Whiting Takes Command of U.S. Space Command

Whiting Takes Command of U.S. Space Command

In a change of command ceremony in Colorado Springs today, Gen. Stephen Whiting took over the reins at U.S. Space Command from Gen. James Dickinson. The handover was delayed several months by Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-AL) blockade of military promotions for most of last year.  Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks praised Dickinson for staying in his position until Whiting could be confirmed, delaying his own retirement. Hicks’s main message was that while China and Russia seek to turn space into a warfighting domain, the United States is committed to preventing conflict through deterrence.

Gen. Stephen Whiting speaks after assuming command of U.S. Space Command, January 10, 2024. Screengrab.

Dickinson took the helm of USSPACECOM in August 2020. Usually a three-year assignment, his departure had to wait for Whiting to be promoted to General and assigned to USSPACECOM.  Tuberville first blocked all military promotions and later relented except for four-star promotions. He finally dropped those demands in mid-December.

Whiting is the third commander of USSPACECOM, which was reestablished by President Trump in August 2019.  The first USSPACECOM existed from 1985-2002. It was abolished during a reorganization of the Unified Combatant Commands following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks when threats in or from space seemed remote. By 2019, the landscape had changed. Not only was USSPACECOM reinstated, but the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act created the U.S. Space Force, the first new military service since 1947. The Space Force and the Air Force are both part of the Department of the Air Force.

The Space Force and the other military services (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard) organize, train and equip personnel who are assigned as needed to the 11 Unified Combatant Commands that are in charge of warfighting. USSPACECOM is one of the 11 Unified Combatant Commands.

“Space is integral to military operations,” Hicks said and that’s “partly why our pacing challenge, the People’s Republic of  China, is rapidly expanding its space and counter-space capabilities and integrating them into a broader strategy to challenge our Joint Force and undermine U.S. interests. It’s why Russia has used counter-space threats to bolster its attempts to thwart U.S. interests and those of our allies and partners.”

Kathleen Hicks, Deputy Secretary of Defense, speaking at the U.S. Space Command change of command ceremony, January 10, 2024. Screengrab.

But that doesn’t mean there will be conflict in space.

“Both Russia and the PRC are evolving their military doctrines to extend into space. They’re both deploying capabilities that can target GPS and other vital space-based systems, and we’ve seen both countries conduct operations against us and our allies and partners to degrade our space advantages. Our competitors’ aggressive actions seek to turn space into a warfighting domain.

“But I want to be clear: Conflict is not inevitable in space or anywhere else, and the United States of America is committed to preventing conflict through deterrence by making clear to our competitors that the costs of aggression would far outweigh any conceivable benefits.” — Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks

Hicks also criticized the delay in Whiting’s promotion. While not naming Tuberville, she said “last year’s hold on general and flag officer promotions — unnecessary, unprecedented and unsafe” was “bad for the military, bad for military families, and bad for America” and “should never be repeated.”

In his first address as USSPACECOM Commander, Whiting said he has a “sober appreciation” of USSPACECOM’s responsibility “to ensure that space remains a sustainable, safe, stable and secure domain for all humankind.”

“I have a sober appreciation of the tremendous responsibilities placed on our shoulders to ensure that space remains a sustainable, safe, stable and secure domain for all humankind. Our highest priority is to preserve freedom of action in space and our moral responsibility is ensuring delivery of space capabilities to the Joint Force to enable all domain dominance to protect the Joint Force from space-enabled attack and to lead and win the space fight by achieving space superiority.” Gen. Stephen Whiting

Whiting has spent his military career in space-related assignments and most recently was Commander of Space Operations Command, one of the three U.S. Space Force field commands.

U.S. Space Command has been in the news recently not because of the work it’s doing, but because of the battle over whether it should remain in Colorado Springs or move to Huntsville, AL.  The matter remains unresolved at least for House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) who is determined to get it to Alabama despite President Biden’s decision to keep it in Colorado.

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