CAVALIER, N.D.-Earlier this month, President Donald Trump instructed the Pentagon to establish a United States Space Command as a "functional Unified Combatant Command."
However, what effect the move will have on the 10th Space Warning Squadron located at the Cavalier Air Force Station in North Dakota is not yet known.
"Our mission at the 10th Space Warning Squadron is to provide flawless missile warning and space situational awareness to enable space combat operations," a 21st Space Wing spokesperson said in a statement. "The 10th SWS is solely focused on executing our mission, and all organizational structure decisions are with our leaders in Washington."
The Air Force Space Command, which is separate from the president's directive, is tasked with creating defensive strategy in outer space and operating physical assets aligned with that, UND space studies professor Michael Dodge said.
For example, the Air Force Space Command operates and updates GPS satellites, which are a military asset of the U.S. that also are shared with the general public, Dodge said. Entity also is in charge of tracking what is in outer space, such as orbital debris and satellites, and what its impact could mean for the U.S.
"Because our military relies so heavily on space assets to wage war in the modern world, their task is to make sure no one interferes with our ability to do that properly," Dodge said.
Dodge said he doesn't expect the Cavalier squadron's role to change too drastically because of Trump's orders, at least initially, but there still are many details to work out.
"We don't fully know yet what (Trump) is hoping for the (U.S. Space Command) to do and what they're going to be transitioning away from the Air Force Space Command," Dodge said.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said North Dakota has many assets, including Grand Forks Air Force Base and Cavalier Air Force Station, that could be important to the formation of the U.S. Space Command combatant.
"I think (space defense) is an important aspect that we can't neglect," Cramer told the Herald, noting Russia and China already have made investments in the field. "I think it bodes well for the defense of the county, and it bodes well for the importance of the military assets in and near Grand Forks."
Cramer will serve on the Armed Services Committee once he takes his seat in the Senate next year. Cramer said he believes his position on the committee will "provide a good perch" for him to advocate for Grand Forks and Cavalier, as well as Minot Air Force Base.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the U.S. needs to "ensure our nation is secure from threats across all domains."
"As a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, I look forward to hearing more from the administration and our military commanders about how this command will advance U.S. interests in space, as well as any proposal to create a separate Space Force branch of the military," Hoeven said in a statement.
'No room for complacency'
The U.S. Department of Defense has 10 combatant commands, each with a different mission. The Space Command would become the 11th but would not replace the Air Force Space Command.
The new order is separate from the president's "Space Force," which would serve as an independent armed service branch.
The Space Command is not a new endeavor though. The organization existed as a unified combatant command under the Defense Department from 1985 until 2002 but was dissolved following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Air Force maintained its space command following 2002, however.
Air Force leadership is actively working with the DOD and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "to provide space expertise and support as needed to execute the standup" of U.S. Space Command combatant, said Lt. Col. Christina Hoggatt of Air Force Space Command public affairs.
The establishment and execution of the combatant is at the secretary of defense level and "reflects the value of space contributions to national security, the evolution of threats to U.S. space systems and the importance of deterring potential adversaries from attacking critical U.S. space systems," Hoggatt said.
"There is no room for complacency in any domain," Hoggatt said in a statement to the Herald. "Thus, during this time, we are mission focused-dedicated to protecting our assets in space to contribute to our security and to our economy while providing tailored, responsive, theater and global space effects in support of national objectives."
Dodge said it isn't unusual to see military organizations are interested in outer space and creating offices to handle that matter. It makes sense the U.S. would want to try and keep up with countries like China and Russia on the topic, he said.
"My personal view is it's not needed at this time. However, it probably will be eventually," Dodge said. "So, in a sense, President Trump is sort of ahead of the curve here."
The move to create a Space Command combatant and a Space Force "sends a signal" to the rest of the world, Dodge said. The declaration tells the rest of the world the U.S. is "willing and able to defend its assets in space," but the declaration can also "feel a bit aggressive," which may not be beneficial for international relations, Dodge said.
"I think that the Air Force is handling space just fine right now. However, there are arguments to be made in terms of the Space Force," Dodge said. "(The Space Force) might be more efficient, it might be better focused. The Air Force has kind of been given two tasks: focus on being supreme in the air and in space, which are two different realms."