Pence to Speak at Pentagon on Thursday re Space Force — UPDATE

Pence to Speak at Pentagon on Thursday re Space Force — UPDATE

CNN and other media outlets are reporting that Vice President Mike Pence will speak at the Pentagon on Thursday about the Space Force.  We asked the Vice President’s office for confirmation, but did not receive a reply by press time.  We will update this article if/when we do.  Secretary of Defense Mattis addressed the Space Force issue during a press gaggle today. [UPDATE, August 8:  An Administration official confirms to that the Vice President will deliver remarks at the Pentagon on August 9 regarding creation of a Space Force.]

Pence chairs the White House National Space Council, which advises and assists the President regarding civil, commercial and national security space policy and strategy.

Vice President Michael Pence (White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)

As we have been reporting since March, President Trump has become very keen on establishing a “Space Force,” although exactly what he means is still coming into focus.  Presumably that will be the subject of Pence’s remarks and perhaps release of an interim report required by Congress last year on a plan to create a separate military department responsible for national security space activities.  The so-called “Shanahan report,” after Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, was due to Congress on August 1, but was delayed.

What we know so far is that the President wants a sixth military service that is “separate but equal” from the Air Force, not part of the Air Force as the House unsuccessfully proposed last year.  The House called it a Space Corps, analogous to the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy.

The Senate, the Pentagon and the White House did not agree.  The compromise in the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was the Shanahan report.  The interim report was due on August 1 and the final report on December 31, 2018.

Congress did not require a Space Corps or a Space Force in the FY2019 NDAA either, which cleared Congress last week.  The bill does make other changes, however, that some are characterizing as the first steps towards a Space Force.  They include:

  • Establishing a U.S. Space Command as a subunit of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM)
  • Developing a plan to establish a separate alternative process for space-related acquisitions
  • Developing a plan to improve the quality of the space cadre within the Air Force
  • Developing a space warfighting policy and plan that identifies joint mission-essential tasks for space as a warfighting domain

Pentagon and Air Force leaders strongly opposed the idea of a Space Corps, viewing it as antithetical to their ongoing efforts to cut overhead costs and to integrate, rather than segregate, the military services for joint warfighting in all domains (land, sea, air, space and cyber).

Publicly, at least, that changed on June 18 at the third meeting of the National Space Council where President Trump turned to Gen. James Dunford Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and specifically directed him to “immediately begin the process” to create a Space Force.

James N. Mattis, Secretary of Defense (U.S. Army photo by Monica King)

Secretary of Defense James Mattis was asked at a press gaggle today about creating a combatant command for space and whether that is the same as a separate service.  A transcript of the exchange is posted on DOD’s website.

Mattis strongly supported creating a combatant command for space.  USSTRATCOM is a combatant command, so creating a U.S. Space Command as a subunit could be a step in that direction.  The Pentagon had a separate unified U.S. Space Command as one of its 10 combatant commands from 1985-2002. It was abolished as part of the reorganization of U.S. unified combatant commands following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  At the time, the number of unified combatant commands was capped at 10 and with creation of a new U.S. Northern Command, one had to be deactivated.  U.S. Space Command was the one.  Many of its responsibilities were transferred to USSTRATCOM.

As for creating a separate service, Mattis said he does not have all the answers yet.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, do you — do you support establishing a new combatant command for space?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, absolutely.  We need to address space as a developing warfighting domain and a combatant command is certainly one thing that we can — we can establish.  This is a process we’re in.

We are in complete alignment with the president’s concern about protecting our assets in space that contribute to our security, to our economy.  And we’re going to have to address it as other countries show a capability to attack those assets.

Q:  But is that going to be the same as establishing a separate service, as the president has…

SEC. MATTIS:  We — we are working our way through all this.  We are in complete agreement.  The vice president is the — the — kind of the point man for the president on this.  We are working closely daily with his office and with supporters on Capitol Hill and the relevant committees.

So we’re working up what that actual organization will look like, it’ll be fit for purpose is what I can assure you.  But I don’t — I don’t have all the final answers yet, we’re still putting that together.

Q:  And you have a timeline for when this…


Q:  …Combatant command may…

SEC. MATTIS:  We’ll — we’ll get it right.  We’ll work it through the Congress.  We have the direction from the president and we’re underway.  — Secretary of Defense James Mattis, August 7, 2018


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