Obama taps Raymond to lead Space Command

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. John “Jay” Raymond has been nominated by President Barack Obama to become the next head of Air Force Space Command, the service secretary said Sept. 7.

In a briefing with reporters, Deborah Lee James, the secretary of the Air Force, said Raymond, the current deputy chief of staff for operations, has been nominated to lead Space Command, which oversees 38,000 employees and organizing the Air Force’s space operations. He would also pin on his fourth star.

Raymond has been seen by industry and Pentagon insiders as a longtime favorite to replace Gen. John Hyten, the current head of Space Command. Hyten, who has led Space Command since August 2014, is thought to be a frontrunner to move to U.S. Strategic Command in the next 12 months, but there have been no formal announcements about his future assignments.

He has regularly received praise during speeches from senior leaders. In April, Bob Work, the deputy secretary of defense, described Raymond as one of the department’s “top space warriors.” In September 2015, Hyten used part of his speech at the annual Air Force Association speech to tell Raymond “you’re doing spectacular things and you need to continue to do spectacular things because you’re the (deputy chief of staff for operations.)” In addition, he was one of several Air Force leaders featured in a “60 Minutes” special in April 2015 that explained the ramifications of the national security space enterprise to the general public, a segment that is viewed as an overwhelming public relations success within the Pentagon.

Raymond has spent most of his 30-year military career in space operations. A Clemson graduate, he started his service at the end of the Cold War in a Minuteman missile silo, deployed to Southwest Asia after 9/11 to serve as director of space operations during Operation Enduring Freedom, and took over as commander of the 14th Air Force in 2014, leading the 19,500 men and women responsible for missile warning, space situational awareness, satellite operations, space launch and range operations.

There, Raymond is credited within the Air Force for taking lessons from the Schriever War Game, which is set in the future, and using those techniques to reshape current Air Force operations. For example, representatives from commercial satellite operators now work within the Air Force’s primary space nerve center, the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg, to provide a better sense of how commercial satellites are operated and how they could more closely coordinate with military space capabilities.

“I go back to Vandenberg, playing myself for real, and something happens in the space domain, a week or so later,” Raymond told SpaceNews earlier this year. “It would’ve been really good to have had a commercial space entity that I could call over and say ‘hey, can you help us out here?’ We didn’t. That void was loud and clear — and so I reached out to the commercial companies and said, ‘let’s see if we can develop a way to stand this up.’ We stood up a prototype cell with a couple people, and their charter was to figure out what this thing can be. What it’s going to become is a lot bigger than what it is today, but it’s already paying some pretty significant benefits.”

In his Pentagon role, Raymond is responsible for formulating the policies that support the Air Force’s air, space, cyber, irregular warfare, counter-proliferation, homeland security, and weather operations missions. That assignment, more likely to be held by a pilot than a seasoned space operator, was seen by some as a sign the Air Force is taking space more seriously. He’s also been spotted with senior leaders at the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the Defense Department and intelligence community are heading up an operations center to experiment with battle management techniques in space.

Watch Raymond explain how Air Force space operations are changing in this interview with SpaceNews‘ Mike Gruss.