By Jon Dougherty
Before there was a United States Air Force there was an Army Air Corps, which did a fine job during World War II defeating the Axis Powers.
There were naysayers who pointed out that there was really no need for a separate branch because the command-and-control, recruiting, and training infrastructure already existed under the Department of the Army and as such, creating a new Air Force would be a needless duplication.
And yet, in the end, backers of the new force won the argument and the Air Force, as we know it today, was created.
POTUS Donald Trump and his Joint Chiefs of Staff have proposed the creation of a new military branch — the Space Force — dedicated not to putting men and women into space to actually fight (yet) but to specialize in countering the growing space-based capabilities of our near-peer competitors, China and Russia.
And as was the case in the 1940s, a recalcitrant Congress is standing in the way with nonsensical ‘objections’ that are unnecessarily delaying the creation of the new force.
The difference now, however, is that in the 1940s a major world war had ended and as one of the victors we had the luxury of time to flesh out the new Air Force, its mission, and the manner in which resources would be transferred from the Army to the new force.
Today, we don’t have the luxury of time. Already, our closest military rivals are developing and fielding space-based offensive capabilities that would cripple our ability to wage war through the disruption or destruction of our space-based military assets. Today, weapons targeting, surveillance, and communications for our modern forces — not to mention the functions of our every day lives — rely on satellites.
And we don’t really have any good way of defending them.
A new Space Force would be dedicated to that task, as well as developing and fielding systems aimed at disrupting and destroying enemy satellite and space-based capabilities, rather than relying on the Air Force to shuttle limited resources to space-based defense. The president understands that and so do most JCS members.
However, too many in Congress…don’t.
Whether it is resistance to change or just more #NeverTrump nonsense, every day we delay the launch of this new force is a day lost to enemies working diligently to develop and field systems aimed at blinding us during the next war, as well as tanking our highly advanced but technologically dependent economy.
As the Washington Free Beacon reported, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing Thursday to discuss the new Space Force. But nearly a year after the new force was formally announced, Congress still hasn’t dedicated resources to funding it and fielding it:
Despite growing threats of space warfare, the Pentagon’s plan to create a new military branch called the Space Force faced tough questioning on Capitol Hill Thursday from both Republicans and Democrats who voiced concerns about costs, increased bureaucracy, and impact on military readiness.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.) told a hearing of senior military and defense officials that future conflicts with Russia and China will involve attacks “from, in, and through space.”
“This would profoundly disrupt our society which is heavily dependent upon satellite communication, positioning, navigation and timing, and other vital space-based technology,” he said. “We must restore our margin of dominance in space over our adversaries.”
The Pentagon could do more as well to sell the concept. Inhofe said when he first heard about the creation of the new force, he wanted to know what it would ‘fix’ and what it would cost. “I have yet to get satisfactory answers on either one of these,” he said.
Fair enough. But it isn’t as if nothing has been fleshed out yet, as WFB reported:
The Space Force plan calls for creating a military branch under the Air Force that would be similar to the Marine Corps, a part of the Navy. A separate weapons acquisition center called the Space Development Agency will be created to support the force and eventually be folded into the force.
Apart from the Space Force, the Pentagon has announced creation of the U.S. Space Command, a multi-service command in charge of space war fighting. President Trump last month nominated Air Force Gen. John Raymond, current head of Air Force Space Command, to be the first Space Command commander.
Inhofe said the administration estimates creating the new force could cost as much as $2 billion but the question of how the new service will enhance the heavily bureaucratized military and defense structure remains unanswered.
Initial costs for the force in the current budget are estimated to be $72 million for fiscal 2020 that begins Oct. 1. Over five years, at least $1.6 billion will be needed with an estimated $500 million annually for recurring personnel costs.
About 16,500 troops will make up the personnel of the Space Force, including around 1,000 headquarters staff.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has become the Space Force’s biggest advocate. He said the creation of the force now would be different than creating new military branches in the past, which came after failures. By getting ahead of what most all military commanders see coming in the next conflict, the U.S. would be well-positioned not only to withstand attacks on space infrastructure but to inflict greater damage on the enemy’s space architecture and offensive capabilities.
Dunford told the panel the U.S. military has already staged joint net assessments—military evaluations of U.S. and adversary forces—to assess the capability to fight in space. He said those evaluations revealed “our competitive advantage in space has eroded.”
“China and Russia have taken significant steps to challenge our traditional dominance in space,” the four-star general said. “China and Russia are also capable of searching, tracking, and characterizing satellites in all the earth orbits in support of space and counter-space operations.”
But it’s been a hard sell.
“I’m having a real hard time understanding why we need this other agency. You’ve got everything at your disposal right now,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) “This doesn’t make any sense to me at all.”
“I understand the threat and I understand our adversaries are moving forward but I don’t understand how adding a box to an organizational chart is going to give us some kind of qualitative military edge,” said Sen. Angus King, (I-Maine), who questioned why the new U.S. Space Command couldn’t handle what needs to be done.
“I think Space Command makes sense. I understand that,” he said. “But to create a new bureaucracy that’s going to cost us half a billion dollars a year, I’ve got to be convinced that there’s some incremental value there.”
“Unless … we’re going to have a large number of actual soldiers in space fighting and they need a different set of skills, this is primarily going to be about technology and acquisitions,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)
“I think what a lot of us on the committee are trying to figure out is what’s the incremental advantage of having a separate Space Force — like the Marine Corps is to the Navy — within the Air Force, as opposed to say the Air Force having the training and equipping function that the five services have,” Cotton added.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who normally has little credibility because he found it necessary to lie about being in Vietnam when he wasn’t, actually offered some of the more sobering analysis during debate.
He talked about the classified briefing committee members have received recently regarding the growing threat that in the event of a major conflict, China and Russia would be able to cripple the vital functions of every aspect of the American economy by targeting U.S. satellites.
“I sort of feel like the most important facts for us — and the American people understand — are the facts that haven’t been said today. And the reason why they haven’t been said is that they are largely classified,” Blumenthal said. “And the reason that’s important is that the American people have no idea — really, no idea — about the immensity of the threat in space.
“Our adversaries know what they are doing. We know what they are doing. They know we know what they are doing. But the American people have no idea,” he added.
Chinese and Russian space weaponry and capabilities include electronic jamming, cyber operations, directed energy weapons, orbiting killer satellites, and ground-based anti-satellite missiles, the WFB reported.
“We have an opportunity to look to the future and posture ourselves to seize and hold the high ground of space,” Dunford said, adding that existing space elements of the other service branches — from the Air Force, Navy, and Army — could be easily combined into a new Space Force.
The bold vision for building the force is not lacking; what is missing is Congress’ sense of urgency.
- Follow Jon Dougherty on Twitter at @JonDougherty10