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Trump Declares New Space Command Key to American Defense

August 30, 2019 by Dan McCue
The flag of the U.S. Space Command is unfurled in the Rose Garden of the White House | August 29, 2019. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

WASHINGTON —President Donald Trump announced Thursday the Pentagon has established the U.S. Space Command, declaring space as being crucial to the nation’s defense.

“It’s a big deal,” the president said during a Rose Garden ceremony. “As the newest combatant command, SPACECOM will defend America’s vital interests in space — the next warfighting domain.”

“I think that’s pretty obvious to everybody,” he added, emphasizing the notion that the heavens have been increasingly militarized in recent years.

“It’s all about space,” Trump said.

He said Space Command, headed by a four-star Air Force general, will “ensure that America’s superiority in space is never questioned and never threatened.”

“Our adversaries are weaponizing Earth’s orbits with new technology targeting American satellites that are critical to both battlefield operations and our way of life at home,” Trump said. “Our freedom to operate in space is also essential to detecting and destroying any missile launched against the United States.

“So, just as we have recognized land, air, sea, and cyber as vital warfighting domains, we will now treat space as an independent region overseen by a new unified geographic combatant command,” he said.

The president called the creation of a Space Command “a landmark day” that “recognizes the centrality of space to America’s national security and defense.”

Although Thursday’s Rose Garden ceremony had an air of a victory lap about it, the president’s declaration still fell short of creating an actual “Space Force.”

The Space Force, a sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Forces that Trump said “will organize, train, and equip warriors to support SPACECOM’s mission,” has yet to win final approval by Congress.

The role of the new Space Command is to conduct operations such as enabling satellite-based navigation and communications for troops and commanders in the field and providing warning of missile launches abroad.

The Space Force, on the other hand, will be a distinct military service like the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

Congress has moved slowly when it comes to approving the creation of a Space Force due to skepticism from lawmakers of both parties.

Earlier this summer, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved the establishment of a Space Force in its defense authorization bill.

“We know space is a warfighting domain, so we are setting up the U.S. Space Force with the Air Force. Our strategy will set the Space Force up for success now and in the future by minimizing bureaucracy,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said in a statement.

Although Senate defense authorizers are backing the formation of the new service and will fully fund it at $72.4 million, its proposed structure differs from that put forward in the White House’s legislative proposal.

Under the proposal approved by President Donald Trump, the Space Force would be organized under the Department of the Air Force. It would have a civilian undersecretary of the Air Force for space, who would report to the Air Force secretary. Its highest-ranking military officer, the Space Force chief of staff, would also report to the Air Force secretary and be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Senate’s proposal, however, does not authorize an undersecretary of the Air Force for space, said a senior committee aide.

The Space Force plan faces more resistance in the House.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has acknowledged that “space is an essential aspect of nearly everything we do,” but has gone on to say “details of the Space Force proposal sent to Congress by the President are highly problematic.”

“First, it seeks to create a top-heavy bureaucracy with two new four-star generals and a new Under Secretary of the Air Force to oversee a force of approximately 16,000 people,” Smith said. “Second, it requests an almost unlimited seven-year personnel and funding transfer authority that seeks to waive a wide range of existing laws – all without a detailed plan or analysis of the potential end state or cost. 

“Finally, a large part of the proposal is an attack on the rights of DoD civilian employees. It asks for broad authority to waive long-standing and effective elements of civil service rules, pay rates, merit-based hiring, and senior civilian management practices,” the committee chairman said.

Despite Smith’s reservations, the House Armed Services Committee approved its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, including the Space Force, in June.

The House and Senate bills differ on some points, and an effort to reconcile the two will begin after Congress returns from its August recess.

For instance, while both bills explicitly rule out folding the National Reconnaissance Organization and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency into the future Space Force, the Senate bill explicitly limits the new force to Air Force personnel only; the House version does so implicitly, although the committee said it would be willing to relook at the issue next year.

The Senate bill gives the Pentagon and the Air Force one year to reorganize and stand up the new force, but the House bill foresees a more gradual change-over, likely not being completed until 2023.

The Senate bill provides specific instructions to the Pentagon and Air Force about how to reorganize space acquisition authorities; the House bill would create a separate system for all space acquisition, but asks the Defense Department to come up with a plan for how to do so by Feb. 1, 2020.

And while the Senate approved the Pentagon’s full $72.4 million request for the new service, House appropriators allotted only $15 million for the force.

Among those at Wednesday’s ceremony was new Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who said he strongly supports creating both a Space Force and a command dedicated to space.

“To ensure the protection of America’s interests in space, we must apply the necessary focus, energy and resources to the task, and that is exactly what Space Command will do,” Esper said.

“As a unified combatant command, the United States Space Command is the next crucial step toward the creation of an independent Space Force as an additional armed service,” he added.

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