Hyten Enthusiastic About USSPACECOM, But Wants Some Operations To Remain in Omaha

Hyten Enthusiastic About USSPACECOM, But Wants Some Operations To Remain in Omaha

At a Senate hearing today, Gen. John Hyten, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), enthusiastically supported reestablishment of a U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) to ensure space warfighting gets the priority it needs.  However, to ensure a seamless transition he wants some of its operations to remain at USSTRATCOM headquarters in Omaha. He also voiced support for the latest plan to create a Space Force as part of the Air Force, but repeated his opposition to a new military department.

Gen. John Hyten, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee, February 26, 2019.

Hyten testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) along with Gen. Terrence O’Shaugnessy, Commander of U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

Committee chair Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI) both raised the issues of Space Command and Space Force in their opening statements, but the topic received little attention during the more than two hour hearing.  Democrats aimed many of their questions at O’Shaugnessy and whether he perceives a threat at the southern border that justifies President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency.  The status of the nuclear triad and nuclear modernization, as well as Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Force treaty, were other popular topics.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) finally asked about USSPACECOM and how to ensure a seamless transition of responsibilities from USSTRATCOM.

A unified combatant command, U.S. Space Command, existed from 1985-2002, but was abolished in a reorganization of the U.S. combatant commands following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. USNORTHCOM was created instead, and USSPACECOM’s responsibilities were transferred primarily to USSTRATCOM.

President Trump decided last year to reestablish a U.S. Space Command and initial steps are underway.  Hyten is fully supportive of a new USSPACECOM, but wants to make sure the transition does no harm.

“I care desperately about space, but as a commander of Strategic Command, space will never be my number one priority. In fact right now it’s about number three” behind nuclear modernization and operations and nuclear command and control.  Considering the importance of space, it is “not good to have that priority.”  What is needed is a separate command and a commander who can “focus on space 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and that’s why we’re standing up a Space Command.”

Hyten added that he was around when the original U.S. Space Command was absorbed into USSTRATCOM in 2002 “and I watched us almost break the space mission” because 500 plus billets were “haphazardly” reassigned from USSPACECOM headquarters in Colorado Springs to USSTRATCOM in Omaha, but people did not automatically make the move.

Now the reverse will take place and Hyten is intent on avoiding that outcome.  Consequently, “we’re going to continue to perform a lot of the mission for Space Command in the STRATCOM headquarters,” regardless of where USSPACECOM is located, a decision that is pending.  Colorado, Florida and Alabama are oft-mentioned possibilities.  “We don’t know the final destination of where that’s going to be.  We can’t break the mission because we have threats to deal with today.”

As the hearing drew to a close, Inhofe asked if there were any other issues the witnesses wished to address.  Hyten pointed out that they had not discussed Space Force.

“I want you to know that I support the concept of the Space Force inside the Air Force that the President now is pushing,” Hyten said. “I give the President and the Vice President big credit for not creating a Department of the Space Force at this time” because it would create unnecessary bureaucracy.  It may be appropriate some day, but not yet, he added.

Trump called for a separate military department last summer, but signed Space Policy Directive-4 (SPD-4) last week that instead envisions putting Space Force inside the Air Force.  That idea originated in the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) in 2017, although it was called Space Corps instead of Space Force.  SASC did not agree, however.

Much has changed since then, but whether Congress will go along with Trump’s proposal remains to be seen.  The actual proposal has not yet been submitted to Congress yet, so today’s hearing did not get into specifics.  Reed made clear that while he supports USSPACECOM, he is “dubious” about creating a new military department because it will “distract rather than provide focus to the critical issue of space.”

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