USA TODAY International Edition
Congress ponders adding a military branch for space
Uneasy about China and Russia, lawmakers propose Space Corps
WASHINGTON There’s a turf war brewing in the final frontier.
House lawmakers on Friday approved a Defense authorization bill that would carve out the space mission from the U. S. Air Force and create a new branch of the military: the Space Corps.
The move is being spearheaded by Rep. Mike Rogers, R- Ala., who contends the department’s lack of focus on extra- terrestrial priorities has eroded the nation’s dominance in space.
The nation’s defense is being compromised because military satellites aren’t being deployed fast enough because of a bureaucracy that cares more about superiority in the air than space, said Rogers, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on strategic forces.
“We have allowed our primary adversaries, Russia and China, to gain peer status in just the last few years,” he said.
Rogers’ proposal, endorsed by his subcommittee’s top Democrat, Jim Cooper of Tennessee, would create a sixth branch of the military ( joining the Air Force, Army, Marines, Coast Guard and the Navy). The Space Corps would be up and ready by 2019 and still answer to the secretary of the Air Force.
Its main purpose would be to oversee the acquisition, development and deployment of military satellites and the ground stations that control them. It would not include intelligence satellites or the National Reconnaissance Of- fice, the government agency in charge of designing building, launching and maintaining intelligence satellites. The Space Corps also would not have direct oversight of missile launches conducted by the military.
The proposal, coming two years after China took a similar step, is meeting fierce resistance from top U. S. Air Force officials. “The Pentagon is complicated enough,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told reporters last month. “We’re trying to simplify. So to make it more complex would add more boxes to the ( organizational) chart and cost more money. And if I had more money, I would put it into lethality, not bureaucracy.”
Some senators are lukewarm to the idea.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D- Fla., a senior member of the Armed Services Committee and one of Congress’ foremost champions of space, called the creation of a new branch “premature” and unnecessary: “There’s no sense to go out and create another reorganization and all the disruption that comes with that.”
Rogers counters there won’t be any significant cost increase because the move largely would mean taking the existing work from the Air Force without adding more personnel or building more bases. The aim, he said, is to instill a new “culture” within the Pentagon.
The idea of a separate “Space Corps” has been kicked around as far back as 1969, according to Howard McCurdy, an American University professor and space policy expert. But it took on new life in 2001 when the idea was promoted by a commission headed by Donald Rumsfeld, President George W. Bush’s secretary of Defense.
“National security space organization and management today fail to reflect the growing importance of space to U. S. interests,” the panel’s report read. “There is a need for greater emphasis on space- related matters, starting at the highest levels of government.”
In May, the Government Accountability Office — Congress’ watchdog arm — reported that “fragmented responsibilities have made it difficult to coordinate and deliver interdependent systems” and that creating a “new military department for space, may deserve a closer look.”
Rogers said he got involved a little more than a year ago when defense firms approached him about their frustration with the Air Force in getting military satellites approved and ready for launch.
“Contractors started coming to us and saying: ‘ This is awful. We can’t get these assets up. We can’t get anybody to talk to us. The Air Force keeps coming to us and saying can you do this, can you do that.’ And then they can’t make a decision. They keep changing the requirements,’ ” he said.
Rogers is concerned about the ability of Russia and China to quickly deploy hardware that can jam or interfere with U. S. satellites while the Air Force takes as long as eight years to launch its own military equipment into space.
The creation of a separate branch of the military for space is not included in the Senate’s version of the defense authorization bill, dimming the prospect of a Space Corps in the immediate future.