From Congress to the Pentagon, Government Matters dives into the debate surrounding a ‘Space Corps’ and uncovers why all eyes are on Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan’s upcoming report on the topic.
Recently, President Trump made headlines by suggesting the establishment of a sixth branch of the military – the Space Force. While the proposal might sound futuristic, it’s not a new idea. Currently, the U.S. Air Force leads the military presence in space – it operates 77 satellites in orbit, some of which provide communication and surveillance capabilities to troops, others make up the backbone of worldwide GPS. “The United States is the best in the world in space. And our adversaries know it and they’ve demonstrated the ability and desire to deny us the use of space during a crisis or time of war,” U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told Government Matters. “In a way, the United States built a glass house in an era before the invention of stones. And now we have to adapt to a new environment where we have to defend what’s on orbit.” The adversaries in question are Russia and China. Both nations are heavily invested in developing anti-satellite systems. According to a report by the Secure World Foundation, China’s SC-19 anti-satellite weapon has been tested at least seven times. In 2007, China successfully destroyed one of their own weather satellites, spurring widespread concern. Doug Loverro, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, believes the Pentagon’s response to this threat has been lackluster. “In 2007, when the Chinese shot down their own weather satellite, the DoD did nothing, fundamentally, for seven years. If you had a space service or a corps of people whose job they knew it was to be in charge of space, they would have made changes immediately, because you’re threatening their domain, the one that they identify with,” Loverro said. Leading the charge for Space Corps is Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee. While the proposal was left out of the final version of last year’s NDAA, it did require that the Pentagon examine the feasibility of a “Space Force.” Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan is leading the charge on that report, due out later this year. “What they’re instructed to do is create a road map for creating a space force and how we transition to that over time. So, if they meet the letter of the law, they’re going to come back with a plan for how we implement this. I don’t think that will necessarily happen though. I think the bureaucracy that is resistant to it, they’re going to water this down,” said Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at CSIS. Chairman Rogers says that the greatest opposition to the idea has come from the Air Force itself. “It’s been very adversarial. The Air Force is in complete denial that this is going to happen. Which I find so ironic given that this is exactly how they evolved out of the army. They were the small air corps in the Army and they evolved eventually — it took 27 years — into a separate service because the Army was always going to be terrestrial focused,” said Chairman Rogers. “And this new air mission was always going to be second place, second fiddle, which is why they basically had to evolve out. So, you think they would get it if anybody did that this is a natural evolution, but they haven’t.” In response to Rogers’ statement, U.S. Air Force Spokesman Michael Martin said, “Our focus is on warfighting and enhancing the lethality of the force.”