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Remarks by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks at the U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) Change of Command Ceremony (As Delivered)

So, first off, thank you to Admiral Grady, General Dickinson, General Whiting, Lieutenant Governor Primavera, Secretary Kendall, General Saltzman, all the distinguished guests, family and friends of SPACECOM, and finally, to all the people of the United States Space Command, thank you all for joining us.

Many years ago, on a cold January day much like this, an Army officer led a team of engineers to make space history. You see, for centuries, humanity had looked to the wonders beyond our terrestrial home, and only looked. Even as we invented rockets and radios and airplanes, we had yet to send a signal into outer space and be certain of its return.

But the Army's Project Diana, led by Colonel John DeWitt, sought to prove otherwise, to test whether radio waves could penetrate the horizontal -- excuse me -- the ionized layers of our atmosphere, reflect off something in space and be received back on the ground. There were no artificial satellites, so they targeted the closest celestial body they could — the Moon.

It was a bold experiment. Project Diana required building an antenna even wider than a three-lane highway, mounting it on a tower 100 feet tall and using it to send radar pulses a total distance of over 470,000 miles from the Earth to the moon and back. 

When they did, it only took two and a half seconds for the radio waves to make the journey. But in those two and a half seconds, the future trajectory of humanity shifted. Their discovery paved the way for space-based communications, reconnaissance, missile defense, navigation and exploration, from the Moon to Mars and beyond.

That happened 78 years ago this morning. So today, we honor the space achievements of another Army officer, and we ponder the future trajectory of his successor. And we want to be inspired by the lessons of Project Diana, how our actions today can change the course of history in ways we barely know and yield a tomorrow full of possibilities we can hardly imagine.

Now, as you all know, SPACECOM is DOD's newest combatant command. And thanks to the hard work of its professionals, guardians, soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, civilians and others, in four short years this command has made tremendous strides. 

So let's pause for a moment and give that whole workforce a huge round of applause.


Every day, SPACECOM delivers tremendous value across our Joint Force, with satellite communication, early warning radars, GPS that enable not only navigation for people, planes, trucks, and ships -- but also the precision-guided munitions that have become a hallmark of how the U.S. military fights in the modern era.

And those are only a few examples of what you operate. All of it matters. Because, more than ever before, space is integral to military operations. And our competitors know it. They realize how much the American way of life and the American ways of war depend on space power. And they want to undermine our advantage here. 

They know it supports our strengths in every other domain, from land to sea to air to cyberspace. That's partly why our pacing challenge, the People's Republic of China, is rapidly expanding its space and counter-space capabilities and integrating them into a broader strategy to challenge our Joint Force and undermine U.S. interests. It's why Russia has used counter-space threats to bolster its attempts to thwart U.S. interests and those of our allies and partners.

Both Russia and the PRC are evolving their military doctrines to extend into space. They're both deploying capabilities that can target GPS and other vital space-based systems, and we've seen both countries conduct operations against us and our allies and partners to degrade our space advantages. Our competitors' aggressive actions seek to turn space into a warfighting domain.

But I want to be clear: Conflict is not inevitable in space or anywhere else, and the United States of America is committed to preventing conflict through deterrence by making clear to our competitors that the costs of aggression would far outweigh any conceivable benefits. 

Everyone at this command is part of how we do that, because while our competitors and adversaries see how much we rely on space, they also see you. They see the capabilities you operate -- most of them, anyway. They see the vigilance you exercise 24/7. They see the expert skill and professionalism you bring to bear. They see the norms of responsible behavior that you've helped develop, promote, and practice -- supporting the safety, stability, security, and sustainability of our space domain, and they see how you innovate to keep pace with rapid technological change.

Our embrace of resilient space architectures is a vital example of that. For a long time, you could count our space constellations by the handful -- satellites the size of school buses that took decades to buy and build, years to launch. That was still the norm in the days of the old SPACECOM. But now, we're also leveraging proliferated constellations of smaller, resilient, lower-cost satellites. Some launch almost weekly, deploying dozens of payloads each time.

America's dynamic commercial space industry enables it, and it's also enabled the United States to significantly outpace the PRC's growth in space launches and payloads over the last five years. From 2019 to 2023, China doubled its annual space launches and more than tripled how many payloads it put into orbit. That's real growth. 

But over that same time, American space launches per year more than quadrupled, while U.S. payloads launched increased by nearly 13 times. In terms of scale, in 2023, the PRC launched 240 payloads to orbit, while our nation lofted more than 10 times more -- over 2,500 payloads.

And as DOD invests more in space, the whole of America's lead will only grow. We have all seen in Ukraine how resilient, flexible space capabilities can help a determined defender stop a larger aggressor from achieving its objectives.

We're now approaching a future where the web of satellites we can draw upon is so great that attacking or disrupting them would be futile, a wasted effort, and a highly-escalatory one at that. 

The United States is committed to leading with restraint and responsibility in the space domain and in every domain. We do our part to avoid escalation, we strive to prevent miscommunication and we work with like-minded nations to keep the space domain peaceful. And for the past three years, SPACECOM has led the charge under the steady and skilled leadership of General Jim Dickinson.

