ORLANDO, Fla. — The U.S. Space Force on Dec. 12 unveiled an overhaul of its command structure that consolidates two large organizations under a three-star general.

The name of the new organization, U.S. Space Forces-Space, is a bit of a mouthful, intended to capture the unit’s strong focus on meeting the needs of U.S. Space Command.  

Whereas the Space Force is a military service, U.S. Space Command is a Department of Defense unified combatant command responsible for planning and conducting military operations in the space domain. The command has representatives from all military branches, including the Space Force, from the U.S. intelligence community and several foreign allies. 

U.S. Space Forces-Space was officially activated Dec. 6 at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. It combines what was previously two organizations: the Joint Task Force Space Defense, and the Combined Force Space Component Command.

“The biggest thing is the competition we’re in.”

Lt. Gen. Douglas Schiess, commander of U.S. Space Forces-Space

The unit’s commander, Lt. Gen. Douglas Schiess, is dual-hatted. He is responsible to organize, train and equip units for the Space Force, and he is also in charge of U.S. Space Command’s component that oversees all space forces, whether they are from the Space Force or any other military branch.

Previously, U.S. Space Command’s two components were run by separate generals. Both will transition under Schiess.

The consolidation should improve the Space Force’s ability to deploy space-based assets quickly and effectively, Schiess said during a panel discussion at the Space Force Association’s Spacepower conference. 

It also should streamline support for joint military operations reliant on space-based assets, he said. With terrestrial forces heavily reliant on space-based GPS, communications, and intelligence, the Space Force faces a constant demand for reliable, ubiquitous capabilities.

U.S. Space Forces-Space has to be “laser focused” on terrestrial support to combatant commanders and on the defense of space assets, Schiess said.

“The biggest thing is the competition we’re in,” he said. “China has high powered lasers, they have jammers. They have direct-ascent, anti satellite weapons,” he added. “There’s obviously Russia as well, and we’re looking to North Korea and others that are bringing on capabilities as well.”

“So we have to make sure that we have the guardians able to perform the missions that they need to do to get after what the commander of U.S. Space Command needs them to do,” Schiess said. 

The revamped command structure also seeks to strike a balance between supporting earthly warfighters and international space cooperation at DoD’s regional combatant commands in Europe, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. 

Demand for coalition support

As more nations invest in developing their own military space programs, the U.S. is increasingly facing requests for assistance. Providing training, infrastructure, and expertise requires dedicated personnel and resources.

Col. Max Lantz, commander of the newly established U.S. Space Forces-Europe & Africa, said there are about 50 nations his command interacts with. The Space Force component in Europe also serves as the “space whisperer” to help inform senior commanders’ decision making.

Lantz is a proponent of more educational opportunities for U.S. allies, such as allowing officers from partner nations to take the same space courses as U.S. service members. 

“Education is kind of the foundation for all of that kind of engagement,” he said. “When we can talk in a common lexicon, when we have a common understanding of the physics involved in the space domain, that’s quite important,” he said. “That gives us a foundation to build a relationship.”

Nations with more mature military space programs such as the United Kingdom, France and Germany are starting training programs aimed at allies with nascent capabilities, said Lantz. “Especially when we start talking about the African continent, there are opportunities for education. So that’s a key step for us.”

There are increasingly more requests from allies for space operations training, said Lantz. “And they are starting to become demanding customers,” he added. “I think what we’re gonna start to see is more and more of our operations becoming integrated.”

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...