The Defense Department and the intelligence community have found a solution for an ongoing discussion of how to better incorporate their respective space offices, and plan to merge the National Reconnaissance Office and the forthcoming U.S. Space Command into a new national space defense center, the acting director of national intelligence said Aug. 20.

Speaking at the sixth meeting of the National Space Council in Chantilly, Virginia, Acting DNI Joseph Maguire announced the recommendation that the new national space defense center will be a joint DoD-IC organization under U.S. Space Command, and will become “the center of gravity for defending our vital interests in space.”

“For the first time, there will be a unified structure that fully integrates intelligence community and Department of Defense space defense plans, authorities and capabilities to ensure seamless execution of space defense systems,” he said.

Should the U.S. military confront conflict in space, the NRO would take direction from the leader of U.S. Space Command based on a “jointly developed playbook” and informed by joint operations and wargames, he added. “If adversaries challenge us in space, they will face a truly unified national team.”

The recommendation is one of over 50 that were generated within a working group made up of individuals from 14 defense and intel organizations, Maguire said. “For years, there have been debates about how the NRO and military space organizations can be better integrated. Early on, we recognized that the proposed establishment of U.S. Space Command provides us with the opportunity to finally determine the appropriate level of integration.”

The decision to place the NRO under the purview of the new Space Command differs from prior DoD suggestions to place it within the proposed Space Force, which is currently under consideration by Congress. Predecisional departmental documents reviewed by Defense Daily in April identified about 1,100 NRO billets related to Air Force Space Command functions and operations that could move to the Space Force (Defense Daily, April 10).

However, then-Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told the Senate Armed Services Committee in April that while “deepening the connection” between the service and the NRO was important, it may not require shifting the organizational chart (Defense Daily, April 12).

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire speaks Aug. 20, 2019 at the sixth National Space Council meeting. (Screenshot: White House)

The full report of the working group’s recommendations is in final coordination and review and will be presented to President Trump for approval, Maguire said.

A Navy veteran who retired in 2010 after serving as the commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, Maguire took over leadership of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Aug. 16 following the resignations of former Director Dan Coats and Deputy Director Sue Gordon. Maguire most recently served as director of ODNI’s National Counterterrorism Center since being confirmed in December 2018.