The U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) commander told lawmakers Feb. 26 that he is supportive of plans to place the new Space Force under the Air Force, but noted that there is a need for a full department of the Space Force at some point in the future.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Tuesday, Air Force Gen. John Hyten commended President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for their decision to put the Air Force in charge of the new Space Force, as laid out in Space Policy Directive-4, signed by Trump Feb. 19 (Defense Daily, Feb. 19).

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, U.S. Strategic Command commander, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Feb. 26, 2019. Image: C-SPAN

“I give the president and the vice president big credit for not creating a Department of the Space Force at this time, but putting that capability in the Air Force,” Hyten said. He added that he was initially “very concerned” about creating excess bureaucracy with a sixth military branch dedicated to space.

“Creating a Department of the Space Force – it’s just not sized right now in order to do that,” he said. “It will be someday, but it’s just not reached that point right now.

He confirmed that the Defense Department’s legislative proposal for the Space Force will be released “shortly.” It is expected to be released with the fiscal year 2020 Presidential Budget request in mid-March. Hyten noted that “there will be some issues we’ll have to work out” with Congress, but did not elaborate.

The STRATCOM commander also lauded the decision to stand up a new combatant command dedicated to space, dubbed U.S. Space Command. Separate from the Space Force, SPACECOM will be responsible for the warfighting elements of space across the Defense Department, while the Space Force will be structured to organize, train and equip its forces with space capabilities, he noted. Those space capabilities are currently stationed mostly within the Air Force, but the Army, Navy and other defense agencies such as the Missile Defense Agency also currently control some elements.

U.S. Strategic Command is currently overseeing the space warfighting mission, and will continue to do so until U.S. Space Command is in place and will serve in a supporting role thereafter, Hyten said.

“I was around when we transitioned the old U.S. Space Command to U.S. Strategic Command in 2002. Now we’re kind of going back the other way,” he noted. Hyten was then serving as the chief of the space control division in the Air Force’s Directorate for Space Operations and Integration at the Pentagon.

“I watched us almost break the space mission when we did that, because … we slapped billets and said, ‘These 500-plus billets are going to move from Colorado to Omaha.’ And I’ll just say the people didn’t come with them automatically,” he said.

As U.S. Strategic Command commander, Hyten noted he cares “desperately” about space, but the domain is third on his list of priorities, behind nuclear modernization and operations and nuclear command and control.

“In the importance of space in this day and age, it’s not good to have that priority,” he said. “We need a command that focuses on that, and the commander of that command … he or she must have a focus on space 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”