Defense Secretary James Mattis speaks with reporters outside the Pentagon Aug. 7, 2018. Credit: Jim Garamone
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — President Trump is all-in on having a separate military service for space. The Pentagon has been working on a study on different paths to get there. There are still many disagreements and details to be worked out. “But all that says is that we have a threat in space,” said Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command.
“We’re working all those issues,” Hyten said of the upcoming reforms. The important thing to keep in mind is that “we have to treat space like a warfighting domain,” he said. “It’s about speed, about dealing with the adversary.”
“We have huge challenges in space,” Hyten insisted during a keynote speech on Tuesday at the Space & Missile Defense Symposium. The reorganization that will occur in the coming years is a necessary response to deal with “our two big adversaries Russia and China.”
A report that will put forth options for how to create a Space Force is expected to be out this week. It is now being reported that Vice President Mike Pence will share details of the reorganization on Thursday at the Pentagon. According to Fox News’ Kristin Fisher, Pence will “specifically lay out the need for a Space Force and the next steps for its creation.”
Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan had scheduled a news conference last week to discuss the department’s recommendations, but the meeting was cancelled at the 11th hour.
Sources told SpaceNews that this is a sign that the White House is not taking any chances on an issue the president feels strongly about. Although there is support in DoD to elevate Air Force Space Command to a sub-unified or unified full combatant command, the Pentagon until now had not expressed full throated support for a Space Force as a separate branch of the military. Regardless of what the Pentagon or the White House recommends, only Congress has the authority to form a new military service
Comments on Tuesday by Defense Secretary James Mattis were the closest to a direct endorsement of a Space Force that he has expressed thus far. “We are in complete alignment with the president’s concern about protecting our assets in space that contribute to our security, to our economy,” Mattis told reporters. “We need to address space as a developing warfighting domain and a combatant command is certainly one thing that we can establish,” he said. “This is a process we’re in.”
Mattis noted that Pence is closely involved in the reorganization. “The vice president is kind of the point man for the president on this,” Mattis said. “We are working closely, daily, with his office and with supporters on Capitol Hill and the relevant committees.”
A reporter pressed Mattis to clarify whether he believes a Space Command is the same thing as establishing a separate service, as the president has ordered. “We are working our way through all this,” he said. “I don’t have all the final answers yet, we’re still putting that together. … We have the direction from the president and we’re underway.”
Observers have wondered whether DoD would try to substitute a unified Space Command for a separate service. According to one expert source, the White House would be unhappy with that recommendation but would not want to create the impression that it is micromanaging the DoD report because that could backfire on Capitol Hill. Regardless, the report that Pence will unveil this week will move the process forward toward the president’s vision.
Pentagon lays groundwork for Space Force to blast off in 2020
WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence on Aug. 9 unveiled the Pentagon’s plan to set the stage for a Space Force — a new military service branch centered around space operations — which could be in effect as early as 2020.
That plan involves creating an independent unified combatant command, U.S. Space Command, that will eventually be led by a four-star general, Pence said during a speech at the Pentagon.
It also calls for naming an assistant secretary of defense for space that will be in charge of standing up the department of the U.S. Space Force and could eventually transition to the position of its first service secretary.
Pence’s announcement comes after President Donald Trump ordered Defense Department leaders in June to begin paving the way to set up a Space Force.
“Creating a new branch of the military is not a simple process,” Pence said, and a new Pentagon report that will be delivered to Capitol Hill today will lay out four steps the Defense Department will take in preparation of standing up a Space Force.
The four steps:
- Create U.S. Space Command as a new unified combatant command. The new organization will be led by a four-star general and will establish the space war-fighting doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures.
- Build an elite group of space officers called “Space Operations Force,” which will be comprised of all of the services and “grow into their own cohesive community” similar to that of special operators, Pence said. “They will support the combatant command by providing space expertise in times of crisis and conflict.”
- Develop the Space Development Agency, a new joint procurement arm for space products. Pence said space acquisition had become too bureaucratic and that U.S. ability to innovate had been stifled by “needless layers of red tape.” The Space Development Agency, by contrast, would leverage prototyping and experimentation to achieve technology breakthroughs.
- Name a civilian to the post of assistant secretary of defense for space. This official will be charged with making the Space Force a reality, oversee the service’s expansion and would report to the secretary of defense. “This leader will be key to a critical transition to a fully independent secretary of the space force.”
The need for an independent space force was clear to the administration, Pence said, as competitors and potential adversaries such as China and Russia have developed new weaponry geared toward destroying or interrupting U.S. satellites.
The vice president cited a 2007 Chinese test of an anti-satellite missile; a airborne laser under development by Russia that will be able to destroy space-based systems; Russian and Chinese investments in hypersonics; and other technologies that would allow the two Eastern nations to steer their satellites in close proximity of U.S. assets.
“As their actions made clear, our adversaries have transformed space into a war fighting domain already,” Pence said. “The U.S. will not shrink from this challenge.”
Only Congress can officially create a new service branch by amending Title 10 of the United States code — something that Pence himself acknowledged.
“Ultimately Congress must act to establish this new department, which will organize, train and equip the United States Space Force,” he said.
“Our administration is already working with leaders in Congress to do just that. We’re building bipartisan support for our plan, working closely with committee counterparts” such as House Armed Services Committee head Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, his Democratic counterpart Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, and the two leaders of the HASC Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Reps. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and Jim Cooper, D-Tenn.
Although the idea of a space force is popularly associated with Trump, it actually grew out of a proposal by Rogers.
Rogers envisioned a “Space Corps” that would be carved out of the Air Force, with its own budget, war-fighting cadre and speedier acquisition process. The Space Corps plan gained ground in the House, but was opposed by the Senate, White House and Pentagon. Eventually, it was killed in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, although language was included requiring the Pentagon to study the issue.
In a joint statement issued after Pence’s speech, Cooper and Rogers praised the report in a joint statement after Pence’s speech, saying the steps taken would help speed up acquisition and give space professionals “more clout” in the Pentagon.
“We have been warning for years of the need to protect our space assets and to develop more capable space systems,” Rogers and Cooper stated. “We are glad that the Pentagon is finally taking these steps in enhancing our space strength.”
Pence’s speech was attended by a host of top Defense Department and Air Force leaders, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis; Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment; Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein.
Two of them — Mattis and Goldfein — were previously major critics of the Space Corps proposal, having warned Congress that splitting off space operations could weaken existing military efforts to treat space as a new war-fighting domain.
However, earlier this week, Mattis told reporters that he was “in complete agreement” with the president and that he would be supportive of a combatant command for space.