The proposal to form the U.S. Space Force is rooted in protecting America’s advantages in space and in ensuring such advantages continue, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan said during a roundtable discussion with Pentagon reporters Aug. 9.
Shanahan and Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke following Vice President Mike Pence’s announcement of the proposal to establish the U.S. Space Force, which would be America’s sixth armed service.
Space is now a combat domain, the leaders said. Russia and China have demonstrated capabilities to destroy, hack or jam satellites. The U.S. Space Force would concentrate expertise to protect those assets.
Importance of U.S. space operations
Shanahan and Selva emphasized that military operations worldwide depend on space. Squad operations in Afghanistan all the way through command and control of America’s nuclear deterrent depend on assets in space.
Space is an integral part of the National Defense Strategy and the DoD proposal for the way forward keeps that firmly in mind, the deputy secretary said.
“You know the first principle of change management is do no harm,” Shanahan said.
The plan calls for DOD to stand up a unified combatant U.S. Space Command under the direction of a four-star officer. Initially, that command would be patterned on U.S. Special Operations Command — where all the services contribute people and resources to accomplish the worldwide mission. And like Socom, the new Space Command would set the parameters for training and employment of the service assets.
Officials said that about 80 percent of space qualified personnel reside in the Air Force, but all services have personnel with space expertise. Selva said there are roughly 18,000 people in the services with a space qualifier badge. There are also a number of civilian personnel in the department with this expertise and thousands of contractors who could be drawn into the new command.
Another important aspect of the proposal should help speed development and acquisition of space assets. There are currently around 140 military satellites. What assets replace those satellites? Who maneuvers those satellites in time of tension? How does the department build in defenses or harden its space assets to prevent tampering or jamming? These are all questions that would be on the command’s plate.
Establishing the U.S. Space Force will require congressional action, and Shanahan and Selva said that even as the U.S. Space Command is standing up, another group of Pentagon officials will be drawing up proposed legislation to establish the sixth armed service.
A separate service will require a separate department under DOD like the Department of the Air Force. It will require a secretary, personnel systems, a promotion system, legal help, recruiting and more.