The new United States Space Command will officially be up and running by the end of the month, Vice President Mike Pence said today (Aug. 20) at a meeting of the National Space Council.
The U.S. Space Command (opens in new tab) will be the military's unified combatant command in charge of the country's defense operations in space. It will become the Defense Department's 11th unified combatant command, alongside the U.S. Strategic Command, the U.S. Special Operations Command and other commands that serve specific functions or geographic regions.
"Next week we will formally stand up the new unified combatant command that will be known as the United States Space Command," Pence said during the sixth meeting of the newly established National Space Council (opens in new tab) as he stood beneath the space shuttle Discovery at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, who was also present at the meeting, said that a formal ceremony to "stand up" the U.S. Space Command will take place on Aug. 29. Effective immediately after that, the Space Command will consist of 87 people under the direction of Gen. John Raymond, who is currently the commander of Air Force Space Command.
President Donald Trump has also been touting the idea of a "Space Force," a potential sixth branch of the U.S. military, for over a year. He made it official in February with the signing of Space Policy Directive-4, which ordered the Pentagon to establish a Space Force to go along with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.
While the Space Force and the Space Command will work together, they are not the same entity. As Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan explained via Twitter (opens in new tab), "The Space Force will serve as a force provider for personnel, assets, and capabilities supporting space operations, while Space Command will serve as the operational command that will employ space capabilities and lead space operations." Once the two organizations are both up and running, "the differences between Space Force and U.S. Space Command will largely parallel those of the other five military services and four functional combatant commands," he added.
According to Pence, the Space Force military branch is expected to be up and running by 2020 (opens in new tab) — that is, if Congress agrees to establish and fund it.
"Space is a war-fighting domain," Pence said. "The United States Space Force will ensure that our nation is prepared to defend our people, to defend our interests and defend our values in the vast expanse of space and here on the Earth with the technologies that will support our common defense."
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