The US Air Force Is Reorganizing to Fight in Space

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV-Heavy rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., June 11, 2016.

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A United Launch Alliance Delta IV-Heavy rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., June 11, 2016.

After a scathing report, service leaders are creating a three-star czar to oversee orbital warfare.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The U.S. Air Force, under pressure from Congress to take more seriously a potential war in space, is creating a new job for a three-star general and making other organizational changes to meet what many see as a growing threat.

The move follows criticism by lawmakers that the Air Force is not properly prepared to fight in space, an area being increasingly militarized by the U.S., Russia, and China. Air Force leaders say the reorganization and new general billet will help space-related projects compete for budget dollars against earth-bound aircraft, drones, nuclear forces, and the rest.

The new general will “come to work every day focusing on this: making sure that we can organize, train, and equip our forces to meet the challenges in this domain,” Gen. Jay Raymond, head of Air Force Space Command, said Tuesday at the National Space Symposium, an annual gathering of military and civil space professionals.

The new general will serve as a space advisor on staff with the Air Force secretary and chief of staff. Three-star generals already advise Air Force leaders about personnel, intelligence, operations, plans, requirements, logistics, communications, studies, and nuclear weapons. Staff three-stars also represent the four-star generals who run major commands around the world, like a liaison. The Air Force last added a general to the Air Staff in 2008 to oversee nuclear weapons after a series of embarrassing incidents.

While Air Force leaders championed the step to add oversight and advocacy of the space mission, it appears the added position will face pushback in Congress from members who want more thorough changes to the military’s approach.

In prepared remarks at the Space Symposium, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee said he envisions a “separate Space Force within the Department of Defense, just like the Air Force, which had to be separated from the Army in order to be prioritized and become a world-class military service. Simply put, space must be a priority and it can’t be one if you jump out of bed in the morning thinking about fighters and bombers first.”

Said Rogers: “We have to acknowledge the national security space organizational structure is broken, and, we are at a time when space is contested like never before.”

He also discussed his reorganization aspirations for space in December.

Rogers spoke before Raymond’s announcement, indicating he was not supportive of the move, though he did not directly refer to it. “[N]ow is not the time for Hail Mary efforts to stop reform,” he said. “Now is also not the time to create additional boxes on that chart without taking others away.” Instead, the lawmaker signaled that Congress should step in to solve management and oversight problems.

“It is the job of the Armed Services Committees to recognize when the bureaucracy is broken, and to then see that it is fixed,” Rogers said. “At the end of the day, we need to align accountability with authority, reduce bureaucracy, and deconflict with other mission areas in order to prioritize the space investments and the people charged with the warfighting domain of space.”

Along with the new general’s job, the Air Force announced a series of other changes it would make in space. Raymond said the service is creating a “space warfighting construct.” The Air Force is working with National Reconnaissance Office, or NRO, to build CONOPS, a description of how a system would be used in battle, “for space as a warfighting domain,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s space war command center, the rather obscure Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center, is getting a new name: the National Space Defense Center.

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