COLORADO SPRINGS — The head of U.S. Space Command said Aug. 24 that the warfighting force he leads has reached Initial Operational Capability.  The IOC designation means the United States’ 11th and newest combatant command now has enough people and resources to protect U.S. satellites, deter aggression and provide space-based services to the U.S. military. 

U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, who was put in charge of Space Command a year ago, made the announcement Aug. 24 during a keynote speech at the 36th Space Symposium here.

“We are a very different command today at IOC than we were at stand-up in 2019, having matured and grown into a warfighting force, prepared to address threats from competition to conflict in space, while also protecting and defending our interests in this vast and complex domain,” he said.

Dickinson said reaching initial operational capability is an important milestone for the two-year-old command. “It’s an indication that we’ve moved out of our establishment phase.”

U.S. Space Command was originally created in 1985 but was deactivated in 2002 and its duties were transferred to U.S. Strategic Command in 2002. The Trump administration re-established it in August 2019 as the Defense Department’s 11th combatant command.

The command is headquartered at Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado, and supported by two field organizations: a Combined Force Space Component Command at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California; and a Joint Task Force Space Defense at Schriever Space Force Base, Colorado.

“U.S. Space Command is ready to deter conflict, and if necessary, defeat aggression and, along with allies and partners, defend our vital interests in the space domain,” Dickinson said.

There are about 1,500 people now working at U.S. Space Command including headquarters and field organizations. It has representatives from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Space Force.

Space Command soon will begin conducting its own military exercises focused on space Warfighting, said Dickinson. Planned exercises include Space Thunder,  Space Lightning and Space Challenge. 

The next step in the organization of the command will be to achieve full operational capability. But that could take several years, said Dickinson. 

To be fully operational, he said, the command will need to double the size of its headquarters staff which currently has 600 people. 

Space Command also needs a permanent headquarters. It was temporarily stood up at Peterson Space Force Base pending a basing decision by the Department of the Air Force. Former Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett announced in January that the Air Force had selected Huntsville, Alabama, as the new location for Space Command headquarters.

Colorado lawmakers have since pushed back, claiming the decision was politically motivated and that the Air Force initially had recommended keeping Space Command at Peterson. 

That argument was given new credence following public comments by former president Donald Trump that he told the Air Force to move Space Command to Alabama.

The basing decision process is now being reviewed by the DoD inspector general and the Government Accountability Office.

Dickinson, in an Aug 23 interview with SpaceNews here, said the command needs to have a permanent headquarters location sooner rather than later so it can move forward with its organization and plans.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...