WASHINGTON — After just a few months in existence, U.S. Space Command has grown in size, influence and is about to complete a detailed game plan for how the nation’s space assets will be defended. Its commander Gen. John “Jay” Raymond believes that the establishment of a U.S. Space Force will be a big boost to U.S. SPACECOM and to the nation’s ability to protect its satellites and defeat aggressors.

“I’m really excited for the Space Force,” Raymond said Dec. 9 at the Pentagon during an interview with SpaceNews. “I think it’s going to provide another huge advantage for our nation.”

Congressional defense committee leaders on Dec. 9 unveiled details of the conference agreement for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 that authorizes a U.S. Space Force as an independent military branch under the Department of the Air Force.

The NDAA compromise, if it becomes law, would make Raymond a dual-hatted commander of U.S. SPACECOM and Chief of Space Operations for the U.S. Space Force during the first year. Raymond currently serves as commander of Air Force Space Command. The NDAA would disestablish Air Force Space Command and realign it under the U.S. Space Force.

Raymond said he had not yet seen or reviewed the details of the agreement. But he was emphatic that the U.S. military should have a space-focused service.

“U.S. Space Command will only be as good as the capabilities that the service provides,” he said. “And just as U.S. Space Command has a singular focus on the war fighting aspect of space, having a Space Force with a singular focus on the space domain will be hugely, hugely helpful to us,” he added. “This is really an exciting time to be in the space business. There’s a lot happening and it’s really an important time for the security of our nation.”

Having both a U.S. Space Command and a U.S. Space Force “elevates both of those functions — the war-fighting function; and the organize, train and equip function. It elevates it to the next higher level,” said Raymond. “And we’re excited.”

New space agreements with allies

Raymond revealed during the interview that U.S. SPACECOM has signed two new space data sharing agreements with Chile and Finland. These two nations are the latest to join the growing international alliance of countries that share information about what’s happening in space.

“I am really proud of that,” Raymond said. Already 100 countries have signed “space situational awareness” agreements with the United States. ”And so we’ve expanded to two more and I think that work is going to continue,” he said.

These pacts are important to keep space secure for everyone, said Raymond. “There’s additional services that we provide with these sharing agreements. And we’re really looking to make this a two-way sharing so it’s not just the U.S. providing information to our partners, but we also want to get information from their capabilities. That’s what I’m really excited about.”

When the U.S. signs a space situational awareness agreement, for example, if a partner country was going to launch a satellite into space, the U.S. would suggest the best time to launch in order to avoid a collision or any incident in space.

Alliances are essential in space, Raymond insisted. “I’ve gone to Europe and engaged with NATO. I briefed the NATO military committee on space and I was really excited to see last week NATO at a a meeting declared space an operational domain. We’re looking to partner very closely with NATO,” he added. “Our desire is to deter conflict. We don’t want a conflict to occur in space or extending into space. So I think there’s a great role in that partnership with NATO.”

Staffing and budgets

U.S. SPACECOM’s temporary headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, has about 400 people. By the time the command reaches full operational status in the next couple of years, it will be “much, much larger … in line with the other combatant commands,” said Raymond.

“We are finalizing our campaign plan for space and we expect that campaign plan will be done in by February,” he said. A campaign plan “governs our day to day activities and how we compete with Russia and China and others.”

Raymond recently submitted to the Pentagon a justification document for additional resources. “We’ve gone through what’s called the joint validation manpower board to determine those resources, and that’s complete,” said. “I think maybe one of the biggest things that we’ve done, we published our first integrated priority list,” which identifies areas that need funding. “We’ve had a stronger voice in the budget process,” he said.

As a combatant commands U.S. SPACECOM can advocate for programs that would have to be funded by the military services. “We published that list and we’ve had a significant influence on the budget that is being built as we speak,” Raymond said. He would not specify what is in his wish list but said the command requested “capabilities to defend our assets in space.”

The permanent location of U.S. SPACECOM has been the source of much speculation after it became clear that other states other than Colorado — notably Alabama and Florida — would be pushing to host the command. Raymond said the Air Force is conducting a study on basing options and he does not know when it will be finished. “When we make those basing decisions, there’s a lot of factors that that play into that.”

Declassifying space

Raymond has been a proponent of a more open dialogue about space security, something that is hard to do today because most of what the U.S. military does in space is classified, as are the existence of many space program. U.S. SPACECOM believes in deterring adversaries from taking hostile actions but that will require being able to talk openly about what the U.S. does, he said.

“We think it’s very important if you’re going to deter, you have to be able to change the calculus of an adversary. And the only way you can do that is to have a discussion and reveal capabilities that you have,” Raymond said. “So I do think there’s going to be a need to reduce classification on certain capabilities and there’s certain capabilities that we won’t, but we’re going to have to develop the strategy to make sure that we can deter effectively.”

“Our desire is not to get into a conflict,” Raymond stressed. “We want to deter. And the way you deter is to do that from a position of strength and to say that we have the ability to protect and defend our capabilities. I think that’s important work going forward.”

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...