Trump Orders Establishment of Unified Combatant U.S. Space Command

Trump Orders Establishment of Unified Combatant U.S. Space Command

President Trump sent a memo to Secretary of Defense James Mattis today directing him to stand up a unified combatant command, U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM).  Such a command existed from 1985-2002, but was disbanded as part of a reorganization of combatant commands after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  Mattis also was directed to recommend to the President officers to serve as Commander and Deputy Commander of USSPACECOM.  They will require Senate confirmation.

The Trump Administration’s plan to establish a USSPACECOM has been known for months.  Today was the official direction from the President to Mattis to move forward.  The White House and DOD believe they do not need congressional approval for this action, but can implement it within their authorities under Title 10 of the U.S. Code and the President’s role as Commander in Chief.

It is part of a planned reorganization intended to improve how the national security community plans and executes space activities.  One aspect of that is Trump’s proposal to create a sixth military department, the Department of the Space Force.  “Space Force” has become shorthand for all of the planned steps even though each is unique.  USSPACECOM is not the Space Force and can exist whether or not a new department is established.

Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the White House National Space Council, laid out the full plan in August.

  • Create a unified combatant command for space — United States Space Command — led by a four-star flag officer.
  • Create a Space Operations Force, an elite corps of “space warfighters” to support the U.S. Space Command.
  • Create a joint Space Development Agency to ensure the Space Force has cutting-edge warfighting capabilities. It will focus on innovation, experimentation and forging the technologies of the future, breaking free of existing inefficient and duplicative bureaucracy.
  • Create a sixth military department, the U.S. Department of the Space Force, “separate but equal” to the others (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard) as phrased by the President.
  • Create a new civilian position at DOD, an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space, reporting to the Secretary of Defense, with responsibility and accountability for standing up and scaling up the U.S. Department of the Space Force.

Creating a Department of the Space Force is controversial, with key congressional leaders unconvinced of the need for what they see as more bureaucracy and the disruption it would cause.

USSPACECOM does not appear to be controversial, however.  In fact, the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) directed DOD to create a U.S. Space Command as a subunit of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), which inherited much of the original USSPACECOM’s responsibilities when it was abolished in 2002.

The Trump Administration has taken the congressional direction a step further by recreating the unified combatant command.  Air Force Space Command, headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, CO, and Army Space and Missile Defense Command, at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, AL, already exist, but not a specific unified combatant command to bring together all the services to execute space warfighting responsibilities.  That is currently part of USSTRATCOM’s purview in deterring strategic attack and employing forces to guarantee U.S. and allied security.

Vice President Mike Pence. Credit:  D. Myles Cullen.

Pence was at Kennedy Space Center this morning for the launch of the first GPS III satellite.  The launch was scrubbed, but he nonetheless announced that the President would sign the memo directing creation of USSPACECOM today. “It will establish unified control over all our military space operations. … And at President Trump’s direction, the U.S. Space Command will integrate space capabilities across all branches of the military.  It will develop the space doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures that will enable our warfighters to defend our nation in this new era.”

Military and civilian Pentagon leaders have been stressing for the past two years that space no longer is a benign environment, but a warfighting domain just like the other domains (air, land, sea and cyber).

Trump’s memo assigns the following responsibilities to USSPACECOM:

(1) all the general responsibilities of a Unified Combatant Command; (2) the space‑related responsibilities previously assigned to the Commander, United States Strategic Command; and (3) the responsibilities of Joint Force Provider and Joint Force Trainer for Space Operations Forces.  — President’s Memo to the Secretary of Defense, Dec. 18, 2018

USSPACECOM will join 10 existing combatant commands that provide command and control of military forces.  They have geographical or functional missions.

  • Africa Command
  • Central Command
  • Cyber Command
  • European Command
  • Indo-Pacific Command
  • Northern Command
  • Southern Command
  • Special Operations Command
  • Strategic Command
  • Transportation Command

Rumors are circulating that other decisions on the national security space reorganization plan will be announced in the next several days.  That could include specifics on what the President will propose to Congress with regard to creating the Department of the Space Force.  Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said last week that decisions have been made, but he was not ready to reveal them.

In a series of tweets today, Shanahan made the case for USSPACECOM and differentiated it from the Space Force.

Although Shanahan has said in the past, and Trump said in his memo, that DOD can create a unified command using existing authorities, one of his tweets today indicated that they will work with Congress on the timeline for reaching full operational capability of the new command.

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