Scolese, Raymond Breeze Through SASC Confirmation Hearing

Scolese, Raymond Breeze Through SASC Confirmation Hearing

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s (SASC’s) nomination hearing this morning was a friendly affair.  Chris Scolese, nominee to be the next Director of the National Reconnaissance Office, and Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, nominee to be Commander of U.S. Space Command and remain as Commander of Air Force Space Command, assured the committee that the organizations will continue to have strong working relationships under their leadership.

The question on the minds of many SASC members was how to ensure that the three organizations —  the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), Air Force Space Command (AFSC), and the reestablished U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) — will work together effectively.

Raymond said the AFSC/NRO relationship has never been better, characterizing it as a “unity of effort.”  Asked how often they meet, he said it is not a matter of saying “let’s have a meeting.”  Instead “we talk routinely every second of the day” and have developed a joint strategy and Concept of Operations (CONOPS) and share programs.

Chris Scolese, nominee for NRO Director, testifies to the Senate Armed Services Committee, June 4, 2019.

Scolese is the first NRO Director nominee to require Senate confirmation pursuant to the 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act.  NRO builds and operates the nation’s spy satellites.  He agreed that his understanding is that the two work very well together and committed to ensuring that continues.

He currently is Director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.  SASC member Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who also is the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee that funds NASA, asked Scolese what lessons were learned from two “large, complex” space programs that went “out of control” — the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).   Scolese replied that in 2010 when he was NASA Chief Engineer he looked in detail at what was causing overruns and schedule delays and developed nine guidelines that were used on subsequent programs that have performed much better.

Scolese’s nomination must be approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee as well as SASC.  At his May 1 nomination hearing before the  Intelligence Committee, he emphatically agreed with committee members that NRO should not be incorporated into the Space Force. SASC Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) asked him today how he could make such a definitive statement when the details of the Space Force were not known at that time.  SASC agreed to create a Space Force that is somewhat different from what the Pentagon proposed in its version of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act on May 23.  The House has not acted yet.

Scolese replied that his comments were in keeping with Space Policy Directive-4, which states that the NRO will not be part of the Space Force, but also requires the Secretary of Defense and Director of National Intelligence to provide a report on how they will collaborate. That appeared to satisfy Inhofe.

Gen. Jay Raymond, nominee to be Commander, U.S. Space Command, and Commander, Air Force Space Command, testifies to Senate Armed Services Committee, June 4, 2019.

Raymond is already a four-star General and Commander of AFSC, but must be reconfirmed for both of those positions in addition to the new job of USSPACECOM commander.  He also currently is the Joint Force Space Component Commander under U.S. Strategic Command. It is that position which is being elevated to Commander of USSPACECOM. Under the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act, the Services organize, train and equip military forces, while the 11 (including USSPACECOM) geographical and functional combatant commands have control of joint military forces. Thus Raymond already has responsibility both for the organize, train and equip function wearing his Air Force hat and warfighting with his Joint Force hat.  That will remain if he is confirmed as USSPACECOM Commander.

SASC wants the USSPACECOM Commander also to be Commander of the U.S. Space Force for one year, after which the positions will split.  Raymond expressed strong support for establishing a Space Force and appreciation for the work SASC has done, while mentioning that he has not seen all the details of what the committee approved, only what was publicly released.

Inhofe noted that USSPACECOM’s Area of Responsibility (AOR) begins at 100 kilometers or 54 nautical miles above mean sea level and if forces are deployed in another combatant command’s AOR but move into space, they will be under the control of USSPACECOM unless otherwise directed.  He asked if Raymond sees any problems integrating and synchronizing with the other combatant commands under those circumstances. Raymond assured him there would be no competition and if confirmed he wants to have integrated planning elements in each of the other combatant commands to allow seamless integration.

At the end of the hearing, Inhofe said both nominees “will do a great job” and he looks forward to working with them.

With the Senate Intelligence Committee on board with Scolese’s nomination, there appear to be no impediments to their confirmations.  However, any Senator can put a hold on any nomination for any reason and often a hold is unrelated to the individual, but to a broader policy dispute.  When these nominations will be brought to Senate for a vote is an open question.


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