The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-5) successfully launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 7, 2017.
President Donald Trump wants a Space Force, a new military service he says is needed to ensure American dominance in space. But the idea is gaining little traction on the Pentagon, where the president’s defense chief, Jim Mattis, says it might add burdensome bureaucracy and unwanted costs.
The Pentagon acknowledges a need to revamp its much-criticized procedure for defending U.S. economic and security interests in space, which is moving in that direction. But it’s unclear whether this may satisfy Trump, who wants to go even further by developing a separate military space service.
The administration plans to announce next week the outcomes of a Pentagon study that’s supposed to require creating a new military command, U.S. Space Command, to consolidate space warfighting forces and making other organizational changes less than establishing a different service, which only Congress can perform. Any legislative proposal to create a different service is likely to not put on the table until the coming year.
Mattis, who said before Trump’s “Space Force” announcement in June which he opposes creating a brand new branch with the military for space, said afterward until this would require “a large amount of detailed planning.”
Mattis is allied for this with key Republicans on Capitol Hill including Sen. James Inhofe, a member in the Senate Armed Services Committee who opposes a different Space Force but is offered to making a Space Command. The command would coordinate the use of space forces of existing services, including people who operate military satellites, but would not a different service.
Mattis’s chief spokeswoman, Dana W. White, said Friday he believes that consolidating space functions will “ensure we move with the speed of relevancy. Space can be a joint warfighting domain the U.S. must dominate.”
Trump mentioned as recently as Tuesday that they had ordered the Pentagon to begin the operation of developing a Space Force as a brand new branch of the military, but he didn’t repeat the saying he used in June, a “separate but equal” service. That may open the possibility with the Pentagon proposing to determine a cadre of space experts that could be part of an space “corps” attached to the Air Force rather than as a separate service.
Trump’s focus for this has generated a unique amount of discuss space, but with little clarity.
“At the moment, there is no concrete proposal available for the purpose a Space Force will look like or what it will do,” said Brian Weeden, an Air Force veteran who is director of program planning on the Secure World Foundation, which promotes peaceful uses of outer space. “It’s just sort of an notional concept.”
Weeden suggests that creating a new service may not address precisely what is generally viewed as a desire for a much more coherent force to guard U.S. interests in space, since by law an email finder service recruits, trains and equips troops but does not do combat. That is why a Space Command will be considered, since it will be the combat arm for space much as Central Command is the organization accountable for combat operations in the Middle East.
Aside from your organizational issues, the Pentagon’s role in space is under scrutiny because of an recognition the United States is increasingly dependent on satellites which might be hard to protect in space. Satellites provide communications, navigation, intelligence and other services vital to the military and the economy. Whereas space has been America’s technological edge, it can be increasingly seen as its Achilles’ heel.
War in space isn’t just Hollywood fiction. The U.S. intelligence agencies reported captured that Russia and China are pursuing “nondestructive and destructive” anti-satellite weapons for usage during a future war.
A related problem how the Pentagon has struggled to deal with could be the sluggish pace of developing and acquiring satellites through the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, which may be replaced by a new space development agency.
In an interim report to Congress in March on solutions to reorganize its space organizations, the Pentagon said it is making changes to “ensure that people are set for” potential conflicts in space. This includes making satellites more resilient to potential attack by Russia or China.
Deborah James, who had been the civilian leader in the Air Force for that final 36 months of the Obama administration, said at the think tank forum Monday that developing a separate Space Force will not address the legitimate concerns about U.S. space defenses. One from the criticisms of the Air Force, which will be the primary service to blame for military satellites, is that it devotes too little money and awareness of space.
“If financial resources are your issue, Space Force just isn’t your solution,” she said. If the logic of making a separate space service were applied broadly, she said, it would imply other radical changes including developing a single nuclear service by combining management in the strategic nuclear weapons in the Air Force and Navy, which nobody is considering.