The US National Security Space Policy --- With a Focus on the Establishment of USSF and USSPACECOM

Yasuhito Fukushima
Senior Research Fellow, The National Institute for Defense Studies, Japan


For the US national security space policy, 2019 was a historic year. The United States Space Command (USSPACECOM) was inaugurated in August as a unified combatant command, which was followed by the establishment of the United States Space Force (USSF) in December as a military service. The establishment of an organization named USSPACECOM is for the first time since 2002 until when the former USSPACECOM had existed, while the establishment of a military service is also for the first time since 1947 when the Air Force became independent from the Army.

The creation of these two organizations distinguishes the national security space policy of the Donald J. Trump administration. Basically, the Trump administration demonstrates a strong continuity in national security space policy with the Barack H. Obama administration. The Trump administration has repeatedly shown the recognition that China and Russia have transformed outer space into a warfighting domain --- actually, senior military officials under the Obama administration expressed the similar views. In the background of these is the US government's sense of crisis that China and Russia, in particular, are improving their counterspace capabilities.1 Although China conducted a satellite destruction test using an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon only once in 2007, it has since repeated test firings of ASAT missiles, accompanied, however, by no satellite destruction. The US Department of Defense (DoD) is also alarmed by the fact that China is repeating rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) that constitute the technical basis for space-based ASAT weapons (so-called killer satellites). Likewise, Russia is reinvigorating the development of ASAT weapons, which had been stagnant since the end of the Cold War. Since 2014, it has been repeating test firings of the ASAT weapons that are launched from the ground to destroy satellites in low Earth orbit. Russia is also conducting RPO missions. The DoD is worried that Russia is developing killer satellites.

In such a situation, the DoD under the Obama administration began in earnest in 2014 preparing for a conflict that extends into outer space, and under the Trump administration, the DoD has continued and developed such efforts of the previous administration. The DoD established the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC) in 2015 as an organization responsible for space control. Through the JICSpOC, the DoD began strengthening collaborations with the National Reconnaissance Office. In 2017, JICSpOC was renamed as the National Space Defense Center (NSDC), and in 2018, the around-the-clock operation of the NSDC started.

While the Obama and Trump administrations' awareness of threats and responses in the space domain show strong continuity, the creation of the USSF and the USSPACECOM demonstrates the Trump administration's uniqueness in national security space policy. In particular, the process for the creation of the USSF was begun by President Trump's personal initiative.

This paper analyzes US space policy in the security domain, focusing on the creation of the USSF and the USSPACECOM. Specifically, the roles of those two organizations will be explained first. Next, the process for creation of those organizations will be analyzed. Lastly, issues for the future will be discussed.

1. The Roles of the USSF and the USSPACECOM

Although the USSF and the USSPACECOM are collectively translated as "宇宙軍(uchu-gun)" in Japanese, they are organizations of different characters. The role of the USSF is to organize, train, and equip space forces. It is the sixth military service after the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. (The US Coast Guard is part of the US Department of Homeland Security in peacetime, but is put under the command of the Navy at the time of contingencies). The USSPACECOM, on the other hand, is an organization responsible for combat operations, and is the eleventh unified combatant command following Africa Command; Central Command; Cyber Command; European Command; Northern Command; Indo-Pacific Command; Southern Command; Special Operations Command; Strategic Command, and Transportation Command.

Each military service is called as a force provider and provides forces to the unified combatant commands. The unified combatant commands are called force users because they use the provided forces. In this way, the USSF, as a force provider, provides space forces to the unified combatant commands, while the USSPACECOM, as a force user, conducts space operations using the provided forces. It must be noted in this connection that the USSF provides forces not only to the USSPACECOM. Depending on individual situations, it provides forces also to other unified combatant commands that require space forces. On the other hand, space forces employed by the USSPACECOM do not derive exclusively from the USSF. The USSPACECOM evolves operations using forces provided by other military services, since they still hold space forces.

Outer Space is the only domain where there are both a force provider and a force user devoted to a particular geographic domain. As for land, sea, and air, there is an independent force provider for each of the domains (i.e., the Army, Navy, and Air Force), but no specific unified combatant command for any of them (e.g. Land Command). For cyberspace, there is a unified combatant command (Cyber Command) specialized in this domain, but no force provider (Cyber Force). Viewed in this way, the establishment of the USSPACECOM and the USSF in succession in 2019 was an extremely rare event in the history of the DoD.

