Space Command Gets to Work While Congress Continues to Debate Space Force

Space Command Gets to Work While Congress Continues to Debate Space Force

An establishment ceremony was held today at Peterson AFB, CO, the initial home of U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM).  Gen. Jay Raymond, Commander, and Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlined the new Command’s purpose and goals.  At the same time, Congress returned from its summer recess to work on finalizing the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and whatever it will say about creating a new Space Corps or Space Force as a sixth military service.

USSPACECOM was officially re-established after a 17-year hiatus at a Rose Garden ceremony on August 29 presided over by President Trump. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper signed the official documents. Creating a new unified combatant command does not require congressional approval.  Congress will have to pass legislation to authorize and fund a new military service, however.

The original USSPACECOM was created in 1985 and abolished in 2002 after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks led to a restructuring of U.S. unified combatant commands.

During the Establishment Recognition Ceremony today, Raymond noted that he served in the original USSPACECOM “as a young major.”  Today’s Command reflects a different time, however, a “strategic inflection point where there is nothing that we do as a joint force that isn’t enabled by space, and yet simultaneously we can no longer have the luxury of assuming space superiority. We are the best in the world at space” and we are “even better because now we have a Command with a singular focus on space superiority.”

Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, U.S. Space Command commander, walk together and share conversation before a joint ceremony recognizing the nation’s 11th combatant command at Peterson Air Force Base, Sept. 9 2019. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Dennis Hoffman.

USSPACECOM is the country’s 11th unified command.  The other 10 span regional or functional areas ranging from U.S. Northern Command to U.S. Strategic Command to U.S. Cyber Command.  They provide command of military forces both in times of peace and war across the military services.

By contrast, the five services (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard) “organize, train, and equip” the military.  The Trump Administration wants to create a sixth military service — the Space Force.  Although Trump’s eventual goal is a Department of the Space Force “separate but equal” to the Air Force, its March request to Congress was for a Space Force as part of the Air Force.  That would be similar to the Marine Corps, which is part of the Department of the Navy.  A new military service, but not a separate department.

The idea of a Space Corps analogous to the Marine Corps originated in the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) two years ago.  After many twists and turns, that essentially is what the Trump Administration has asked Congress to approve, but under the name Space Force.  The House and Senate have passed somewhat different versions in the FY2020 NDAA and are in the process of negotiating a compromise. The House bill retains the Space Corps nomenclature, while the Senate bill adopts Space Force, but in both cases it is part of the Air Force.

On September 4, Russell Vought, Acting Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), sent the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee a letter detailing concerns about the Senate version of the NDAA, including those relating to the Space Force.  He asserts it does not provide the necessary legislative authority to create the Space Force as a separate branch of the Armed Forces.

While the bill provides some elements to elevating the space domain, it does not provide the necessary legislative authority to establish the United States Space Force as the sixth branch of the Armed Forces. The Administration strongly urges the Congress to explicitly designate the Space Force as a separate sixth branch of the Armed Forces and include all related technical and conforming amendments. Further, quickly developing a strong, multifaceted culture is critical, and the Administration urges the Congress to provide authority to transfer personnel from all branches of the Armed Forces into the Space Force. — OMB Acting Director Russell Vought

The Air Force is currently headed by Acting Secretary Matt Donovan. Heather Wilson resigned as Secretary at the end of May. Today, Trump officially nominated Barbara Barrett to be Wilson’s successor.  Barrett’s nomination hearing is on Thursday, where these issues are likely to be discussed again.

Whatever the final version of the NDAA creates, it also must be funded.  That is the jurisdiction of the appropriations committees. The House passed the FY2020 defense appropriations bill in June, approving just $15 million of the $72.4 million requested.  The Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up up its version of the bill this week.  Subcommittee markup is tomorrow and full committee on Thursday.

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