U.S. military space operations are set for a changing of the guard in leadership—Space Force Lt. Gen. Stephen N. Whiting has been nominated to pin on a fourth star and take over as head of U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM). Meanwhile, the Space Force is set to receive a new No. 2, as Lt. Gen. Michael A. Guetlein has been nominated for a promotion to a four-star and Vice Chief of Space Operations.
The Senate received the nominations from President Joe Biden, which the Senate Armed Services Committee will now consider, on July 11. A committee aide confirmed the nominations and assignments to Air & Space Forces Magazine on July 13.
Whiting is currently head of Space Operations Command (SpOC) at Peterson Space Force Base, Colo., the service’s component command to SPACECOM. SpOC is one of three Space Force field commands and supplies forces for communications; command and control; domain awareness; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and more.
Space Command was established in late 2019 as a geographic combatant command responsible for military operations that are 100 kilometers over sea level and extend beyond. The Space Force was established as an independent service, responsible for organizing, training, and equipping forces, later that year.
Whiting will take over the SPACECOM role from Army Gen. James Dickinson.
Meanwhile, Guetlein will succeed Gen. David D. Thompson as the USSF’s second-highest ranking officer. Thompson has been the service’s first and only Vice Chief since the role was created in October 2020.
Guetlein is currently head of Space Systems Command (SSC), the service’s acquisition field command headquartered in Los Angeles. Prior to taking up command of SSC, Guetlein was deputy director of the National Reconnaissance Office.
Lt. Gen. Philip A. Garrant, currently a member of the Space Staff as deputy chief of space operations for strategy, plans, programs, and requirements, is set to succeed Guetlein at SSC while retaining his current rank.
Thompson’s future plans are not publicly known. SPACECOM’s current deputy is also a Guardian, Lt. Gen. John E. Shaw, who assumed that role in 2020.
Whiting and Guetlein’s confirmation to their new roles may take time—Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) has placed a blanket hold on all military nominations and promotions in protest of the Department of Defense policy to pay for service members to travel out-of-state to receive reproductive health care, such as abortions and in-virto fertilization.
The Senate could circumvent Tuberville’s hold by holding roll call votes on every nomination individually, but with Whiting and Guetlein joining some 250 pending senior military nominations, it would take months to vote on every single one.
Meanwhile, the command Whiting is slated to lead is also in limbo—for more than two years now, the selection of a permanent headquarters for SPACECOM has been bogged down by political squabbling and investigations. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall still has yet to decide whether to finalize the selection of Redstone Arsenal, Ala., or keep the command at its temporary home in Colorado Springs, Colo.
While that decision is still pending, Democratic lawmakers from Colorado have charged that House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) is holding up a request from the Air Force to reprogram funds to cover a personnel funding shortfall—usually a routine process—until Kendall makes a decision on the headquarters. In a statement, Rogers said reprogramming requests are still being considered under normal HASC procedures.