Space Force: Pentagon moving closer to Trump’s vision

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Officials agree that space has to be treated as a warfighting domain. But how exactly to do that is still under debate.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — President Trump is all-in on having a separate military service for space. The Pentagon has been working on a study on different paths to get there. There are still many disagreements and details to be worked out. “But all that says is that we have a threat in space,” said Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command.

“We’re working all those issues,” Hyten said of the upcoming reforms. The important thing to keep in mind is that “we have to treat space like a warfighting domain,” he said. “It’s about speed, about dealing with the adversary.”

“We have huge challenges in space,” Hyten insisted during a keynote speech on Tuesday at the Space & Missile Defense Symposium. The reorganization that will occur in the coming years is a necessary response to deal with “our two big adversaries Russia and China.”

A report that will put forth options for how to create a Space Force is expected to be out this week. It is now being reported that Vice President Mike Pence will share details of the reorganization on Thursday at the Pentagon. According to Fox News’ Kristin Fisher, Pence will “specifically lay out the need for a Space Force and the next steps for its creation.”

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan had scheduled a news conference last week to discuss the department’s recommendations, but the meeting was cancelled at the 11th hour.

Sources told SpaceNews that this is a sign that the White House is not taking any chances on an issue the president feels strongly about. Although there is support in DoD to elevate Air Force Space Command to a sub-unified or unified full combatant command, the Pentagon until now had not expressed full throated support for a Space Force as a separate branch of the military. Regardless of what the Pentagon or the White House recommends, only Congress has the authority to form a new military service

Comments on Tuesday by Defense Secretary James Mattis were the closest to a direct endorsement of a Space Force that he has expressed thus far. “We are in complete alignment with the president’s concern about protecting our assets in space that contribute to our security, to our economy,” Mattis told reporters. “We need to address space as a developing warfighting domain and a combatant command is certainly one thing that we can  establish,” he said. “This is a process we’re in.”

Mattis noted that Pence is closely involved in the reorganization. “The vice president is kind of the point man for the president on this,” Mattis said. “We are working closely, daily, with his office and with supporters on Capitol Hill and the relevant committees.”

A reporter pressed Mattis to clarify whether he believes a Space Command is the same thing as establishing a separate service, as the president has ordered. “We are working our way through all this,” he said. “I don’t have all the final answers yet, we’re still putting that together. … We have the direction from the president and we’re underway.”

Observers have wondered whether DoD would try to substitute a unified Space Command for a separate service. According to one expert source, the White House would be unhappy with that recommendation but would not want to create the impression that it is micromanaging the DoD report because that could backfire on Capitol Hill. Regardless, the report that Pence will unveil this week will move the process forward toward the president’s vision.