Here's how Secretary Austin describes Jim's tenure: "Under your strong and principled leadership, USSPACECOM ensured that ground- and space-based systems around the world were ready to keep our country and our allies safe, and your legacy as the first Army general to command USSPACECOM will be a shining example for the next generation of military leaders." 

That is no small praise, coming from the secretary of defense who, of course, wishes he could be here today, and I know he is in all of our thoughts. I spoke with him just yesterday, and I can tell you he is on the mend, in good spirits, and actively engaged in the business of the department.

So Jim, I know you've been relentlessly focused on getting SPACECOM fully prepared to secure America's defense. In doing so, you've worked to put the right people and processes in place. You've deepened SPACECOM's relationships with the services, your fellow combatant commands, and our spacefaring allies and partners -- all critical for integrating our capabilities even more seamlessly, and you've strengthened how we collaborate with America's dynamic commercial space sector that's also vital to our success. 

Your time leading SPACECOM caps off an outstanding 38 years of service in the U.S. Army, and your wife, Angie, has supported you throughout. She's also been a familiar face at Peterson, striving to make military life a little easier for our servicemembers and their families. Like all military spouses, Angie has served and sacrificed, and so have your four children, Deborah, Hank, Olivia and Joe, and their families, and America is grateful to them. 

Now, Jim, you're an air defense artillery man. You've made a career working to protect against attacks from the skies, and I know that's been a vital perspective here as you've overseen the transfer of missile-defense op support and planning responsibilities from STRATCOM to SPACECOM, bringing missile warning, missile defense and space domain awareness together under one command. 

As you've seen at every step, defending our nation requires the best technical experts and strategic thinkers. It requires deft organizational leadership that empowers our warfighters to do their best work. It also requires a willingness to innovate, to forge into uncharted territory, to reach further and higher to discover what's possible, and that is exactly how you led this command.

As a soldier, you also know what it means to stand a post until properly relieved. Unfortunately, confirming your relief took longer than it should have. Much longer. Last year's hold on general and flag officer promotions -- unnecessary, unprecedented and unsafe. They were bad for the military, bad for military families and bad for America, and they should never be repeated. Secretary Austin and I are glad these holds have been lifted, and we're committed to getting SPACECOM's leadership team in place as soon as possible.

So Jim and Angie, just as the nation is grateful for your nearly-four decades of service, we're also grateful to you for delaying your well-deserved retirement until your relief arrived. And today, that relief is here, and as you pass the colors of SPACECOM to General Stephen Whiting, we know he will keep the momentum going. 

This isn't Stephen's first time at SPACECOM. He was at Peterson when the first U.S. Space Command was disestablished in 2002. But he was also present for this SPACECOM's rebirth five years ago. He was the first Commander of one of its two functional components, and for the last three-plus years, he's led Space Operations Command, which generates, presents, and sustains U.S. Space Forces for combatant commands.

Despite 19 moves over three and a half decades, Colorado Springs may be his and Tammy's truest home, for reasons you heard from Admiral Grady. But the Whiting family hasn't always been stationed in the mountain west. At one point, Stephen served in the Pentagon as the Senior Military Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense. Now, if that's not a mark of distinction, I'm not sure what is.

And while I can't verify this personally, I have it on good authority that some of his teammates back then predicted the humble, ever professional, then-Colonel Whiting would some day be the, quote, "Supreme Galactic Overlord of Space."


Well, General Whiting, I don't think I can deliver on that, but Commander, United States Space Command, is pretty close.

Stephen's time in the Pentagon was one of the few exceptions to his 30 years serving as a space operations officer, and in that time, he's witnessed the explosion of international and commercial space activity. He's described our era as the second golden age of space. 

He's seen the promise of this second golden age, such as last September's record-setting tactically responsive space launch mission Victus NOX, which lofted a space vehicle just 27 hours after the order came, beating the previous record for responsive space launch by some-20 days. 

And he's also seen this era's potential for peril in space, like in January 2007, when Stephen was Director of the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg and on a small team that monitored in real time the PRC's hit-to-kill test of an anti-satellite weapon.

That test created the largest space debris field in history, producing over 3,000 pieces of trackable debris that could, to this day and for many years to come, endanger satellites, spacecraft, and the International Space Station.

That dangerous and irresponsible PRC test is partly why, in 2022, the United States made a historic commitment not to conduct destructive, direct ascent, anti-satellite missile testing. Since then, 36 other countries have made similar commitments. 

As Stephen later said after watching that test unfold, "we knew the world had changed." 

Back in 1946, those engineers on Project Diana could have said the same thing, and that goes to show how the fate of space is in all of our hands.

Space can be a domain of unpredictability, chaos, and destruction, or a domain of stability, tranquility, and possibility. For the good of all mankind, the United States emphatically chooses the latter and we strongly encourage all nations to do the same.

No matter what, the 18,000 professionals of SPACECOM will be ever-ready to defend American interests in space and uphold our norms as a responsible space-faring nation. They are better postured for success thanks to General Dickinson's leadership, and they will continue to thrive under General Whiting's command.

So to Stephen and Tammy, welcome to an exciting new adventure. And to Jim and Angie, thank you for everything you've done for SPACECOM, for the Army, and for America. We wish you both and your family all the best. Thank you.