If the gap is to be maintained between what the United States has in space technology and capability and what its closest competitors have — a gap that’s closing fast — it’ll be the recently approved Space Force that maintains it, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan said here today.
Shanahan spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies about the Defense Department’s reorganization to support space, Space Force’s roles and responsibilities, providing some of the details of what it might look like.
“My goal and the department’s goal is to grow what we call our ‘margin of dominance’ in space. This margin is now contested,” he said. “What is vital is that we protect a $19 trillion economy and the systems our military runs on.”
That protection includes ensuring U.S. satellites aren’t incapacitated, the secretary said. “If our satellites were attacked, we would be blind, deaf and impotent before we even knew what hit us,” Shanahan said. “Everything from ATM machines to Zumwalt destroyers would be paralyzed.”
Shanahan said it makes sense that DOD would reorganize itself to make space a new warfighting domain and put as much effort and consideration behind that domain as it does for land, sea or air.
A Strategic Choice
“If you are faced with threats like this, you say yes to change,” he said. “And so we make a strategic choice to organize to ensure American dominance in space for decades.”
The department’s reorganization to support space involves three large areas, he said. First is the much-discussed U.S. Space Force, which will fall under the Department of the Air Force in a way similar to how the U.S. Marine Corps falls under the Department of the Navy.
“To move forward effectively, space needs an advocate,” he said. “That advocate will be the Space Force. The Space Force will operate like other branches of the armed services, organizing, training and equipping the force with Title X authorities. It will have formalized leadership, including a new undersecretary for space, and a chief of staff of the Space Force, to focus on developing space warfighting doctrine and culture.”
Like the other military services, he said, the Space Force will have an internal culture that focuses on professional development of its members, and “creating a pipeline of space experts.”
Compared to its sister services, Space Force will not be large. Shanahan estimates it will number about 15,000 to 20,000 people and will have a budget similar to that of U.S. Special Operations Command.
A second part of the department’s reorganization to support space will include development of U.S. Space Command as the nation’s 11th combatant command. DOD once had a space command, which operated from 1985 to 2002, but it was shuttered to make way for U.S. Northern Command, Shanahan said.
Space Command will change the mission of space from a support function to a leading role, Shanahan said. The commander of Space Command, he said, will “wake up every morning thinking of two things: how to win in space and how will space help the joint force win in the land, sea, air and cyber domain.”
Finally, a Space Development Agency will be developed to perform what Shanahan called a “pacing function.”
“Our space presence will be enabled by new capabilities delivered by the Space Development Agency,” he said.
Leveraging Commercial Space Investment
Shanahan pointed out that about 2,500 active satellites are in orbit now. In the next 10 years, he said, American companies expect to launch an additional 15,000 satellites with capabilities such as communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
“In the next decade, we expect to see commercially available persistent surveillance of the globe from space,” he said. “We need to leverage this commercial space investment and tap into the advancements to help solve the next generation of warfighting challenges.”
The Space Development Agency, he said, will focus at first on delivering capabilities related to hypersonic weapons tracking, warning and targeting, as well as alternatives to GPS-based position navigation timing for use in GPS-denied environments.
Shanahan also touched on why the decision was made to put Space Force underneath the Air Force, rather than making it a completely separate department. He explained that a lot of emphasis was placed on getting to the ability to deliver capability the fastest way, noting that might not be possible if DOD was focused on standing up a completely new department.
“What is the best organizational construct so you can go the fastest?” he asked. “Given the need for speed and how much time you might spend just reorganizing, we landed in a place that said, ‘Draw off the synergy of the Air Force.’ We have significant learning from the Marine Corps about how to have a service within a department. The biggest thing we’ve been working to do with the Space Force is focus on delivering capability faster.”