Air Force Space Command Gets New Commander

Air Force Space Command Gets New Commander

Gen. John E. Hyten became the 16th commander of Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) today (August 15), replacing Gen. William Shelton.  He has a long career in Air Force space units in the United States and overseas and has been serving as AFSPC’s vice commander.

Hyten takes over at a challenging time for the Air Force in the space launch business, at least.  SpaceX filed suit against the U.S. government for issuing a sole source contract to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) for 36 launch vehicle cores instead of opening the contract to competition.  That lawsuit is pending before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Separately, the government is reassessing its dependence on Russian RD-180 engines for ULA’s Atlas V launch vehicle and what it will take to develop a U.S.-built engine to replace it.

Shelton testified to a joint hearing of two Senate committees last month on those very topics.  In that testimony and other speeches, Shelton came across as defensive of ULA and less than enthusiastic about SpaceX.  He was rebuked by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) over comments he made earlier in the year criticizing SpaceX for filing the lawsuit. McCain made it clear that he thinks there were improprieties in the sole source award.  As for the RD-180 engine issue, Shelton acknowledged at the hearing that it is time for the United States to develop its own liquid rocket engine to replace dependence on the RD-180, but almost seemed regretful about it.  He talked about “dire” consequences for national security satellite launches if the supply of RD-180 engines is cut off before an American engine is available.

Hyten’s career includes serving as commander of the 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base, which has responsibility for command and control, launch and early orbit operations, and operational support for more than 150 satellites, which should give him keen insight into the launch vehicle issues.   After graduating from Harvard with a B.A. in engineering and applied sciences through an Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship, his career reflects a long history in space acquisition and operations, including senior engineering positions on Air Force and Army anti-satellite weapons programs.  He served as Director of Space Forces for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.  In addition to commanding the 50th Space Wing, he also commanded the 595th Space Group and was Director, Space Programs, in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition before becoming Vice Commander of AFSPC.   His promotion to General was confirmed by the Senate on April 9, 2014.

General John E. Hyten.  Photo Credit:  Air Force Space Command

Hyten spoke at the Space and Missile Defense (SMD) Symposium in Huntsville, AL this week.  As reported by Space News, Hyten characterized the Atlas V as “the most beautiful rocket ever built by man” but agreed that the United States should not be dependent on Russia for access to space.

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