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Mattis asks Trump to OK US Space Command, pick leaders

President Donald J. Trump receives a briefing from senior military leaders Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has asked President Trump to approve the creation of a new military headquarters for space warfare, as Pentagon officials proposed earlier this summer.

The request is the latest in a series of bureaucratic moves made inside the Pentagon in recent weeks that set the stage for the Defense Department’s formal proposal early next year to establish a Space Force — a sixth branch of the military.

The request to create U.S. Space Command also comes ahead of a White House space-focused meeting next week hosted by Vice President Mike Pence. A number of cabinet secretaries, including Mattis, are expected to attend, reported [last] Thursday.

In an Oct. 5 memo to the president, Mattis asks his boss to formally establish U.S. Space Command, which would be the U.S. military’s 11th combatant command. Mattis also asks Trump to nominate a four-star general or admiral to lead the command, and a three-star to be his or her deputy commander. Defense One reviewed a copy of the memo.

The Pentagon, in an Aug. 9 report to Congress, recommended the head of Air Force Space Command be “dual-hatted” as commander of the U.S. Space Command. However, “subsequent commanders will be single-hatted.”

Once the U.S. Space Command head is confirmed, Mattis recommends the president shift space operations from U.S. Strategic Command — which currently oversees these duties — to the new command.

Among the barriers to its formal establishment: Congress. In the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, lawmakers called on the Pentagon to stand up Space Command as a subordinate to Strategic Command.

“I will continue to work with Congress in an effort to have this statutory requirement amended or repealed,” Mattis wrote in the memo.

In August, the Pentagon said it would create an independent unified combatant command for space.

Separately, the Pentagon will undertake a series of tabletop exercises this fall to explore the “warfighting attributes” of Space Command. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, alluded to these exercises in a Sept. 24 memo to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.

“As we change to space being a warfighting domain, we need clear doctrine, and there shouldn’t be ambiguity and that requires considerable thought and attention,” Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said during an Oct. 10 briefing. “It is not something that you can just, you know, quickly decide.”

Shanahan, the Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian, said officials would be laying out a budget for the Space Force in October and November.


© 2018 By National Journal Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

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