In joint confirmation hearing, Scolese and Raymond vow to cooperate on space matters

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NASA's Chris Scolese and Gen. Raymond breezed through the hearing where senators praised the nominees' track records and qualifications for the job.

WASHINGTON — “You both will do a great job,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) told Christopher Scolese and Gen. John Raymond on Tuesday at the conclusion of their confirmation hearing. President Trump nominated Scolese to be the next director of the National Reconnaissance Office and Raymond as the commander of U.S. Space Command.

Both nominees breezed through the hearing where senators praised Scolese’s and Raymond’s track records and qualifications for the job. Committee member did seem concerned, however, about the nominees’ plans to ensure the NRO and U.S. Space Command can work together in the future.

“An issue that will be paramount for both of you is Space Command’s relationship with the NRO,” SASC Ranking Member Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I) told Raymond and Scolese. The administration has proposed a Space Force and a unified space command in part to ensure that space has an integrated command structure. “But the NRO remains independent of the Space Command and Space Force, leaving a seam in our national security space,” Reed said.

The NRO is a joint intelligence community and Defense Department organization that develops, launches and operates signals, imagery and communications satellites. Scolese, currently the director of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, had his first confirmation hearing May 1 in front of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. If confirmed by the Senate, Scolese would be the first political appointee to run the NRO.

The administration in December proposed the re-establishment of U.S. Space Command, which existed from 1985 until 2002 when the George W. Administration decided to merge it with U.S. Strategic Command. Reed noted that the last nomination for a commander of Space Command was Gen. Ed Eberhart in 1999. Congress authorized a sub-unified Space Command in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act. SASC believes that a full unified command is “now appropriate,” said Reed.

Both Raymond and Scolese insisted that they intend to maintain close cooperation between their organizations and said they were eager to work together if confirmed. Scolese stood by his previously stated position that the NRO should remain independent because it also supports other non-defense agencies such as NASA.

“It’s critical that the NRO collaborate with all elements, particularly newly formed U.S. Space Command,” said Scolese. “But the NRO serves other agencies as well.”

Reed pressed the nominees to explain how they could carry out a coordinated response if a conflict broke out.

“It’s imperative we work together, train and work together so we know how are going to operate in a conflict situation,” said Scolese. “I’m committed to working with General Raymond to make sure we have coordinated effort, and understand each others’ roles.”

Reed noted that “someone has to have the last word” and asked Scolese whether he would expect the NRO to have the final word if a critical decision had to be made regarding a U.S. satellite. Scolese’s response: “It depends on the situation.”

Raymond said protecting and defending U.S capabilities is a responsibility of U.S. Space Command and that he foresees him and Scolese will show a “unity of effort.”

Raymond, if confirmed, would serve in dual roles as commander of U.S. Space Command and Air Force Space Command. “To some extent, the dual-hatting is not new,” Raymond said, as he has been serving as the Joint Force Space Component Commander under U.S. Strategic Command and as commander of Air Force Space Command since 2017. Although the two commands will be close partners, they have two separate staffs and different missions. U.S. Space Command is a combatant commander whereas Air Force Space Command organizes, trains and equips forces.

In its proposed markup of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, the SASC would also make Raymond the commander of the U.S. Space Force, temporarily for one year, until the new service gets up and running.

“We laid out an incremental approach, which hopefully sets it up for success,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).

Raymond said he had not read the SASC language on the Space Force organization and could not comment on it. “I’m fully in supportive of a Space Force,” he said. “If confirmed, I look forward to working with the committee to make sure we get this right.”

His plan for U.S. Space Command is to transfer approximately 640 people from U.S. Strategic Command who are currently performing duties at space mission operations centers. It will take several months to estimate full staffing requirements and determine the location of the headquarters. Raymond is now based at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.