Some in Congress push­ing for space branch of mil­i­tary

They cite Rus­sian, Chi­nese ad­vances; oth­ers see step as un­needed, dis­rup­tive

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - CHRIS­TIAN DAVENPORT

For gen­er­a­tions, the United States mil­i­tary has fought its wars on land, in the air and on the seas, from the Ar­dennes for­est, to skies over Viet­nam to the Per­sian Gulf. Now the Pen­tagon is in­creas­ingly fo­cused on ex­tend­ing its prow­ess out to the cos­mos, where many be­lieve the wars of the fu­ture will be won and lost.

But even as mil­i­tary lead­ers have taken steps to pre­pare for con­flict in space, some in Congress fear those mea­sures haven’t gone far enough. Now, as the Se­nate de­bates the De­fense De­part­ment’s spend­ing plan, it is con­sid­er­ing how best to hold and de­fend the ul­ti­mate high ground.

Ear­lier this year, the House took a rad­i­cal step, propos­ing the creation of a Space Corps by 2019, a new mil­i­tary branch that would be ded­i­cated to space the way the Navy is to the ocean. The move comes as Rus­sia and China have taken gi­ant leaps in beef­ing up their na­tional se­cu­rity space sys­tems, of­fi­cials have said. China has demon­strated the abil­ity to hit a satel­lite in low Earth or­bit with a mis­sile. And it has de­vel­oped the ca­pa­bil­ity to hit a tar­get in a fur­ther or­bit, where the United States has many of its most cru­cial mil­i­tary and spy satel­lites.

“It is dis­turb­ing the rate at which China and Rus­sia are pur­su­ing th­ese ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., at a re­cent event at the pol­icy-ori­ented Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. “We have lost a dra­matic lead in space that we should have never let get away from us. So that’s what gave us the sense of ur­gency to get after this.”

His pro­posal, crafted with U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., would keep the Space Corps within the Air Force, much as the Marine Corps is a part of the Navy.

But while part of the Air Force, the Space Corps would have its own fund­ing, pro­cure­ment pro­grams and staff made up of ser­vice mem­bers trained specif­i­cally in space con­cerns — cre­at­ing a po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive new op­por­tu­nity for the thriv­ing com­mer­cial space in­dus­try.

“The Air Force cul­tur­ally is struc­tured around air dom­i­nance. And it should be. It’s the Air Force,” said Rogers, the chair­man of the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee’s Strate­gic Forces Sub­com­mit­tee. “Prob­lem is space has be­come so crit­i­cal to our abil­ity to fight and win wars, it can no longer be a sub­or­di­nate mis­sion.”

The size and scope of the Space Corps would be left up to lead­ers in the Pen­tagon. They’d de­cide how big it would be and what the bu­reau­cracy would look like. They would have a “clean slate from which to start,” Rogers said.

Mak­ing any change in a bu­reau­cracy as vast as the Pen­tagon is dif­fi­cult, es­pe­cially one that calls for the creation of what would be­come the first new mil­i­tary ser­vice branch since the Air Force was stood up in­de­pen­dently from the Army after World War II.

The White House and De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis have spo­ken out against it.

In a let­ter to Congress, Mat­tis wrote, ac­cord­ing to CNN, “I do not wish to add a sep­a­rate ser­vice that would likely present a nar­rower and even parochial ap­proach to space op­er­a­tions.”

The ad­di­tion of a new ser­vice “would be the big­gest change in the De­fense De­part­ment since 1947,” said Todd Har­ri­son, a de­fense an­a­lyst at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. “You’re talk­ing a new rank sys­tem, new uni­forms, a whole new cul­ture.”

While the pro­posal is in the House’s ver­sion of the Pen­tagon’s spend­ing plan, which was ap­proved over the sum­mer, it is not in­cluded in the Se­nate bill.

And it has at­tracted some high-pro­file crit­i­cism from within the Pen­tagon and on Capi­tol Hill.

In an op-ed piece for the web­site De­fense One, Gen. John Ray­mond, head of the Air Force Space Com­mand, ar­gued that the steps the ser­vice is tak­ing ob­vi­ate the need for a new branch of the ser­vice.

“Our ap­proach is to nor­mal­ize, el­e­vate and in­te­grate space as a war-fight­ing do­main,” he wrote. “It’s an ap­proach that’s al­ready pay­ing div­i­dends.”

For­mer Air Force Sec­re­tary Deb­o­rah Lee James said the Air Force has al­ready es­tab­lished a new Na­tional Space De­fense Cen­ter, and it is giv­ing more pri­or­ity to space mat­ters, in­clud­ing train­ing what she called “space warfight­ers.”

Such dis­rup­tive change within the Pen­tagon would “cre­ate enor­mous up­heaval,” she said. “Some­times the juice is not worth the squeeze.”

While not em­brac­ing a full Space Corps, the Se­nate ver­sion of the Pen­tagon spend­ing plan calls for a high-level chief in­for­ma­tion war­fare of­fi­cer who would be re­spon­si­ble for space as well as cy­berspace and elec­tronic war­fare.

While there may not be sup­port for the House’s pro­posal, the Se­nate is also push­ing to aug­ment the way the Pen­tagon fights in space.

“This space threat has de­vel­oped with alarm­ing speed,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the chair­man of the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, wrote in a re­port.

“Over the next five years, space must be a pri­or­ity for ad­di­tional fund­ing to en­sure that the United States main­tains its space su­pe­ri­or­ity and has the ca­pa­bil­i­ties and ca­pac­ity to de­ter and de­fend our crit­i­cal space as­sets.”

It’s not just mis­siles tak­ing out satel­lites that of­fi­cials are wor­ried about.

Ad­ver­saries are also de­vel­op­ing tech­nol­ogy to “daz­zle” the sen­sors on satel­lites or jam them. That would leave troops on the ground with­out ways to com­mu­ni­cate.

It could dis­able guid­ance mech­a­nisms on weapons or leave in­tel­li­gence agen­cies un­able to track ter­ror­ists on the ground.

“Rus­sia and China want to take our eyes and ears out,” Rogers said at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies event. “That’s what’s up there, and that’s why they are spend­ing an in­or­di­nate amount on space-based ca­pa­bil­i­ties.”

And that’s why many think that even if the Space Corp pro­posal doesn’t pass this time around, its day will even­tu­ally come.

“In 30, 40, 50 years most people agree that we’ll even­tu­ally need an in­de­pen­dent space ser­vice,” Har­ri­son said.


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