we did have some folks who were just the cook," he said. "We had other folks who would make the hair on the back of your neck stand up."
His Air Force career began after he attended North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro. He went there after growing up on the Seacoast because he received a partial athletic scholarship for track, and it had a good business school. His dream was to be an Olympic athlete when he headed to North Carolina, but he got hurt during his freshman year and lost his scholarship.
"So my dad asked me to try ROTC to try to help the family out. And I did. I got involved in ROTC and that led me to where I am today," Edwards said.
He candidly admitted he initially joined the Air Force because he "needed a job."
After being stationed in Aviano, Italy, Edwards learned from some "great leaders who helped me understand the importance of what we do, of service before self, of duty, honor, loyalty, patriotism."
"Then I served for a different reason," Edwards said. "I served on behalf of the nation."
He believes the Air Force and military offers young people who want to make a difference in the world "a great opportunity," and noted he's served everywhere from South Korea to Afghanistan and Iraq.
"I think we need to help our younger generation understand that they can serve in the military in almost any capacity that they do in the private sector," Edwards said. "You can be an engineer, you can be a doctor, you can be a lawyer, you can be an IT specialist."
He beamed when he talked about visiting the Seacoast before heading to his new position at the Pentagon.
"I would just like to say it is great to be back home in Kittery and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I grew up reading the Portsmouth Herald. I grew up in this area," he said. "I consider this to be home, my parents still live here, my wife's mom still lives here."
©2018 Portsmouth Herald, N.H.