United States Space Corps?

“It has been painfully apparent from the briefings that we’ve gotten from our general officers that both Russia and China have nearly caught us in space capabilities and are on the path to surpass us soon.”  — Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL)

Pop Quiz: Without googling it, how many branches of the U.S. Armed Services are there?

Answer: 5 — Army (est. 1784), Navy (est. 1794), Marine Corps (est. 1798), Coast Guard (est. 1915), and the Air Force (est. 1947).

At least, for now. If some people have their way, there will soon be a sixth: the United States Space Corps. I have to admit, this sounds kinda cool — not the name, especially, but the idea of it. It’s the science & sci-fi geek in me, I suppose. On the other hand, is it really necessary (and affordable) to create a new and independent branch to handle space-oriented issues at this stage? Many high-ranking military leaders don’t think so.

The idea has been brewing since at least early 2001, when Donald Rumsfeld “warned of a ‘space Pearl Harbor’ and urged a reorganization of the military to put a greater emphasis on warfare in the space domain,” according to Sean Gallagher of Ars Technica. The current move to shake things up is being led by the bipartisan team of Reps. Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Jim Cooper (D-TN), Chairman and minority Ranking Member, respectively, of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. The pair pushed it through a vote in the U.S. House Armed Services Committee (HASC), so that a provision for creating this new military branch was added to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2018.

The U.S. military’s space activities (e.g., spacelift operations, command and control of satellites, etc.) are currently supervised by the U.S. Air Force. But some (e.g., Rogers and Cooper) believe that the “crippling organizational and management structure” has kept the Air Force from giving “adequate priority” to the U.S. military’s space mission and “fix[ing] the problems that exist in space.” The plan is to create the U.S. Space Corps “to organize national security operations in space” and assure that they get the attention necessary. It would be an independent branch with an equal seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, yet it would be administered by he Sec. of the Air Force, much like the Marines are separate yet administered by the Sec. of the Navy. Having been merged with U.S. Strategic Command in 2002, the U.S. Space Command would be separated once again into a separate-but-subordinate command (like U.S. Cyber Command).

“If you want to make space professionals the best they can be, they need to come to work every day knowing space dominance is the number one mission. That culture can only be bred if we segregate them, properly resource them, educate and develop them.”  — Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL)

When the proposal went to committee (i.e., HASC), there was pushback. For example, former Air Force officer Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) complained, “This is the first time I’ve heard about a major reorganization of our Air Force and Department of Defense…. I think it deserves at least a couple hearings and discussions on the matter at the full committee level.” Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) proposed an amendment limiting action in FY2018 to further study. But, Rogers responded,

“There’s been nothing shortsighted about this. We started working on it vigorously in September, and we’ve had countless meetings with a number of experts who have advised us as to how this should be construed. GAO has done three studies on this, all of which tell us that you cannot maintain the current organizational construct of the Air Force and solve the acquisition problems and the operational problems that we have.”

Turner eventually withdrew his challenge.

Opposition comes from the military, too, and in particular the Air Force. (No surprise there.) Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, who is already taking action to put more focus on space, cited unnecessary additional complexity, bureaucracy, and expense, should such a massive effort be undertaken. Lisa Disbrow, outgoing Undersecretary of the Air Force, voiced her concerns about timing:

“[N]ow’s not the time. I won’t say never, I think we should always keep our minds and our eyes open. Right now it would be a distraction. The more urgent goal is to work on capabilities and enhancing our capabilities and acquiring the systems that we need.”

Rogers countered, “It would be legislative malpractice for us to delay this.”

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is concerned, as well. While sympathetic to Congress’s fears, he warned about creating a “narrower and even parochial approach” to space operations. In an unusual letter to Rep. Turner, chairman of the Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee, Mattis wrote,

“I look forward to working with Congress to implement necessary space organizational changes. That said, I believe it is premature to add additional organizational and administrative tail to the department at a time when I am trying to reduce overhead…. I strongly urge Congress to reconsider the proposal of a separate service Space Corps.”

The new Wikipedia entry includes this concise summary of military notables who are against creating a U.S. Space Corps at this time:

Sec. of Defense Jim Mattis

“This proposal is opposed by the U.S. Air Force, Air Force Space Command, and military leaders such as Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Paul Selva, Chief of Staff of the Air Force General David L. Goldfein, and the current commander of Air Force Space Command General John W. Raymond. Other former military and space leaders in opposition to this effort include Secretary Sean O’Keefe, former Secretary of the Navy and NASA administrator; Lisa Disbrow, former Under Secretary of the Air Force; General Victor E. Renuart Jr., former commander of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD; and Lieutenant General Edward G. Anderson III, former deputy commander of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD. The former commander of Air Force Space Command, General Lance W. Lord, is supportive of the effort, on the condition that the Army’s and Navy’s space programs are absorbed into the new Space Corps.”

If the proposal is passed into law without major change, we could have a new U.S. Space Corps by January 2019. However, given all that’s needed to make it happen and the necessity of not jeopardizing security in the meantime, that may be an overly-optimistic expectation.

Meanwhile, there’s a proposal in the Senate to create a new position — Chief Information Warfare Officer — who would be subordinate to the Sec. of Defense and would “assume responsibility for all matters relating to the information environment of the DoD, including cybersecurity and cyber warfare, space and space launch systems, electronic warfare, and the electromagnetic spectrum.” Most or all of this would have to be stripped from the current Chief Information Officer of the DoD, leaving them with just the more mundane IT responsibilities. Or, perhaps the Pentagon’s CIO would become the CIWO, and the regular IT stuff would be left to the newly-created Chief Management Officer.

Everyone agrees that military space projects are of increasing importance and need to be given the appropriate support. Either way Congress decides to go, we’re talking a major reorganization in the military and/or information/intelligence areas of the Defense Department. Frankly, I don’t know enough of the complexities involved to hazard an opinion. I just hope that they (i.e., both houses of Congress and the military) can put egos and special interests aside, make the tough decisions, cooperate, and do what needs to be done for the security of the nation and our allies.

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