Joint Chiefs nominee backs Senate’s piecemeal approach to establish Space Force
WASHINGTON — In his confirmation hearing as President Trump’s pick to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark Milley said he agrees with the Senate’s proposal to organize the Space Force incrementally and wait a year before a new four-star commander is appointed.
Milley, who is chief of staff of the U.S. Army, will play a central role in DoD’s space reorganization if he is confirmed by the Senate as chairman of the Joint Chiefs. During his confirmation hearing Thursday in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Milley offered full-throated support for the establishment of a space service and rejected the criticism that the new branch is just an “added layer of bureaucracy.”
His endorsement of the Senate’s piecemeal approach to standing up a Space Force puts Milley at odds with what the Pentagon proposed. In its version of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, the Senate rejected DoD’s plan to establish a service headquarters led by two four-star generals and an undersecretary of the Air Force for space. The Senate Armed Services Committee thought that was too much too soon. Instead it directed a one-year transition during which the Space Force would be run by Gen. John Raymond, who would be dual-hatted as commander of the Space Force and of U.S. Space Command. After the one-year transition, DoD would submit to Congress a plan to give the Space Force its own commander who would be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), told Milley during the hearing that the SASC insisted on an “incremental transition to avoid a major bureaucracy.”
Milley said he agreed. “I think the incremental steps are appropriate,” he said. “Dual hatting General Raymond is appropriate as we learn our lessons, develop and prototype it, and then we can split it off into Space Force and Space Command. I think it’s about right.”
Beyond the specific provisions in the NDAA, said Milley, “there is a broader issue, which is the recognition of space as a domain of military operations. Our economy depends on space, our military depends on space,” he said. “We have to have the capabilities, both offense and defense, to operate in that domain and do it successfully.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) challenged Milley to explain why a Space Force is needed at all. “Why another layer of bureaucracy that will be extremely costly?” Manchin asked. The senator suggested that the Air Force is doing just fine overseeing space and this is a case of trying to fix what’s not broken.
Milley disagreed. “I don’t know what the costs are … But I don’t see it as another layer of bureaucracy. I see it as a group of people that are going to be dedicated and focused on the training, manning, equipping, the doctrinal development and the protection, offense and defense, of U.S. operations in space,” Milley said. “Having a force that is dedicated to that is important. I’m not taking the view that it’s added bureaucracy. I see it as a complementary effort, not a duplicative effort.”
The House this week will be voting on its version of the NDAA, which proposes establishing a Space Corps led by a four-star commandant. The differences between both bills will have to reconciled in a House-Senate conference before the NDAA is sent to the president.
In written answers to questions from the SASC in advance of the hearing, Milley said the committee’s Space Force bill “puts us on the right track” and does not mention the House proposal. Regardless of what final language ends up in the National Defense Authorization Act, Milley wrote, “the key is that we continue to drive towards a Space Force that delivers trained space warriors and capabilities to maintain U.S. advantages in space.”
Power competition in space
In his written responses to the committee, Milley said the military needs to step up its posture due to “increased competition in the space domain” with Russia and China. “Our historic overmatch in space has eroded over time,” Milley said. “We must be prepared to defend our critical space sensors and increase the overall resilience of our space assets.”
The soon-to-be established U.S. Space Command “will work to sustain our advantages in space, engage with allies and partners, and ensure that space remains a free and open domain,” Milley wrote.
Milley also said he favors closer ties between DoD and intelligence agencies that have space expertise. “The DoD and intelligence community each have distinct responsibilities and authorities in space. When it comes to protecting and defending our space capabilities, however, the two organizations must be in lockstep,” he wrote. He mentioned Joint Task Force Space Defense — one of the components of U.S. Space Command to be based at the National Space Defense Center in Colorado Springs — is an integrated DoD and National Reconnaissance Office organization.
Milley said he supports more investments in space sensors to defend the United States and allies from missile attacks. “Space based sensors can monitor, detect, and track missile launches from locations almost anywhere on the globe unimpeded by the constraints that geographic limitations impose on terrestrial sensors,” he said. But Milley does not endorse the use of space-based weapons to intercept missiles. “The efficacy of boost-phase intercept and space-based intercept programs is still an open question.”
With regard to commercial space technology, Milley said it will help DoD achieve “operationally responsive replenishment capability,” which is military-speak for the ability to deploy satellite constellations quickly if existing systems came under attack. “The rapid growth of commercial space in cheaper launch and proliferated satellite constellations is very promising,” he said.
On the question of what Milley views as his toughest challenge if confirmed as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the general’s response was the “complicated global security environment.”
“Specifically, we are in the midst of a great power competition with Russia and China and still face challenges from Iran, North Korea, and violent extremist organizations,” Milley wrote. “Though I’m confident in our capabilities, our adversaries have made great strides in narrowing the gap.”
Milley is expected to win easy approval. Several senators during the hearing said they looked forward to supporting his confirmation.