The Pentagon on Thursday officially established United States Space Command, a precursor to the Space Force military service President Donald Trump has called for.
As the nation's 11th geographic combatant command, Space Command was created to defend U.S. space-enabled capabilities in this new warfighting domain, said Air Force Gen. John "Jay" Raymond, who assumed command of U.S. Space Command on Thursday.
"Although space is a warfighting domain, our goal is actually to deter a conflict from extending into space; the best way I know how to do that is to be prepared to fight and win if deterrence were to fail," Raymond told reporters at the Pentagon. "The scope, scale and complexity of the threat to our space capabilities is real, and it's concerning. We no longer have the luxury of operating in a peaceful and benign domain."
Space Command is part of a two-pronged effort -- which includes a proposal before Congress to create a U.S. Space Force as the sixth branch of the U.S. military -- to build a fighting force capable of conducting defensive and offensive operations against potential adversaries seeking to deny America's access to space, Raymond said.
"Primarily, the countries that have the more significant threats are China and Russia," he told reporters at the Pentagon. "Our adversaries have had a front row seat to our many successes of integrating space, and they don't like what they see because it provides us with such great advantage. And they are developing capabilities to negate our access to space."
Both China and Russia began updating their space capabilities in 2015 to counter those of the United States, said Steve Kitay, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Space Policy.
"There is a perception that space represents an Achilles heel, and that this is an ... asymmetric advantage for them to then take on the United States' power because we project power through space-enabled capabilities," Kitay said.
The U.S. faces a full spectrum of space-related threats, Raymond added.
"On the lower end of that spectrum, there is reversible jamming of communications satellites and GPS satellites, for example, all the way up to the very destructive kinetic strike of a ground-based missile to blow up a satellite, like China did in 2007," he said.
The Pentagon had a U.S. Space Command from 1985 to 2002, but it was not a geographic combatant command, Raymond said. It was merged with U.S. Strategic Command following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as antiterrorism efforts took precedence.
"United States Space Command of today shares the same name as the original command; however, it is designed for a different strategic environment," he said. "Today's U.S. Space Command has a sharper focus on protecting and defending our critical space assets."
Space Command will start out with a traditional headquarters made up of about 287 personnel who are currently assigned to the Joint Force Space Component Command and those who have been conducting the space mission of the U.S. Strategic Command, Raymond said.
The Air Force has identified six candidate bases that could serve as the command's new headquarters. Once the evaluation is complete, the secretary of the Air Force will make the decision, he added.
The Combined Force Space Component Command, which Raymond commanded before taking over Space Command, will be elevated to a "combined command to help us integrate with allies more effectively, and that command is going to be focused on integrating space capabilities around the globe throughout all of our ... coalition partners," he said.
Historically, the U.S. hasn't needed to have allies in space, Raymond said.
"Now we are working very closely with ... France, Germany and Japan," he said. "We exercise together, we train together, we conduct war games together ... so this is a big growth area for us."
The second component is the Joint Task Force for Space Defense, a new organization that will focus on protecting and defending the space domain, Raymond said, adding that he will have a better idea of the new command's size once the manpower validation process is complete.
Pentagon officials recently reached an agreement with the National Reconnaissance Office that ensures that the DoD intelligence agency "in higher states of conflict ... will respond to the direction of the U.S. Space Command commander," Raymond said.
"We are the best in the world at space today," he said. "I'm convinced that we need to keep the domain safe for all to use. ... I am convinced that our way of life and our way of war depend on space capabilities."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.