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Army Gen. James Dickinson, who oversees U.S. Space Command, meets with Shinji Inoue, Japan’s minster of state for space policy, in Tokyo on Friday, May 21, 2021.
Army Gen. James Dickinson, who oversees U.S. Space Command, meets with Shinji Inoue, Japan’s minster of state for space policy, in Tokyo on Friday, May 21, 2021. (Akifumi Ishikawa/Stars and Stripes)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – China is the primary challenge not only on the surface but also for U.S. forces preparing to fight and win in any future conflict in space, according to the chief of the U.S. Space Command.

“Our pacing threat is the Chinese, so we are watching how they are growing their space capability,” Army Gen. James Dickinson, who oversees the command based at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., said during a stop at the home of U.S. Forces Japan in western Tokyo on Saturday.

The Army’s senior air defense artillery officer has led the military’s 11th and newest combatant command since August when he took over from Gen. John Raymond, the Space Force’s chief of space operations.

The Space Force, established in December 2019, gets plenty of attention but the Space Command, formed four months earlier, is the organization that would oversee any war in space, Dickinson said.

“The Space Force is responsible for organizing and equipping space forces. We are about war fighting,” he said of the difference between the two organizations.

Army Gen. James Dickinson, who oversees U.S. Space Command, speaks with Stars and Stripes at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Saturday, May 22, 2021.
Army Gen. James Dickinson, who oversees U.S. Space Command, speaks with Stars and Stripes at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Saturday, May 22, 2021. (Theron Godbold/Stars and Stripes)

Space Command is the equivalent of the Tampa, Fla.-based Central Command, which has managed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent decades, or the Hawaii-based Indo-Pacific Command, responsible for an area of operations that covers more than half of the globe, Dickinson said.

Space Command’s area of operations is outer space, which extends from an altitude of 62 miles above the ground to infinity, he added.

Global powers like China, Russia and the United States have resisted positioning weapons in space or destroying the assets, like satellites, of other nations, but the weaponization of space is likely unless countered by effective international opposition, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“Space is very important right now,” Dickinson said. “We are seeing what our competitors are doing in space.”

During any conflict the command would draw on the capabilities of the Space Force and other military branches, he said.

Space Command makes sure that service branches can communicate and access global positioning and navigation data they need to support air, sea and land operations, Dickinson said.

China shot down one of its own satellites in 2007. Since then "it has continued to test kinetic counterspace systems nearly every year, sometimes disguised as" ballistic missile intercept tests, the congressionally mandated U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission reported in November 2019.

“We are seeing the expansion of their space program and we are watching that very closely,” Dickinson said, noting the communists’ recent retrieval of moon rocks and efforts to build their own space station.

A previous version of Space Command existed from 1985 to 2002 when its personnel and missions were absorbed by the Northern Command and the Strategic Command.

“Those mission sets have come back to the Space Command,” said Dickinson, who called on new INDOPACOM chief Adm. John Aquilino on his way to Japan.

Space Command has an important role in a theater where the tyranny of distance is a factor, he said.

Army Gen. James Dickinson, far right, who oversees U.S. Space Command, reviews Japanese troops during a visit to the Ministry of Defense in Tokyo, Friday, May 21, 2021.
Army Gen. James Dickinson, far right, who oversees U.S. Space Command, reviews Japanese troops during a visit to the Ministry of Defense in Tokyo, Friday, May 21, 2021. (Akifumi Ishikawa/Stars and Stripes)

In Tokyo, on his first overseas trip since the coronavirus pandemic began, he met with Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, Minister of State for Space Policy Shinji Inoue, Japan Self-Defense Forces Joint Staff leader Gen. Koji Yamazaki and Japan Air Self-Defense Force chief Gen. Shunji Izutsu.

“It is quite an accomplishment to stand up a Space Operations Squadron,” he said, referring to the establishment of such a unit by Japan last May at Fuchu Air Base, a few miles east of Yokota.

Dickinson, who also met U.S. Forces Japan commander Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider in Tokyo, flew to Okinawa on Saturday before heading to South Korea. There, he met on Monday with South Korean defense minister Suh Wook, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Robert Abrams and the chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Won In-choul.

robson.seth@stripes.com

Twitter: @SethRobson1

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