Space Force developments this week: U.S. Space Command moving forward

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SN Military.Space Sandra Erwin

In the last working week of the year, there is no slowing down in the Defense Department’s space reorganization. The White House has given the Pentagon the order to stand up a U.S. Space Command as a separate combatant command.

In a Dec. 18 memo, President Trump directed the Pentagon to establish a U.S. Space Command as a Unified Combatant Command. “In consultation with the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I direct the establishment, consistent with United States law, of United States Space Command as a functional Unified Combatant Command. I also direct the Secretary of Defense to recommend officers for my nomination and Senate confirmation as Commander and Deputy Commander of the new United States Space Command.” the memo said.

According to a CNN report, Vice President Mike Pence will stop by the Pentagon this week to discuss the space reorganization.

With regard to the proposal for standing up a Space Force as a separate military branch, “We’re on final approach,” Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Thursday.

The proposal will have to get the green light from the White House before it is submitted to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. Along with the legislative proposal, the Pentagon will have to request funding for the new branch in the fiscal year 2020 budget.

HOW WILL THE SPACE FORCE BE ORGANIZED?  That is likely to be the major sticking point. If the Space Force is set up under the existing Department of the Air Force, the cost would be lower than organizing it under a separate department. “There were two primary options,” said Shanahan. “We’re now down to one option.”

He said he could not disclose what option is in the proposal until the coordination process is completed. According to sources, DoD would favor organizing the Space Force under the structure of an existing department to keep bureaucratic bloat to a minimum.

GRIFFIN TURNS TO DARPA TO RECOMMEND WAY AHEAD ON SPACE DEVELOPMENT AGENCY  Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin directed Fred Kennedy, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, to lead a study team and come up with recommendations for the implementation of the Space Development Agency. Griffin, in a Dec. 6 memo, gave Kennedy 45 to 60 days to complete the study, with an interim report due to Deputy Defense Secretary Shanahan by Jan. 5.

WHY KENNEDY WAS SELECTED The decision to assign this task to Kennedy is not surprising given his space expertise and track record attracting commercial space companies to defense programs. Like Griffin, Kennedy has been a longtime critic of the DoD culture that favors exquisite satellites that take decades to develop and cost far more than products available in the open market. In the tasking memo, Griffin said he expects the study team to “focus on the requirements for a low earth orbit communications transport layer.” DARPA has been a champion of nontraditional approaches to making space systems more resilient by using small satellites in large numbers.

A DARPA spokesman said the makeup of the team that will be working with Kennedy on the study is not yet known. The spokesman said the study should not be characterized as a DARPA project because the study team may include others outside the agency. The project was assigned to Kennedy based on his “unique commercial and government space expertise.”

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