President Donald Trump launched a new Pentagon command dedicated to warfare in space on Thursday, as American military chiefs see China and Russia pressing hard to erode the US advantage in the newest military frontier.
“This is a landmark day, one that recognizes the centrality of space to America’s security and defense,” Trump said in a White House ceremony.
“SpaceCom will ensure that America’s dominance in space is never threatened.”
The new command will elevate space -- largely the satellites and high-altitude aircraft essential to modern-day warfare -- to a focused theater of combat, the equivalent of US Central Command governing the Middle East and the Pacific Command, which manages US defenses in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia.
While the Department of Defense already has a unit of the Air Force focused on space warfare, the new command will heighten its importance and foster the specialized systems and training for “Star Wars”-type showdowns.
The role of the new Space Command is to conduct operations such as enabling satellite-based navigation and communications for troops and commanders in the field and providing warning of missile launches abroad. That is different from a Space Force, which would be a distinct military service like the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
Air Force General John Raymond, who will lead the new command, said US rivals are already focused firmly on how to fight in space as part of a broader conflict.
“We are at a strategic inflection point where there is nothing that we do as a joint coalition force that isn’t enabled by space,” Raymond said.
“I’m convinced that space is a war-fighting domain. I’m convinced that our way of life and our way of war depend on space capabilities,” he said.
Congress has inched toward approving the creation of a Space Force despite skepticism from some lawmakers of both parties. The House and Senate bills differ on some points, and an effort to reconcile the two will begin after Congress returns from its August recess.
When Jim Mattis was defense secretary, the Pentagon was hesitant to embrace the idea of a Space Force. Trump’s first Pentagon chief initially saw it as potentially redundant and not the best use of defense dollars. His successor, Mark Esper, has cast himself as a strong supporter of creating both a Space Force and a command dedicated to space.
“To ensure the protection of America’s interests in space, we must apply the necessary focus, energy and resources to the task, and that is exactly what Space Command will do,” Esper said on Wednesday.
“As a unified combatant command, the United States Space Command is the next crucial step toward the creation of an independent Space Force as an additional armed service,” he added.
The political debate over creating a military service for space has focused in part on whether it would be worth the added bureaucracy and extra competition for defense dollars.
“There is no reason to believe that adding an entirely new Space Force bureaucracy and pouring buckets more money into it is going to reduce our overall vulnerability in space. I think the taxpayers deserve better than this,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a Democratic presidential candidate, said at a Senate hearing in April that aired skepticism from Republicans as well as Democrats.