Some law­mak­ers push­ing for ‘Space Corps’ to guard cos­mos

Back­ers say China and Rus­sia are in­creas­ingly tar­get­ing U.S. satel­lites

The Washington Post - - ECONOMY & BUSINESS - BY CHRIS­TIAN DAVENPORT

For gen­er­a­tions, the U.S. mil­i­tary has fought its wars on land, in the air and on the seas, in the forests of Ar­dennes, the skies over Viet­nam, the Per­sian Gulf and else­where. Now the Pen­tagon is in­creas­ingly fo­cused on ex­tend­ing its prow­ess out to the cos­mos, where many say 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 have not 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.

This year the House took a rad­i­cal step, propos­ing by 2019 the cre­ation of a “Space Corps,” a new mil­i­tary branch that would be ded­i­cated to space the way the Navy is to the oceans. The move comes as Rus­sia and China have taken gi­ant leaps in strength­en­ing their space sys­tems re­lated to na­tional se­cu­rity, of­fi­cials have said. China has demon­strated the abil­ity to hit a satel­lite in low Earth or­bit with a mis­sile. China also has de­vel­oped the ca­pa­bil­ity to hit a tar­get in a farther 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,” Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.) said at a re­cent event at the 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 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 specif­i­cally trained in space is­sues — cre­at­ing a po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive new op­por­tu­nity for the thriv­ing com­mer­cial space in­dus­try.

The size and scope of the Space Corps would be left up to lead­ers in the Pen­tagon. They would 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’s is dif­fi­cult, es­pe­cially a change that calls for the cre­ation of what would be­come the first new mil­i­tary ser­vice branch since the Air Force was made in­de­pen­dent from the Army af­ter World War II.

The White House and De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis have spo­ken out against the pro­posal. 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.”

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 high-pro­file crit­i­cism from within the Pen­tagon and on Capi­tol Hill.

For­mer Air Force sec­re­tary Deb­o­rah Lee James said that the Air Force al­ready has es­tab­lished a new Na­tional Space De­fense Cen­ter and that it is giv­ing more pri­or­ity to space is­sues, 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.

The idea of an­other coun­try’s mis­siles tak­ing out U.S. satel­lites is not the only worry. Ad­ver­saries are de­vel­op­ing tech­nol­ogy to “daz­zle” or jam the sen­sors on satel­lites. 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 CSIS event. “That’s what’s up there, and that’s why they are spend­ing an in­or­di­nate amount on space-based ca­pa­bil­i­ties.”

And that is why many say that even if the Space Corps pro­posal does not 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,” said Todd Har­ri­son, a de­fense an­a­lyst at CSIS.

KWON JUN-WOO/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

An Air Force plane takes off from Osan Air Base in Pyeong­taek, South Korea. A House pro­posal would see a “Space Corps” cre­ated within the Air Force by 2019, al­though the idea re­mains con­tro­ver­sial.

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