Republican Congressman Mike Rogers was among the first to champion the cause for a dedicated space branch of the military, aiming to offset the rapidly development capability gap between American orbital defenses and foreign offensive capabilities. Both China and Russia have had dedicated space-based military branches in operation since 2015, while the United States continues to struggle with the bureaucracy of how such an initiative could be funded and managed, and under what authority. Some have called for the Air Force to allocate more resources and effort to what is becoming America’s most significant strategic vulnerability, but others, like Rogers, believe the Air Force isn’t going to cut it, and American security will suffer as a result.

The Air Force has had plenty of time to know this had to be done. If they could make themselves do it, they would have.” Rogers told the Washington Examiner in a recent interview. “Unfortunately, because space is one of the 11 other missions they have, it is always going to be subordinate, but worse it’s going to be a pay-for, which is what’s happened over these years. We’ve seen repeatedly where the Air Force has reached into space program funds to put them against fighter jets, bombers, tankers. That has exacerbated this already bad problem that we have with space.”

Despite the science fiction connotations associated with phrases like “space defense,” the threat posed by foreign orbital powers is very real. America’s military apparatus depends heavily on satellites for everything from communications to navigation, as well as integral elements of the nation’s missile defense systems. American satellites are relied on to identify launches in time to allow American defenses to launch interceptors against incoming nuclear missiles. These satellites are vulnerable to a number of different types of attacks, many of which can be ground based and only result in temporary malfunctions — but as Rogers points out, it only takes a few minutes to lose in a nuclear war.

Let’s say China or Russia are working with North Korea to help them hit us successfully. If China or Russia were to take one of their satellites and dazzle [blind with a laser] the SBIRS satellite that watches North Korea and they dazzled it for just 10 minutes so we can’t see [the ICBM] and we don’t know about it until midcourse, well, by then it’s too late for us to launch our interceptors to take it out before it hits us. That’s just one example.” Rogers explained.