Travelling in Florida Thursday, Shanahan said that he already has nominees in mind for the top spots of the Space Force.
Under a proposal from the Pentagon, the new service will live under the secretary of the Air Force. However, it will be led directly by an under secretary of the Air Force for space (who must be nominated and confirmed by the Senate) and the service’s chief of staff, a four-star position who will also serve on the Joint Chiefs.
Members of Congress have expressed concern that the new Space Force, along with the new Space Command and Space Development Agency, will lead to increased overhead, particularly among uniformed officers. Congress has already imposed a cap on the number of general officers in the Pentagon, with the goal of reducing that total by the early 2020s.
“It’s going to be different from what the White House proposed,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said in remarks to a defense industry audience at a McAleese & Associates conference March 13. “Three more four-star generals are not going to make us stronger in space.”
Still, Shanahan said Wednesday that he sees “a lot of support” from Congress on Space Force as a whole.
“The fundamentals, there wasn’t push back on that. Push back was on, how do we make it more nimble, how do we make it more cost effective? I cheer when I hear that kind of language. That’s music to my ears,” he said.
There have also been questions in the expert community about whether there are enough bodies to fill out the three space organizations, given that the space realm has not, in the Pentagon’s own description, been treated as enough of a priority. Shanahan pushed back on that idea as well, saying “I don’t worry about finding the talent.”
“We have such depth. It’s really about how we organize to harness it,” he added. “But we are deep in space talent. Now, how do we unleash it to address what we talked about earlier — environments becoming even more contested.”
But on Wednesday, Lt. Gen. David Thompson, vice commander of Air Force Space Command, did acknowledge that the Pentagon is carefully considering how to structure new organizations given the finite number of general officers in the space field.
“With these organizations growing, it does put a stress on the inventory, as it would in any case," he told reporters. "I will tell you that our leaders inside the department, inside the Air Force, understand that and are doing very careful planning today and for the future.”
One name off the list for Space Force leadership is the Air Force’s top space official, Gen. John Raymond. He was tapped this week to lead Space Command, in a dual-hat role that will also see him continue as head of Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.
While the Air Force has been the lead service in space, a number of Navy offices will eventually be incorporated into the new Space Force. Could the Space Force look to the Navy to lead the new service?
Asked whether that option was in play, Shanahan would only repeat twice: “We have a good plan.”
Valerie Insinna in Washington contributed to this story.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.