The Pentagon is considering creating a combatant command for space warfare, the latest step by the Defense Department to respond to Chinese and Russian militarization high above Earth.
The move — one of several under consideration — is mentioned in a new Pentagon report sent to Congress last week. Right now, space forces are dispersed throughout the military and intelligence community.
Pentagon officials are looking at how “best to posture joint space forces to support joint campaigns, including those that are integrated trans-regionally from across two or more geographic combatant commands, multi-domain operations, and warfighting in the space domain,” the report says.
There are two kinds of combatant commands. Geographic cocoms oversee military operations in six regions of the world. Functional ones — like U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Transportation Command — oversee operations that span multiple geographical commands. U.S. Cyber Command is considered a subunified command under STRATCOM, but is being elevated to a functional command.
The Pentagon is looking into whether space should have its own combatant command or subunified command (like Cyber Command), the report says. Space forces were grouped under U.S. Space Command, a unified combatant command, until 2002.
The Air Force groups its space forces under Air Force Space Command. The Army groups its space forces under the Space and MIssile Defense Command. Both groups report up to STRATCOM. Navy space activities are under the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.
The makeup of the military’s space forces have been heavily debated in recent months. Some lawmakers have tried to create a Space Corps, a dedicated organization similar to the way the the U.S. Marine Corps is structured within the Navy. That effort ultimately failed, but its sponsors have vowed to continue the push, and numerous other changes are afoot. Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is overseeing these efforts.
Another key change afoot is overhauling the way the military buys satellites and space equipment.
“[W]e must ensure that we have ways to insert, deliver quickly and then scale technical innovation, cost innovation and design innovation,” the report says. “This will require that we broaden the industrial base.”
One key change is speed. Pentagon officials are looking at “how to recapture innovation and speed of development” and how to “transform” the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, which buys satellites and rockets that launch them “into a higher performing space acquisition center.”
“The review will also assess if acquisition authorities in the Army and Navy represent an untapped resource for innovation and multi- domain integration, and if reforms at [the Space and Missile Systems Center] could be extended to other space programs within the Department,” it states.
“The biggest challenge we face is the acquisition system, which needs to improve dramatically,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said.