2. The Process for Creation of the USSF

What is the process for the creation of the USSF and the USSPACECOM?2 In the US, debates over whether or not to create a military service which specializes in the space domain, have been conducted repeatedly.3 The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000 created the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization, which discussed the potential costs and benefits of establishing an independent military Department and service dedicated to the national security space mission. The commission submitted a report in January 2001, concluding that the establishment of the Department of the Space Force is premature.4 Although President Obama expressed a positive interest in creating the USSF, Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter persuaded him not to proceed the process.5 In 2017, Republican Michael D. Rogers, the then chairman of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), and Democrat James H. S. Cooper, the opposition leader of the Subcommittee, jointly proposed the establishment of Space Corps under the Department of the Air Force. Their proposal took into account the Marine Corps under the Department of the Navy. The Space Corps bill was included in the House's 2018 NDAA bill, but failed to gain the Senate's approval.

Under such circumstances, the Trump administration began to move toward the establishment of the USSF in 2018. In March of the same year, President Trump mentioned first in public the possibility of the establishment of the USSF, and, in his speech in June, gave instructions to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. to initiate the process of creating the USSF.6 In the speech, President Trump stated that US space dominance would require a Space Force independent from and equal to the Air Force. President Trump's speech was a bolt from the blue to many people concerned, because the White House expressed opposition to the House bill on the establishment of the Space Corps in the previous year. It is said that even Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis had not been informed of it in advance.7

The Trump administration began discussing the creation of the USSF under the President's directions. In August 2018, Vice President Michael R. Pence, Chairman of the National Space Council, delivered an address on the creation of the USSF at the Pentagon.8 In his speech, Vice President Pence stated that the incumbent administration would establish the Department of the Space Force and place the USSF within the new Department. He added that the administration would work with Congress that has the legislative powers necessary to inaugurate a military service.

In late February 2019, the DoD submitted a relevant bill to Congress.9 The bill, however, inconsistent with the Pence speech in August of the previous year, proposed that the USSF would be established within the Department of the Air Force, while the establishment of the Department of the Space Force would be postponed. Although named USSF, the new military service was not so different from the HASC's Space Corps proposal as long as it should be placed in the Air Force Department.

The US Congress discussed the establishment of the USSF in deliberations on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. On December 17, 2019, the NDAA passed Congress, incorporating amendments to Title 10 of the United States Code required for the establishment of the USSF. The NDAA was enacted with the signature of President Trump on the 20th of the same month, and the USSF was inaugurated on the same day. The successful creation of the USSF may be accounted for by the amendments acceptable to congressmen cautious about an ever-increasing bureaucracy and budget. The Department of the Space Force did not come into existence, and the USSF was created by appropriating the existing resources owned by the Air Force. These helped to gain the support of the Senate in addition to the House of Representatives that had endorsed the Space Corps idea.

The USSF official website describes its mission as follows: "The USSF is a military service that organizes, trains, and equips space forces in order to protect U.S. and allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force. USSF responsibilities include developing military space professionals, acquiring military space systems, maturing the military doctrine for space power, and organizing space forces to present to our Combatant Commands."10

As stated by the bill submitted by the DoD in February 2019, the USSF is within the Department of the Air Force, and the Secretary of the Air Force has overall responsibility for the organization. The senior military member of the USSF, the Chief of Space Operations (CSO), is subordinate to Secretary of the Air Force but equal in rank to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. The CSO is a full member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As the first CSO, General John J. Raymond, Commander of the Air Force Space Command, and the first commander of the USSPACECOM since August, 2019, was nominated by President Trump. General Raymond officially took office in January 2020. General Raymond's holding two concurrent posts --- the CSO and USSPACECOM Commander --- is a provisional measure effective for one year alone from the enactment of the fiscal 2020 NDAA. The USSF headquarters is located in the Pentagon, as are those of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

With the inauguration of the USSF, the Air Force Space Command was redesignated as the USSF. This led to the abolition of the Air Force Space Command, which had been a core force provider of space forces since its inception in 1982. Approximately 16,000 active-duty and civilian personnel working for the Air Force Space Command were assigned to the USSF. The Fourteenth Air Force, the core of the Air Force Space Command, was also redesignated as the Space Operations Command subordinate to the USSF. The USSF has started as a very small organization compared to other military services in terms of active personnel --- the Army (470,000), Navy (330,000), Air Force (320,000), and Marine Corps (190,000).

3. The Process toward the Establishment of the USSPACECOM

The USSPACECOM existed from 1985 to 2002. It was established by President Ronald W. Reagan as an organization responsible for the Strategic Defense Initiative. However, in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the George W. Bush administration integrated the USSPACECOM with the (former) Strategic Command, while establishing the Northern Command. Thereafter the new Strategic Command was in charge of space operations.

