When President Trump directed the formation of a new branch of the U.S. military be stood up with its sights set squarely on space, many Americans scoffed at the idea, discounting it as a flight of fancy from a controversial administration. Of course, among defense officials and lawmakers, Trump’s announcement was far from the first they’d heard of a space specific branch — in fact, the formation of a “Space Corps” was even passed as a part of Congress’ 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (defense budget) the year prior.
America’s growing reliance on satellites for reconnaissance, communications, navigation and more has undoubtedly made the national defense apparatus vulnerable to a number of attacks the U.S. currently doesn’t have the means to counter. Russia and China, who both stood up space specific branches of their own militaries in 2015, have been hard at work, developing a variety of weapons platforms aimed specifically at undoing America’s orbital advantage — and the effort continues unabated. Just last week, Russia announced development plans for a new electronic warfare aircraft they touted as being capable of “disabling” enemy satellites in combat zones. There’s no question, cutting the invisible chord from America’s satellite constellations would leave the U.S. at a disadvantage, but until recently, any discussion regarding that threat had been relegated to closed-door meetings, subcommittees, and the occasional poorly received headline.
One of my challenges when I first came in this job two years ago was actually finding enough people interested and passionate about what I’m passionate about, which is where we move militarily but also nationally relative to space,” Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force Chief of Staff, said earlier this week.
Goldfein, like many officials within the Department of Defense, has voiced his desire to keep space under the purview of the Air Force Space Command, as it has been to this point. Critics, however, have long claimed that the Air Force does not devote the necessary funding or attention to the threat looming overhead, diverting their efforts toward ongoing combat operations instead. While prioritizing the men and women in the fight makes sense to some degree, many worry that mentality will result in America falling dangerously behind in the orbital battlespace. Despite his own reservations about the president’s decision to move forward with an entirely new branch, however, Goldfein pointed out that America is finally starting to discuss and address this threat, and no matter where you stand on the subject of a “Space Force,” that is a good thing.
So now, I’ve got the president of the United States that’s talking openly about space as a war fighting domain. I’ve got a vice president of the United States that stood up a National Space Council and is moving that. I’ve got Congress that’s engaged and now interested in talking a lot about space. I’ve got the Secretary of Defense working space. I’ve got a Deputy Secretary. So I see this as a huge opportunity right now that we’ve been given to have a national level dialogue about where we’re going in space and so I love the fact that the president is leading that discussion.”
Goldfein held back when discussing how plans for a space force are moving ahead, leaning on generalities about the bureaucracy of the system, and it stands to reason that the Air Force isn’t done lobbying behind closed doors to keep space (and its funding) within their purview.
According to Goldfein, the Defense Department are currently putting the “final touches” on their report for Congress that will discuss how best to separate space responsibilities into the new branch.
Featured image: Gen. David Goldfein, who has been nominated to be Air Force chief of staff, listens as Defense Secretary Ash Carter introduces him during a news conference at the Pentagon, Friday, April 29, 2016. | AP Photo/Molly Riley