US Space Command is Starting to Figure Out How to Fight

US Space Command is beginning to pull together the budget and operations plans that will shape how it defends US systems in space and provides services like GPS navigation and communications to military personnel around the world.

When the Pentagon talks about space as a “warfighting domain,” officials are typically discussing putting new satellites on orbit, as well as protecting and operating them. Rarely does the public conversation turn to offensive capabilities the US could wield against space assets like frequency jamming or anti-satellite weapons.

But for the range of missions SPACECOM is taking on to operate military assets in space, and to assist others back on Earth, it is in the process of forming a campaign plan that will be done in early 2020, AFSPC boss Gen. Jay Raymond said. A campaign plan matches resources to military needs within a particular area—in this case, 100 kilometers above the Earth and beyond.

“We’ve published our first integrated priority list,” Raymond added during a Nov. 18 appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We’re beginning to have much more of an influence on the budget. … That’s, again, a much more heightened voice at the combatant command level than we were at a component level.”

President Donald Trump revived SPACECOM in August to be the organization that uses resources from across the military services for offensive and defensive space maneuvers, though its main job right now is to support other commands and provide what they need from satellites and space-based sensors.

Raymond, who provides personnel and systems to SPACECOM as commander of Air Force Space Command, said an operations plan is in the works as well. That would inform how the US deals with adversaries in space, such as maneuvering satellites away from threatening objects or possibly retaliating.

“As we build our planning team, we’re beginning the work on doing the OPLAN development,” he said. “The thing that we’re going to work really hard to do is to do that development in concert with the other combatant commands.”

Planning groups embedded with the other combatant commands are a key part of that path forward. Raymond has discussed the effort to better integrate space planning into warfighting organizations around the world throughout the year. In addition to putting planners at US Strategic Command, US Indo-Pacific Command, and US European Command, Raymond now says SPACECOM has reached out to US Northern Command and US Africa Command.

Though the cosmos sit far above traditional areas where combat plays out, space still touches everything on Earth, he added. A major part of the military’s thinking now is how to wage war without having space-related considerations fall through the cracks.

“In most cases we would [support the other COCOMs],” Raymond said. “The inverse holds true as well. In the future, as we have to fight for space superiority, we are going to require support from other combatant commands as well to conduct those missions.”

For example, he said, if “deterrence were to fail” and war breaks out between the US and Russia, then EUCOM would be the main combatant command focused on that conflict. But EUCOM would need to work together with SPACECOM, US Transportation Command, NORTHCOM, STRATCOM, and US Cyber Command to leverage the full gamut of resources.

“You can just see how those plans have to be integrated so we don’t have those seams,” Raymond said. “If you plan together and do that work together, we think it’ll provide great benefit.”

He added that SPACECOM headquarters is set to grow from about 400 employees to around 500 over the next few months. Still, Raymond warned earlier this year that a continuing resolution—like the one in effect until Nov. 21—would significantly impact efforts to stand up the new command.