US Air Force lieutenant general Steve Kwast says the US still leads every other country in space but cautions that edge is whittling away. "In my best military judgement China is on a 10-year journey to operationalize space. We're on a 50-year journey," Kwast told CNBC in an exclusive interview. Regulations also need to ease, in his view, as Kwast said innovation is needed "to reassure Congress that this is safe and effective." Militaries will soon work more extensively in the space between the earth and moon, according to Kwast. "China is working on building a 'navy in space'" that would work even beyond earth's gravity well, Kwast said. Yet China is the not the most pressing threat. North Korea, with its continued missile testing, is "a real problem" today, Kwast says. "Right now, if North Korea were to launch a missile into space and detonate an electromagnetic pulse, it would take out our eyes in space," Kwast said.