The Defense Department has identified a potential leader for the new U.S. Space Command and is currently moving the candidate through the vetting process, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said Jan. 29 at the Pentagon.

In his first official press briefing since assuming the role Jan. 1, Shanahan did not reveal the candidate’s name, but asserted “We do have a person we’re going to move through in terms of who would lead the Space Command.”

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan briefs the press Tuesday Jan. 29, 2019 at the Pentagon. (Photo: Defense Dept.)

President Trump signed a memo last December directing the Pentagon to establish U.S. Space Command, or USSPACECOM as it will be known (Defense Daily, Dec. 18, 2018), with the goal of opening it by 2020. The U.S. military formerly had a U.S. Space Command from 1958 to 2002, when it was merged with U.S. Strategic Command.

The new unified combatant command is one of four recommendations the Pentagon laid out in an August 2018 report that could be established without congressional approval. These four recommendations could ultimately lay the groundwork to form Trump’s coveted sixth military branch dedicated to space, which would need to be approved by Congress before establishment (Defense Daily, Aug. 9, 2018). A draft legislative proposal for the Space Force that would place it under the Air Force, similarly to the way the Marine Corps fits within the Navy, is currently winding its way through the DoD approval process (Defense Daily, Dec. 20). The legislative proposal is expected to be presented to Congress along with the fiscal year 2020 presidential budget request in early February.

A location for USSPACECOM has not yet been revealed, nor have any funding estimates for its establishment been released. It remains unclear how the Pentagon would divide assets and missions that currently fall under Air Force Space Command – which is expected to remain in place – between their current command and a new U.S. Space Command.

Defense Daily reporter Matthew Beinart contributed to this report.