WASHINGTON — Next week, Maj. Gen. David Thompson will take up the newly created position of vice commander of Air Force Space Command and pin on his third star.
For Air Force Chief of Staff Dave Goldfein, that means the service will, for the first time, have a uniformed leader based in the Pentagon purely dedicated to promoting military space operations.
That role is necessary in part because of the huge number of responsibilities held by AFSPC head Gen. Jay Raymond, who also is U.S. Strategic Command’s joint functional component commander for space, Goldfein said during a March 29 roundtable.
“At last count, I think he had 31 [or] 32 trips to Washington DC since January,” Goldfein said of Raymond. “I really need him focused on ... running his command, and he needs time to do that. So having his vice commander forward to be able to take on a lot of that responsibility is going to be really helpful.”
Space is a growing priority for the Air Force, with leaders recently — and repeatedly — professing that the United States must be prepared to wage war in space if necessary.
The Air Force originally intended to name Thompson, currently a special assistant to Raymond and formerly AFSPC’s deputy commander, to a new position on the Air Staff. As the deputy chief of staff for space, Thompson would have been charged with elevating space-related issues and overseeing the service’s headquarters based space directorate, which would have been known as A11.
“We had originally thought through the A11 as a model to follow with the A10 that we did in the nuclear enterprise. So having a single entity on the Air Staff,” Goldfein said.
However, the fiscal year 2018 defense authorization bill prohibited the Air Force from creating the A11, with the document slamming the A11 plan as “a hastily-developed half-measure instituted by the Air Force, which at best only added a box on the organizational chart.”
Instead, Thompson will be promoted within AFSPC, although in his new position, he will move from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado to Washington.
Some have questioned whether the new vice commander position should be viewed as the Air Force slapping a new title on the responsibilities of the A11. However, Goldfein said he envisions Thompson’s work at the Pentagon to be more oriented to AFSC’s role as a major command focused on space operations.
“We’re going to make sure that he’s fully integrated across all of the functions and activities that we have,” he said. “But on the air staff level, the different functions — whether its personnel, operations, planning, programming — all of those areas are going to have embedded space professionals to make sure we do the classic air staff work.”
For example, a panel under the A8 Strategic Plans and Programs directorate will ensure the Air Force is properly funding the modernization of its space assets. Meanwhile, the A1 Manpower and Personnel directorate will continue to manage force development of space personnel.
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.