SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. — U.S. Air Mobility Command is excited to work with the Space Force, the new, sixth armed service poised for approval by Congress, the command’s No. 2 officer said Tuesday. But AMC won’t operate from space any time soon.
The fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act conference report, which awaits passage by the Senate and the signature of President Donald Trump, would stand up a Space Force by amending U.S. Code Title 10 to include the new branch.
The bill was released late Monday, and airmen at AMC were abuzz with the news Tuesday morning, Lt. Gen. Jon Thomas, the command’s deputy leader, told Defense News in an exclusive interview at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.
“I know our Air Force is excited about this,” he said. “The last time we did this was 1947, and it was us moving away from the Army. Now it’s the Space Force, and [they’re] not really moving away but becoming independent in a way that’s necessary because of how things are going and progressing in the space domain.”
“They will still be the Space Force inside the Department of the Air Force,” he added. “[H]ow do we as Air Mobility Command and mobility air forces work with Space Force? I think [there is] much still to be determined.”
Former AMC commander Gen. Carlton Everhart was enthusiastic about the promise of space, and saw the command as having a potential role in space, executing cargo transport operations there. Specifically, after visiting with SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, Everhart believed that low-cost, reusable rockets could be used to send, receive and protect cargo going to and coming from space within the next decade.
SpaceX executives “tell me that they can go around the globe in 30 minutes with a BFR,” Everhart said in August 2018, referencing the next-generation, reusable rocket under development by the company. “Think about this. Thirty minutes, 150 metric tons [and] less than the cost of a C-5.”
But at this point, AMC is not pursuing that idea, Thomas said.
“I see no momentum, though, towards looking at space launch as a transportation capability, and thus that becomes an air mobility [mission],” Thomas said. “You can call it cargo movement, but that’s about where the similarities begin to break down. There is a very experienced, talented group of airmen who will become spacemen — if we call them that — that do that mission, and they do it well. Why would you change that at this point?”
AMC and U.S. Transportation Command considered using rockets to either pre-position or transport military cargo, he added, but the technical challenges involved in recovering that equipment from an area in which it’s already used remain significant.
“More importantly, though, we really have to spend the time thinking through what’s the use case,” he said.
Even if the Air Force isn’t likely to conduct cargo hauls from space in the near future, Thomas said AMC has its eyes on a couple of efforts that could benefit Space Force.
“There are a couple of things that — depending on what we’re able to put on mobility aircraft — that we might be able to help them with, but I really would have to just completely stop there.”
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.