NASA

Space

STRATCOM leader pushes back on Space Force idea

The head of U.S. Strategic Command said the nation doesn't need a "Space Force" right now.

"I think that someday we'll have a Space Corps and Space Force in this country. But I don't think the time is right for that right now," STRATCOM's Commander Gen. John Hyten said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing March 20 to discuss fiscal 2019 budget priorities.

Hyten's response followed comments President Donald Trump made earlier this month in a speech to the military in San Diego, advocating for a new "Space Force" to combat emerging threats from Russia and China and declaring space as a warfighting domain.

"My new national strategy for space recognizes that space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air and sea," Trump said during his March 13 speech. "We may even have a 'Space Force' — develop another one. Space Force. We have the Air Force; we'll have the Space Force."

The White House, Defense Secretary James Mattis and the Air Force, which heads space operations via its own Space Command and would have housed the Space Corps, previously opposed its creation. Language for it was stripped out of the latest defense spending bill, but the bill allowed for an independent study  exploring  what a Space Corps would look like and its requirements.

But while Hyten disagreed with establishing a Space Force or Corps anytime soon, he said he appreciated the president's thinking.

"I love the fact that the president talked about space as a warfighting domain," Hyten said, adding that he supports the National Defense Authorization Act's take on evaluating the needs and elements of a Space Corps in the future.

"The importance of space is not going to lessen over the years, so I see this as a logical progression," Hyten told reporters following the hearing.

"We just have a fairly small force right now" of about 5,000 space operators plus supporting staff, and Hyten likes that.  "I'm happy with where we are right now" having Congress, the president and the law all pointing towards space as a warfighting domain, he said, adding that Trump's comments were "another great voice" that aligns with national security needs.

Hyten also addressed senators' cyberwarfare concerns during the hearing, saying that while the U.S. has made progress, it's inhibited by the belief that cyberspace isn't a true warfighting domain.

"I always find it odd that we'll give young soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines lethal authority to operate far from home in harm's way -- to apply lethal force against an adversary using a set of rules of engagement but will hesitate to give a four-star admiral the authority to conduct cyberspace operations because we're concerned he won't follow the rules of engagement," Hyten said, referring to U.S. Cyber Commander Adm. Michael Rogers and adding that the rules of engagement should be the same  regardless of domain.

But when Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) asked what Congress should do, Hyten hesitated, saying he doesn't want to prescribe the legislative body with a solution. However, he said publicly endorsing cyberspace as a warfighting domain is a step forward.

"People always ask me, 'In space or cyber, how do you deter … how do you fight to win a war in cyber?' You don't," Hyten said. "War, conflict, deterrence  --  [each] is against an adversary, not against a place. You have to take the place out of it and focus on the adversary," while leaving room for diplomacy.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is a staff writer at FCW covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at lwilliams@fcw.com, or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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