U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, take reporters' questions Aug. 28 at the Pentagon. Credit: DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando

WASHINGTON — Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford is pushing ahead with plans to establish a U.S. Space Command. He will schedule a series of tabletop exercises this fall to help hash out specific details on the mission and the structure of the new combatant command, he said in a Sept. 24 memo to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.

Dunford’s memo, a copy of which was obtained by SpaceNews, comes on the heels of Wilson’s Sept. 14 proposal for the establishment of a Space Force as a separate military department. In his memo, Dunford addresses Wilson’s concerns about potential overlaps between the combatant command and the Department of the Space Force.

“With regard to your concerns on the unified command plan, we have removed the language authorizing service-like responsibilities for the commander of U.S. Space Command,” Dunford wrote. “If the secretary of the defense chooses to pursue unique responsibilities for the commander of U.S. Space Command in the future, we can incorporate any changes into the scheduled 2019 unified command plan update.”

Dunford also references Wilson’s concerns about making sure that the responsibilities for acquisitions of space systems be resident within the Space Force. The Joint Staff appears to favor modeling U.S. Space Command after U.S. Special Operations Command. But U.S. SOCOM has its own acquisition authority, and Wilson presumably would be opposed to giving U.S. Space Command that same level of procurement powers.

“I agree that the U.S. Space Command design should not assume all aspects of the U.S. Special Operations Command model., especially in terms of acquisition authorities which may require legislative action,” Dunford noted. “However, the U.S. SOCOM model is particularly informative on the development and shaping of U.S. Space Command’s war fighting functions, authorities, structure and command relationships,” he added. “These war fighting attributes of U.S. Space Command will be explored in tabletop exercises this fall.”

Dunford said the Air Force will be invited to participate in the discussions. “The U.S. SOCOM model, in particular its role as the global integrator for special operations, should inform the exercises,” he stated. “The upcoming tabletop exercises are critical to our collective understanding of U.S. Space Command, its mission, and war fighting attributes.”

Another sticking point between Wilson and the Pentagon’s space reorganization plan is the appointment of an assistant secretary of defense for space. She has argued that this office could add unnecessary layers of bureaucracy. In his memo, Dunford addresses Wilson’s reservations about the assistant secretary of space but suggests that the issue is far from being resolved.

“References to an assistant secretary of defense for space have been removed from the draft planning order” for the standup of U.S. Space Command, Dunford wrote. “Instead we will explore aspects of U.S. Space Command’s civilian oversight and relationships with the Defense Department through other exercises and learning events.”

He pointed out, however, that Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan’s  Sept. 10 implementation memo describes the creation of an assistant secretary of defense for space as a “critical stepping stone” to the president’s vision of a Space Force. Having that office “positions the Department of Defense closer to a future Space Force headquarters.”

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...