In his August 2018 address, Vice President Pence announced a policy to establish the USSPACECOM anew as part of the process for the creation of the USSF. Since the Trump administration positioned the creation of USSPACECOM as a step in that of the USSF, some media reports conveyed the misimpression that the USSF would be established through the proactive dissolution of the USSPACECOM. As mentioned above, however, the USSF and the USSPACECOM are endowed with different missions, and the USSPACECOM has actually survived the creation of the USSF.

President Trump issued a memorandum on the establishment of the USSPACECOM in December 2018 --- the establishment of a unified combatant command, unlike that of a military service, can be implemented by presidential authority.11 Consequently, the USSPACECOM started in August 2019 as the 11th unified combatant command. The establishment of the USSPACECOM gained widespread support in the United States. Congress had included provisions in the Fiscal 2019 NDAA (enacted in August 2018) to establish the USSPACECOM as a sub-unified combatant command of the Strategic Command. The Trump administration's uniqueness lies in having established the USSPACECOM as an independent unified combatant command of the same rank as the Strategic Command.

The USSPACECOM's mission is to "deter aggression and conflict, defend U.S. and allied freedom of action, deliver space combat power for the Joint/Combined force, and develop joint warfighters to advance U.S. and allied interests in, from, and through the space domain."12

The first USSPACECOM commander was General Raymond, the commander of the Air Force Space Command, serving also as the commander of the Joint Force Space Component Command, the Strategic Command. As mentioned earlier, General Raymond had held concurrently the posts of the USSPACECOM commander and the commander of the Air Force Space Command until the creation of the USSF. Now he holds the posts of the USSPACECOM commander and the CSO of the USSF. The USSPACECOM is temporarily headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the Air Force Space Command headquarters was located.

The current USSPACECOM started as a geographic combatant command with an area of responsibility 100 kilometers above sea level around the globe (other geographic combatant commands are Central Command; Africa Command; European Command; Northern Command; Indo-Pacific Command; and Southern Command). On the contrary, the former USSPACECOM, which had existed until 2002, was a functional combatant command responsible for space operations (the current functional combatant commands include Special Operations Command; Transportation Command; Strategic Command; and Cyber Command).13 This seems to reflect a change in the DoD's perception that space has become a warfighting domain.

The USSPACECOM has two subordinate commands: Combined Force Space Component Command (CFSCC) and Joint Task Force Space Defense (JTF-SD). The former, as its name implies, will play a pivotal role in conducting space operations with the allies. The creation of the latter, on the other hand, reflects the DoD's awareness of threats in the space domain. The JTF-SD will play a central role in space combat operations based in the NSDC.

4. Future Foci

In the short term, the focus will be around how the USSF will commence. Although the USSF was legally established in December 2019, actually it is the same as the Air Force Space Command under another name. According to the DoD, the USSF will be stood up over the next 18 months. Except for General Raymond, all the airmen of the Air Force Space Command were assigned to the USSF as personnel of the Air Force. So they will officially be transferred from the Air Force and re-commissioned in the USSF, according to their suitability and wishes (Civilians assigned to the USSF will remain employees of the Department of the Air Force.).14 The transfer to the USSF of Air Force subordinate units other than the Air Force Space Command will be implemented as needed.

In the longer term, attention should be paid to: whether non-Air Force resources will also be transferred to the USSF; what "culture" will be fostered through the creation of the USSF; and whether the creation of USSPACECOM will shift the focus of US space operations. Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper stated that "the long-term vision of DoD remains to consolidate the space forces of all Armed Forces into the U.S. Space Force."15 Congress will hold the key to the realization of the DoD vision, because new legislation will be needed to that end.

In addition, the party who promoted the creation of the USSF have emphasized the need to foster a "culture" different from that of the Air Force through the creation of a military service devoted to the space domain. They complained that the Air Force was a pilot-centric organization and that it failed to have sufficient concerns about the space domain.16 In this regard, Secretary of Defense Esper states that "the U.S. Space Force will cultivate space domain-specific expertise and serve as the DoD proponent of and advocate for spacepower."17 The birth of the USSF that develops its identity associated with space may invite the following questions: What kind of change will take place in the US military space doctrine? How to improve the acquisition of space systems notorious for chronic delays and budget overruns? Will space systems to be acquired change in terms of content?

It must also be asked whether the USSPACECOM wants to be in a position to more directly influence the result of war in order to demonstrate its raison d'être. Specific questions in this connection may include: Will the USSPACECOM give preference to space defense rather than to its current main task of providing information support for land, sea, and air military operations? Will the USSPACECOM seek the capabilities of missile interception and of ground attack from space?

(This paper was translated into English by Tsutomu Inuzuka, SSDP Associate)

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