20 March 2018
Hyten not ready to Endorse Space Force
By Marcia Smith


Gen. John Hyten, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), declined to endorse President Trump’s call for creation of a Space Force at a Senate hearing today.  However, he is happy the President is talking about space as a warfighting domain and proposing increases in DOD’s space budget.  Separately, he expressed strong support for a space-based sensor element of ballistic missile defense, but not space-based interceptors.

Gen. John Hyten, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee, March 20, 2018. Screengrab.

Hyten testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) today on the broad range of issues he oversees as USSTRATCOM commander, of which space is only one part.   He is a former commander of Air Force Space Command (AFSC), however, so is extremely well versed about national security space programs.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) asked Hyten for his views on creating a Space Force, or, as Nelson phrased it, “ripping space out of the Air Force,” a prospect he is “not too keen on.”

The issue of whether to create a Space Corps within the Air Force analogous to the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy, or to go even further and create a new Space Force outside the Air Force, has become a hot topic over the past year.   The House-passed FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would have required creation of a Space Corps, but SASC opposed the idea and it was not included in the final NDAA.  Instead, studies are underway on how best to organize DOD to implement space programs effectively.

The leaders of the effort in the House, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Alabama) and Jim Cooper (D-Tennesse) have vowed to continue their efforts and got a boost last week when President Trump asserted that he wants a Space Force.   DOD, the Air Force, and the White House itself strongly opposed the idea last year.  Trump’s statement clearly came as a surprise and civilian and military DOD officials have been struggling ever since to align their comments with their Commander in Chief.

Hyten tried to strike a balance, saying as he has in other venues that “I think that someday we’ll have a Space Corps or a Space Force in this country, but I don’t think the time is right for that right now.”

He added: “But I love the fact that the President talked about space as a warfighting domain.  I love the fact that he embraces the fact that we need to have a future that looks at this warfighting domain.”  He said he supports the language that was included in the FY2018 NDAA to do studies, and that the FY2019 budget request is “the best example” of the President’s views on national security space.  He characterized it as an 18 percent increase for DOD space programs.   “The President and the Vice President and the members of this Congress — everybody’s aligned with the threat.”

In a separate exchange, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) questioned whether it is time for a new version of the 2011 National Security Space Strategy because so much has changed since then.  Hyten replied that the services, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and USSTRATCOM have already developed an “integrated strategy,” but it is so classified that few know about it.  He said he would discuss it with SASC members tomorrow during a closed hearing, but stressed the need to determine how much actually must be classified.

“The work we have to do is actually figure out what really needs to be classified, how we do that, because we need to be able to plan with the other combatant commands, plan timing and tempo over operations.  All those pieces have to come together.  … Unless we have things that we can talk about in forums like this, it is a very difficult problem.  So I think we have a very good strategy now.  The problem is that not [that] many people know it.  So we have to work that issue.”

During an exchange with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) about Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), Hyten expressed support for boost phase intercept.  “I would love to drop a missile back on somebody’s head that launches it,” he said, but is “agnostic” on the technical solution. He strongly agreed on the need for a space-based sensor component for BMD, but “I’m not convinced, at this time, that space-based interceptors are required.”  He said the upcoming Missile Defense Review will shed more light on that topic.

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