20190127_new_stratcom_rs05.JPG

The CSR Battle Deck at U.S. Strategic Command's new Command and Control Facility located at Offutt Air Force Base on Jan. 24, 2019.

President Donald Trump took action Tuesday to create a new military Space Force, placing some of the troops that now report to the Offutt-based U.S. Strategic Command into a new branch of the armed forces.

The policy directive Trump signed asks Congress to stand up the Space Force within the Air Force Department, just as the Navy Department now oversees the Marine Corps. It falls short of a vision laid out by Trump last year for a new service that is “separate but equal” with the Air Force.

That idea had been criticized by some Air Force officials who argued that creating a separate military department would create unnecessary Pentagon bureaucracy.

But it won the support of Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., a retired Air Force brigadier general who once commanded the Offutt-based 55th Wing.

“I believe a space force ‘light’ service structure is the appropriate step for now,” Bacon said in a statement. “Much of our modern-day reconnaissance and communications relies on satellites, and we know that Russia and China have militarized space by investing heavily in weapon systems to disable or destroy those key satellites.”

Sign up for World-Herald news alerts

Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.

The move appears to mark a rhetorical and political compromise: While the Trump administration will continue to call the service the Space Force, it would more closely resemble a previous proposal on Capitol Hill for a smaller Space Corps . Like the Marine Corps, it would be led by a four-star general who takes a new seat among the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon’s top officers.

Bacon had championed the Space Corps plan from his post on the House Armed Services Committee. He said he supported the plan as laid out Tuesday by the president, comparing it to the Army Air Corps that existed before the Air Force was established in 1947.

“I believe a space force ‘light’ service structure is the appropriate step for now,” Bacon said in a statement. “Much of our modern-day reconnaissance and communications relies on satellites, and we know that Russia and China have militarized space by investing heavily in weapon systems to disable or destroy those key satellites.”

Bacon said the Space Force would most likely number about 20,000 active-duty members, too few to make up a separate branch. The smallest of the current branches, the Marine Corps, has more than 10 times that many members.

Establishing the Space Force will require congressional approval.

StratCom’s commander, Gen. John Hyten, told The World-Herald last fall he was working with other military leaders to craft the plan.

“The president said he wants a Space Force. And now we just have to tell him, here’s what it looks like,” Hyten said at the time.

StratCom has been heavily involved in space defense since 2002, when the former U.S. Space Command — established in 1985 — was disbanded after the 9/11 terrorist attacks so that U.S. Northern Command could be established, focusing on defense of the homeland.

At that time, space became one of StratCom’s responsibilities, along with nuclear warfare and deterrence, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, missile defense and, until recently, cyberwarfare.

Independent of Trump’s Space Force initiative, Hyten has also been heavily involved in a reorganization that would elevate the StratCom space elements into an independent command equal to StratCom — similar to the pre-2002 setup. The reconstituted U.S. Space Command would oversee space communications, surveillance, and defense of U.S. satellites from overseas adversaries.

Currently some space satellite and missile defense units are scattered across the Navy and Army. But the largest chunk of military space activity is within the Air Force Space Command, headquartered in Colorado Springs.

Hyten said he thought few positions at Offutt would be lost as a result of the reorganization because most space-related work already takes place at other bases.

Retired Lt. Gen. Robert Hinson, a former vice commander of Air Force Space Command, said he thinks the Air Force and Space Force will continue to have close ties, no matter how they are restructured.

“The preponderance of the people in the space business are Air Force people, anyway,” said Hinson, who heads the University of Nebraska’s Omaha-based National Strategic Research Institute. “I don’t think you’ll find there’s any less commitment to space resources or the warfighter if it’s under the Air Force.”

This report includes material from the Washington Post.

Sign up for The World-Herald's afternoon updates

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Recommended for you

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.