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News | April 21, 2021

USSPACECOM commander discusses space domain awareness, operating environment of space at Senate hearing

By U.S. Space Command Public Affairs Office

Army Gen. James Dickinson appeared before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees on April 20 and 21 in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Space Command commander testified alongside Navy Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command.

The two were the latest combatant command senior leaders to appear before Senate and House committees in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2022 and the Future Years Defense Program.

Dickinson represented the nearly 18,000 military, civilian and contractor personnel supporting the USSPACECOM mission.

"The foundation of our strength is our people,” he said. “Our extraordinarily diverse force will continue balancing combat readiness and preparing for the future. We will provide our people a working environment and culture that allows them to thrive while reaching their full potential.”

During his testimony, Dickinson offered insight into the command’s plans for the future, which are aligned with the President’s new Interim National Security Strategic Guidance. The Department of Defense’s newest combatant command has made tremendous progress since Dickinson took command in August 2020. This progress includes establishing two functional component commands, service component commands, significantly advancing space warfighting capability, and continuing to support the Joint Force with exquisite space capabilities.

“While largely focused from the geo-synchronous belt to the last tactical mile on earth, we are opening our aperture to keep pace with our nation’s expansion into the Cislunar region, to the moon, Mars and beyond,” Dickinson said.

Dickinson went on to discuss adversaries’ actions and the command’s response. China’s space enterprise continues to mature rapidly, presenting a pacing threat, he said.

“They invest heavily in space, with more than 400 satellites on orbit today, and China could have as many as 1,000 on orbit by the end of the decade,” Dickinson said. “China is building military space capabilities rapidly, including sensing and communication systems, and numerous anti-satellite weapons. All the while, China continues to maintain their public stance against the weaponization of space.”

Russia published military doctrine calling for employment of weapons to hold U.S. and allied space assets at risk. Dickinson discussed Russia’s actions in space going back to 2017, including a recent space-based anti-satellite weapon test, that demonstrates Russia’s aim to restrict the capabilities of the United States.

“They clearly have no intention of halting their own ground-based and on-orbit counterspace weapons systems,” Dickinson said.  

Overlaying this new global security landscape on the already complex operating environment of space demands a new level of awareness on USSPACECOM’s part. Given the President’s Interim National Security Strategic Guidance calls for “ensuring the safety, stability and security of outer space activities,” the command is focused on its number one priority of enhancing existing and developing new Space Domain Awareness capabilities.

“SDA gives us insight into activity throughout the space domain, including potential adversary activities, but perhaps more importantly, insight into the intent of those potential adversaries, too,” Dickinson said.

SDA provides decision quality information to combatant commanders and the National Command Authorities to ensure USSPACECOM can provide viable options throughout the spectrum of operations from deterrence to warfighting.

“All of this helps inform our understanding of adversary behavior,” Dickinson said.

In order to most effectively accomplish the Unified Command Plan-directed mission set, USSPACECOM has assessed current capabilities, and developed the requirements necessary to expand that capability where needed to meet mission imperatives.

“We have passed those requirements along to our ‘organize, train and equip’ service components, and to the Department of Defense in general,” Dickinson said. “Our intent is to build the appropriate space warfighting architecture designed to achieve Full Operational Capability, backed by a team of warfighters who outthink and outmaneuver our adversaries, and, if necessary, win through space combat power.

These efforts are informed by Dickinson’s recently published “Commander’s Strategic Vision,” which details the critical importance America places on space, how space enables every facet of modern life, how space makes the achievements of America’s military possible and how space is the backbone to the global economy.

Five key tasks outlined in the strategic vision — Understanding our Competition; Building the Command to Compete and Win; Maintaining Key Relationships; Integrating Commercial and Interagency Organizations; and Maintaining Digital Superiority — provide the formula for how the U.S. will win in space.

“These key tasks will help focus our efforts on what’s necessary to achieve the ultimate objective of the military space mission: deterring a conflict that begins in, or extends into space,” Dickinson said. “With the help of members of this committee, and all of Congress, we will achieve that ultimate objective, and ensure that the United States and our allies will never have a day without space.”