The White House on Thursday announced ambitious plans to create a U.S. Space Force as a sixth, separate military warfighting service by 2020. But as AP’s Sagar Meghani explains, the plan faces serious hurdles, first and foremost, in Congress. (Aug. 9)
But is creating a sixth military service branch the right way to counter emerging threats in space?: Our view
No question there is something glamorous about the idea of a U.S. Space Force. Little wonder that President Donald Trump, and chanting supporters at his rallies, are so enamored with it.
The new Space Force would, presumably, have its own spiffy uniforms. Its own logo and fight song. Maybe its own service academy and football team!
But is the idea Vice President Mike Pence outlined Thursday in a Pentagon speech — creating a sixth service branch and the first new one since the Air Force in 1947 — the right way to counter emerging threats in space?
There’s undoubtedly a need to beef up U.S. defenses there, and Trump’s push usefully highlights a serious vulnerability. Neither Russia nor China can match American military prowess on land, sea or air. A cheap workaround is to jam or even destroy the constellation of satellites the Pentagon — and civilian smartphone users — rely on for communications and navigation.
MIKE PENCE: ‘Space Force is an idea whose time has come’
Incapacitating any of the nearly 90 U.S. military orbiters could easily blind American troops maneuvering in combat on the ground. The Chinese demonstrated in 2007 they could hit a satellite (one of their own) with a ground-fired missile. The Russians claim that they also are rushing to develop ways for interfering with orbiting platforms.
At least for now, though, cyberattacks against the United States are more urgent threats than the militarization of the final frontier, and an entirely new service branch seems unnecessary. In the past several years, the military’s focus — as Defense Secretary James Mattis noted last year in opposing the idea — has been to better integrate existing services to reduce overhead and duplication.
Outfitting a new branch would be turning that doctrine on its head, particularly if it involves cramming 10,000 to 15,000 new headquarters staff into the Pentagon or some annex to duplicate bureaucracies of the nation’s five existing branches (the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy).
A more prudent step would be to create a joint U.S. Space Command that draws from all the branches, primarily the Air Force. Pence called for just this kind of command Thursday as an interim step while Congress begins deliberating whether to create a new branch.
This new command would, like the Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, have a dedicated revenue stream and be led by a four-star general. Like regional commands devoted to geographic sectors around the world, it would be tasked with defending America in one specific region.
To raise visibility, perhaps it would make more sense to rename the Air Force the “Air & Space Force” than to create a whole new branch. What really matters in the long run, though, is developing better capability to defend U.S. assets in space, not what you call the defenders.
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