Leader of newly formed Space Force visits UND

Gen. John Raymond made his first public visit since the formation of the U.S. Space Force at the invitation of Sen. Kevin Cramer

Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond (center) took part in a brief walking tour of UND Aerospace’s facilities during his time on campus with Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. (left). Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

It’s the sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, the first separate service created since the Air Force’s inception in 1947.

And in the weeks after the establishment of the U.S. Space Force, the first university that the new service’s chief chose to visit was UND.

The Space Force will have “great opportunities” to develop future officers and pursue critical research at the University of North Dakota, said Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, who, as the Space Force’s first Chief of Space Operations, is in charge of the service.

Raymond visited UND on Friday at the invitation of Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.

Raymond is the former commander of Air Force Space Command, the Air Force team whose personnel are being transferred to the new service branch. Raymond is also Commander of U.S. Space Command, the nation’s 11th Combatant Command. Much in the way the Marine Corps operates under the Navy, the Space Force will be a separate branch answering to the Secretary of the Air Force.

At UND, Raymond met with University officials and members of the University’s Air Force and Army ROTC detachments.

He also addressed an audience of ROTC and Space Studies students and faculty, emphasizing how much the American military and the rest of the country’s way of life relies on the use of space-based communication technologies.

While the integration of such technology has gone on peacefully since the end of the Cold War, Raymond stated that adversaries have been watching closely and understand the advantages space gives the United States.

Calling for a university-affiliated research consortium specifically to aid the advancement of Space Force-adjacent technologies, Raymond expressed admiration for the University’s ongoing research efforts that readily connect to matters of national security.

During a brief press conference following his town-hall-style presentation, Raymond touched on the means by which UND can contribute to the Space Force’s mission of protecting the country’s assets in space.

“It’s a critical and exciting time to be in the space business,” said Raymond outside of the Arthur P. Anderson Atmospherium in UND’s Odegard Hall. “There is a lot of great research going on [at the University]; there’s a Space Studies program here. As we develop future Space officers, I think this school has a great opportunity.”

Pablo de León (left), director of UND’s Human Spaceflight Laboratory, spoke with the general and senator about his work with projects such as the Inflatable Mars/Lunar Habitat and spacesuit development. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Potential for partnerships

At a breakfast in Robin Hall hosted by University administrators, faculty and local military leaders, John Mihelich, interim vice president for research & economic development, was among those presenting an overview of UND’s research to Raymond and Cramer.

Aspects of UND’s Grand Challenges, Mihelich said, can be the catalysts for research directly impacting the Space Force’s capabilities.

John Mihelich

John Mihelich

“We’re strategically focusing our research, and some of the areas are directly related to all tech development, the future and certainly the future of Space Force,” Mihelich told UND Today. “We wanted him to get a sense of our focus on autonomous systems and big data, as well as our expertise in space research. Those will be important.”

Mihelich, among others, thought it tremendous that Raymond’s ideas have already extended to collaborating with research universities. When Space Studies Department Chair Jim Casler told the general that military-affiliated students in his program take on independent research projects, Raymond replied saying he had a stack of ideas for students.

“We have students in engineering and aerospace who can tackle those,” Mihelich said. “We hope the general knows we’re serious about this potential collaboration, and we’ll be following up.”

After breakfast and prior to the town hall engagement, Cramer and Raymond took part in a brief tour of Robin Hall’s UAS training capabilities and Clifford Hall’s Human Spaceflight Laboratory.

Paul Lindseth

Paul Lindseth

That Raymond took such interest in UND’s potential for research contributions represents a “a big feather in UND’s cap,” said Paul Lindseth, dean of the aerospace school. Lindseth sees UND as being well-positioned for such a partnership, given that the University has a wealth of experience with Federal Aviation Administration Centers of Excellence, among other federal partnerships, which closely model the collegiate consortium Raymond has in mind.

“That experience of working with other universities should help us in the work of getting a new consortium started,” Lindseth remarked.

Associate Dean Beth Bjerke agreed. “We’re just so thankful and fortunate to have the congressional delegation that we do, who are so proud of the state of North Dakota and are bringing these people to campus to see what’s happening,” she said. “People are always excited with what they see going on at the University.”

‘Significant day’

Also during breakfast at Robin Hall, Cramer introduced the general and provided context to their connection.

As a member of the Armed Services Committee in the U.S. Senate, Cramer was a vocal proponent of the creation of a Space Force. In the months leading up to the Space Force’s codification, Cramer and Raymond “talked a fair bit,” the senator said. They also shared a stage at the most recent Japan-U.S. Military Relations Forum.

“It’s hard to exaggerate what a significant day this is for me, the University and the general,” Cramer said. “I don’t have to explain to anybody what’s going on in the world today, and the pressures are immense.”

He drew attention to the fact the visit to UND was the first public engagement the general has had since the creation of the Space Force. From Grand Forks, Cramer and Raymond made their way to Cavalier, N.D., for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Air Force Station there, recognizing the base’s new Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility which will allow crewmembers timely access to intelligence on adversarial threats and capabilities.

“I can tell you he has all the confidence of our president and vice president,” said Cramer of Raymond, who’ll be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by December, according to the Space Force website.

Cramer and Raymond took the podium following Friday’s town hall. Cramer started by speaking about his realization for the need of a Space Force. As he heard of the potential threats facing the country, he thought of the “military, intellectual and academic assets of North Dakota,” he said. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

With UND in mind

Friday marked the second time Cramer has appeared on campus in recent months, as UND welcomed the senator and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in September.

During a press conference at the time, Bridenstine recognized the need for defensive capabilities in space.

“Imagine a day without GPS,” the NASA leader said. “There is no banking in this country. You cannot regulate the flows of electricity on the power grid or regulate the flows of data on terrestrial wireless networks. That’s an existential threat to our country.

“In other words, space is critical to our way of life in a way most don’t recognize day to day.”

On Friday, Cramer said he latched onto the idea of a Space Force after being briefed on all of the emerging threats to the country and its crucial space infrastructure.

“The military, intellectual and academic assets of North Dakota are what motivated me to see the value in the importance of Space Force,” he said, listing UND, the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences and the Grand Forks Air Force Base, among other installations statewide.

“What I heard from faculty and staff and other leaders [at UND] this morning was better than I could have imagined,” Cramer concluded.