U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) achieved initial operational capability (IOC) last August, but is still three years away from full operational capability (FOC), Army Gen. James Dickinson, the head of the command, told a Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing on March 8.
“We are in the process right now of building the infrastructure that we need to do the mission I’ve been given today, and we’re moving in that direction,” Dickinson said in response to questioning from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). “I would say we’re three years away from full operational capability.”
That date is based on the required number of personnel, “attracting the right expertise within the command, and making sure I’ve trained those processes and procedures within the command to do the entire mission set that I’ve been given.”
First established in 1985 to provide joint command and control for the military services in space, USSPACECOM broke up in 2002 and its functions transferred to U.S. Strategic Command before the re-establishment of USSPACECOM in August 2019 as the 11th combatant command. That re-establishment came four months before the creation of the U.S. Space Force as the sixth military service.
USSPACECOM’s mission is to conduct operations “in, from, and to space to deter conflict, and, if necessary, defeat aggression, deliver space combat power for the joint/combined force, and defend U.S. vital interests with allies and partners.”
At IOC last August, USSPACECOM reported that it had about 1,500 personnel at Peterson Space Force Base, Colo., and in the field.
At the March 8 SASC hearing, Shaheen suggested that the U.S. Air Force decision last year to move SPACECOM from its temporary headquarters at Peterson to Redstone Arsenal, Ala., did not make fiscal nor operational sense, given the urgency of Chinese and Russian threats to U.S. space systems.
“I’m puzzled, given the challenges of setting up this new command, of the fact that you’re still only at about 50 percent capacity in terms of the staffing you need, why we’re going to spend several years now trying to move SPACECOM to a new location,” Shaheen said. “Help me understand why, given all of our urgency and the decisions we need to make, we’re going to spend the money and the time to re-locate Space Command to a totally different place.”
In his reply, Dickinson referenced the Pentagon Inspector General and Government Accountability Office (GAO), which are separately reviewing the selection of Redstone Arsenal, a decision announced by former Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett on Jan. 13 last year.
On that date–a week before the end of the Trump administration, Barrett informed Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey that the Air Force had picked Redstone Arsenal as the preferred location for USSPACECOM’s permanent headquarters (Defense Daily, Jan. 13, 2021).
That same day, the House of Representatives impeached then-President Trump for a second time.
State officials in Nebraska and Colorado have questioned the Air Force’s decision and contend separately that Offutt AFB, Neb., and Peterson are better USSPACECOM headquarters locations than Redstone Arsenal.
Colorado Democratic Gov. Jared Polis suggested that then-President Trump had overruled the Air Force’s analysis of Peterson as the best location and forced the selection of Redstone Arsenal in an attempt to court Alabama’s congressional delegation, including freshman Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R), ahead of Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate for fomenting the mob that invaded the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
At the March 8 hearing, Dickinson told Shaheen that “for me, it is not necessarily about the location” of USSPACECOM.
“It is about the decision,” he said. “I need a decision as soon as I can possibly get one so that I can build to full operational capability as quickly as possible. We do have competitors that are moving very quickly. Those competitors aren’t necessarily waiting for me to reach FOC.”