WASHINGTON — U.S. Space Command is staffing up as it prepares to take on new responsibilities, its commander Air Force Gen. John Raymond said Nov. 18.

Since U.S. SPACECOM was established Aug. 29, its headquarters staff has grown to 400 people and is headed to 500 by early next year, Raymond said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The command’s headquarters is temporarily located at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. Raymond said a permanent location will be recommended by the Secretary of the Air Force after the completion of an ongoing study.

Raymond, who also serves as the commander of Air Force Space Command, said he expects U.S. SPACECOM to take key steps over the next year, including the development of a “campaign plan for space.” Details on military operations are classified so Raymond did not elaborate. Broadly speaking, he said the planning is focused on two key areas: defining the resources the command needs and ensuring it has the legal authorities to carry out operations.

The command intends to compete actively for DoD dollars, said Raymond. U.S. SPACECOM has put together its first wish list “so we’re beginning to have much more of an influence on the budget, if you will,” said Raymond. “And that’s a much strengthened, a much more heightened voice at the combatant command level than we were at the component level.”

One of the priorities is intelligence, Raymond said. “Maybe one of the most important things that we do early on is to rebuild that intelligence function that atrophied after the U.S. Space Command that stood down in 2002 went away.”

Raymond also is working with DoD to define the command’s authorities. In the Space Policy Directive-4 issued in February, the Trump administration directed the Secretary of Defense to propose relevant “space operational authorities” that the command should have. DoD’s recommendations will be reviewed by the National Space Council and the National Security Council and sent to the president for approval.

“We’ll get additional authorities,” Raymond said. “We’ve put those together, and I’m very hopeful that those will be approved here in the very near term.”

China’s advances in space

Raymond did not discuss China’s efforts to outpace the United States in space technology or its reported advances in anti-satellite weapons. In response to a question about China’s space capabilities, he said: “The scope, scale and complexity of that threat is alive and well and very concerning.”

An influential bipartisan commission in its annual report to Congress released Nov. 14 called on the U.S. government to take action as China seeks to establish a leading position in the economic and military use of outer space.

The report, by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, says China “views space as a critical U.S. military and economic vulnerability, and has fielded an array of direct-ascent, cyber, electromagnetic, and co-orbital counterspace weapons capable of targeting nearly every class of U.S. space asset.”

It may be difficult for the United States to deter Beijing from using these weapons, the commission says, “due to China’s belief the United States has a greater vulnerability in space.”

The report calls for a whole-of-government strategy to counter China’s rise. And it suggests DoD should take a more direct role in protecting the national space economy, not just military assets. DoD should “ensure U.S. Space Command and any future space-oriented service are responsible for protecting freedom of navigation and keeping lines of communication open, safe, and secure in the space domain,” the report says.

Peter Garretson, former director of the U.S. Air Force’s Air University Space Horizons Task Force and now an independent consultant, called the commission report “game changing” in how it views the military’s role in space security.

China’s challenge requires an interagency response but U.S. SPACECOM should be a central player, Garretson told SpaceNews. “As the lead for U.S. security in the space domain with the largest planning staff and best access to intelligence, the expectation to lead this conversation falls squarely on the commander of U.S. SPACECOM,” he said. “The combatant commander is the bully pulpit. Americans trust the credibility of its military to provide sound military advice on national security issues which the U.S.-China Commission concerns certainly are.”

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...