The White House has directed the Department of Defense to move forward with establishing a U.S. Space Command, without details of exactly when, or how, a new unified combatant command related to space would be stood up.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks Dec. 18 at Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida. (Screenshot: White House video)

USSPACECOM, as it will be known, will be the 11th combatant command in the U.S. military and will serve alongside other functional commands and led by a four-star flag officer, Vice President Mike Pence said in remarks Dec. 18 at Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida. The command will “establish unified control over all our military space operations,” and will integrate space capabilities from across all service branches, he added.

President Trump on Tuesday signed a memo directing the department to stand up USSPACECOM with all the “general responsibilities of a Unified Combatant Command” and the space-related responsibilities previously assigned to U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) as well as the joint force provider and joint force trainer for space operations forces. A comprehensive list of authorities and responsibilities for United States Space Command will be included in the next update to the Unified Command Plan, the memo said.

The goal is to stand up the command by 2020, Pence noted. The Pentagon has yet to announce a potential headquarters location or name a candidate to lead the command. Air Force Gen. Jay Raymond currently serves as Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) commander and the Joint Force Space Component commander, and his term is set to expire in 2022, according to AFSPC.

The combatant command is one of several steps the Pentagon laid out in an August report to Congress that could eventually lead to a fully-fledged Space Force, or a sixth military branch dedicated to space (Defense Daily, Aug. 9). Congressional approval is not required to stand up U.S. Space Command, but it would be required to create a Space Force.  

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said in a Tuesday tweet that “The Space Force will serve as a force provider for personnel, assets, and capabilities supporting space operations while Space Command will serve as the operational command that will employ space capabilities and lead space operations.” He added that the Pentagon continues to work on a legislative proposal that would lead to the creation of a Space Force, which is expected to be released in February.

President Trump is planning to sign a new space policy directive in coming “days” that will lay out a plan and timelines for standing up a Space Force, Pence added.

It’s not immediately clear how or when assets from services such as Air Force Space Command would shift over to U.S. Space Command. Shanahan said the Pentagon will work with Congress on a timeline to full operational capability.

AFSPC Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Christina Hoggatt said, “During this time, we are mission focused — dedicated to protecting our assets in space to contribute to our security and to our economy while providing tailored, responsive, theater and global space effects in support of national objectives,” in a Tuesday email to Defense Daily.

Air Force leadership is actively working with the Defense Department and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, to provide any needed space expertise and support to standup USSPACECOM, she added. “The establishment and execution is at the OSD level, and reflects the value of space contributions to national security, the evolution of threats to U.S. space systems, and the importance of deterring potential adversaries from attacking critical U.S. space systems,” she said.

The Aerospace Industries Association said in a Tuesday press release that the U.S. Space Command “has the potential to strengthen the United States’ ability to address the growing threats we face. But we must ensure that the process to stand it up is integrated with the other organizations that have been leading this work, because our country cannot afford to lose momentum in this critical area.”

The U.S. military previously had a U.S. Space Command, between 1958 and 2002 when it was merged with U.S. Strategic Command.