Trump Orders Creation of the U.S. Space Command

Published: December 19, 2018

BudgetDEFENSEPolicy and LegislationPresident Trump

The new unified combatant command will tackle all space activities at the Defense Department, but it differs from a potential U.S. Space Force.

In a one-page memorandum on December 18, President Trump authorized the Department of Defense (DOD) to create the U.S. Space Command (USSC) as a functional Unified Combatant Command for carrying out joint space warfighting operations.

The FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included a provision directing the president to establish the new combatant command (COCOM) as a subordinate unified command under the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) and to be commanded by a general or admiral appointed by the president and staffed by all active and reserve space warfighting operational forces within the DOD. STRATCOM's current mission includes DOD space operations and the latest directive further raises the status of the space domain within national defense.

In the memo Trump also directed the Secretary of Defense to recommend officers for him to consider nominating as Commander and Deputy Commander of the new command. Both would need Senate confirmation. The Commander will be responsible for establishing the strategy, budget, operations, recruitment and training associated with the command.

As a Unified Combatant Command the USSC will assume all of the space-related responsibilities that currently reside at  STRATCOM as well as fulfill the responsibilities of Joint Force Provider and Joint Force Trainer for DOD Space Operations Forces. The memo states that a comprehensive list of authorities and responsibilities for the USSC are to be included in the next update to the Unified Command Plan. (The UCP is a classified document prepared by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) that assigns missions, planning, training, operational responsibilities and geographic areas of responsibilities to the COCOMs. It is reviewed and updated every two years.)

In a speech announcing the USSC at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Vice President Mike Pence said, “a new era of American national security in space begins today.” Pence noted that, “there are more than 18,000 military and civilian personnel working in space operations for our national security all across the Department of Defense. . . . The U.S. Space command will integrate space capabilities across all branches of the military. It will develop the space doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures that will enable our warfighters to defend our nation in this new era.”

The Associated press reported that the effort to organize and grow the DOD’s space operations could cost as much as $800 million over the next five years. The command would bring together roughly 600 current staff from existing military space offices, whose costs would transfer with them to the new command. The $800 million would mainly cover the cost of an additional 1,000 or more staff to be added going forward. There has been much debate about the total cost.

Looking Forward . . . to Space Force

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who appeared with Pence in Florida and held a press call after the announcement, answered speculation on whether the USSC would replace the existing Air Force Space Command. According to a Space News account of the press call, Wilson said both organizations fulfill different missions. U.S. Space Command will become the military’s unified command for space. Air Force Space Command, meanwhile, will be reorganized under the president’s plan to stand up a new military branch for space, i.e. Space Force.

Space Command should not be confused with the potential new U.S. Space Force, according to Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who is charged with establishing a Space Force as a new military branch. Space News also picked up on a thread on Twitter from Shanahan who said, “… the differences between Space Force and U.S. Space Command will largely parallel those of the other five military services and four functional combatant commands.” Shanahan added 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.”

The White House and Pentagon are in the process of working out the details of operationalizing the U.S. Space Command while simultaneously working with members of Congress on a legislative proposal for the creation of the Space Force.