The White House is still working toward persuading Congress to create a Space Force, which would become the sixth branch of the military and the first new one since the Air Force was created in 1947. Both the House and Senate have provisions for a Space Force in their Pentagon spending bills, but they differ on some key details, such as how the force would be organized.
In June, the Senate confirmed Air Force Gen. John Raymond as the commander of Space Command. Raymond told reporters in a briefing before the ceremony that protecting America’s assets in space, including the satellites the military depends on for everything from missile defense to communications, was a critical mission of the new command.
“I really believe we are at strategic inflection point, where there is nothing that we do in the joint coalition force that isn’t enabled by space. Zero,” he said.
The U.S. Space Command is the nation’s 11th combatant command. Others include geographic commands, such as Central Command, Africa Command and Indo-Pacific Command, which oversee operations in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, respectively, and functional commands, such as Transportation Command, which oversees logistics across the military, or Strategic Command, which controls the nuclear arsenal. Space Command is the U.S. military’s first new unified combatant command since the Pentagon elevated Cyber Command to become a unified combatant command in 2018. Cyber Command was created in 2009. (A previous version of this story incorrectly said it was Africa Command.)
As of Thursday, Space Command counted 287 personnel assigned to it, largely made up of those currently deployed with a unit of U.S. Strategic Command devoted to space. Raymond said the Air Force is still deciding where to locate Space Command’s headquarters among six U.S. bases.
The United States military has had a Space Command before. It was launched in 1985 and disestablished in 2002 as the Pentagon reorganized in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Raymond said the new version is a “different command built for a different environment.”
In particular, he cited advances by Russia and China that have rendered space a contested domain where the United States faces threats that it didn’t before, from the jamming of GPS and communications satellites to the possibility those satellites could be shot down. He cited a 2007 test in which China used a missile fired from Earth to destroy one of its own weather satellites.
Fighting extraterrestrial life in outer space is not one of the new command’s missions, said Stephen L. Kitay, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy.
“Space Command and the United States Space Force, at the end of the day, is focused on life here on Earth, because space does impact… our way of war and our way of life,” Kitay said.