WASHINGTON — The four-star general in charge of Air Force Space Command based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has made more than 30 trips to Washington so far this year.
Starting next month, things will change. Gen. John ‘Jay’ Raymond will spend less time traveling back and forth to D.C. and more time running Space Command. He will have a three-star deputy in the Pentagon doing the “lifting” for him, Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, told reporters at a breakfast meeting on Thursday.
Maj. Gen. David Thompson, formerly deputy commander of Space Command and most recently Raymond’s special assistant, next week will receive his third star and be sworn into the new position of vice commander of Air Force Space Command to be based in the Pentagon. The Senate confirmed his appointment last week.
“We’re pretty excited” to have Thompson as a “forward based” officer representing Space Command, said Goldfein. “I really need General Raymond focused on running his command.”
Having a three-star Space Command official at the Pentagon was not the Air Force’s original plan, however. A year ago the service announced it would name a three-star deputy chief of staff for space operations, the A11 on the air staff. Service leaders argued the A11 would make sure space received proper attention and resources. Thompson at the time was identified as the likely A11.
The idea did not go over well with congressional critics who saw the A11 as a weak attempt to demonstrate the service cared about space as much as it cared about its air mission. The House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee was pushing to spin off space into a separate branch of the service, and members were put off by the idea that a deputy chief of staff was the Air Force’s answer to their concerns.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 eliminated the A11 position and directed the Pentagon to propose a different reorganization.
“We originally thought of the A11 as a model to follow as we had done with the A10 for the nuclear enterprise,” Goldfein said. “But Congress told us not to do that.”
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in January proposed the idea of a vice commander of Space Command based in D.C. This time Congress seemed more receptive.
Goldfein said Thompson is highly qualified, with a “deep background” in military space. “His responsibility will be to represent General Raymond” in all matters related to space programs, workforce and policies. “Having a vice commander forward to take on that responsibility will be really helpful,” said Goldfein. “We are going to make sure he’s fully integrated in all functions and activities.”
Each air staff function — personnel, operations, planning, programming and others — will have “embedded space professionals, making sure we have the funding placed toward space procurements, space modernization,” Goldfein said. A panel under the A8 deputy chief of staff for programs and resources will be assigned the space portfolio.
“Thompson will help Raymond advance Air Force Space Command issues in D.C.,” Goldfein said. The Air Force is now “focused heavily on transitioning to space as a warfighting domain.”
In the 2019 budget request, “we are making some pretty bold moves in space,” he said. “It’s the largest increase in the space budget since 2003.”