The Senate Armed Services Committee is pushing ahead with plans to create a new Space Force, but the new service’s top officer likely won't sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- at least not right away.
A $750 billion defense spending proposal passed by the committee Wednesday would fund the Defense Department's $72.4 million request to stand up the Space Force as a new military branch under the Air Force. But lawmakers have decided to keep its top uniformed leader from joining the Joint Chiefs for a year. They’re also proposing removing a civilian position -- the under secretary of the Air Force for space -- from the chain of command, a senior committee aide told reporters Thursday.
The current head of the Air Force’s Space Command will be redesignated as commander of the U.S. Space Force. That leader at first will report to the Air Force secretary through the Air Force chief of staff, but will be invited to join Joint Chiefs of Staff sessions only for space-related talks and will have no permanent seat at the table for the first year, according to the bill.
"We didn't think that … this [person] should [immediately] be sitting on the Joint Staff," the senior aide said, referencing how the commandant of the Marine Corps did not immediately become a member of the Joint Chiefs. The Joint Chiefs of Staff was formed in 1947. The top Marine was consulted on matters concerning the Corps during the Korean War, but did not get a permanent position until the 1970s.
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Standing up a military branch with a new chain of command is a big undertaking and will take time, the aide said. Senate leaders said Thursday that they want to minimize bureaucratic roadblocks as they establish the new force.
"We know space is a warfighting domain, so we are setting up the U.S. Space Force with the Air Force," Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, said in a statement. "Our strategy will set the Space Force up for success now and in the future."
U.S. Space Command, the Defense Department’s newest combatant command, and Space Force will share the same leader for a year. After that, staffers said they’ll each get separate commanders.
The aides said they could not offer additional details "until the official language comes out." But in March, officials announced that Gen. John "Jay" Raymond, the head of Air Force Space Command, had been nominated to lead U.S. Space Command. Pentagon officials said at the time that, if confirmed, Raymond would continue leading Air Force Space Command along with U.S. Space Command.
It remains to be seen whether the latest proposal means Raymond will be in charge of Space Force, too.
The Pentagon in March put forth its request to stand up a Space Force headquarters; subsequently, the Defense Department requested $2 billion over five years to fund the newest military branch. The initial plans call for 200 people to establish the headquarters, and 15,000 personnel overall.
Congressional staffers on Thursday said Space Force would pull personnel only from the Air Force initially. However, the bill would allow officials to "put it on the path" to recruit from the Army, Navy and Marine Corps in the future, they added.
The Senate Armed Services Committee’s proposals don’t mean everything is finalized yet though. The House Armed Services Committee is still preparing its defense spending authorization proposal, and the two committees must reconcile any differences before Congress votes on a final plan.
According to the draft fiscal 2020 spending bill published last week by the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, lawmakers would grant only $15 million to the Defense Department to stand up the Space Force, far below the Pentagon's request.