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.
Although the founding of a “Space Corps” was included in the defense budget Congress passed last year, it was removed when reconciled with the Senate’s proposal. Instead, the Air Force reorganized how it managed space efforts, providing the newly unified Space Command with increased authority and funding. However, Rogers claims that this increased emphasis is light on substance and heavy on branding, saying that the branch is still doing too little, too late to effectively counter orbital threats.
When [Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson] testified before our committee about the Air Force budget she talked about ‘We’ve heard y’all, we are more serious about space, we’ve committee to spend an 18 percent increase in space programs over the [Future Years Defense Program].’ My question was how much are you putting in this year? Four percent increase. That’s not serious. If she put in 18 percent this year, I might think they are starting to get it. This is all lip service. “
President Trump has voiced his own approval of the concept of a space dedicated branch, which he’s referred to as a “Space Force,” but other administration heavy weights have voiced concerns about how effective standing up a new branch could really be. Rogers wants a space branch to be able to fight effectively for increased funding and manage projects based on need, rather than balancing them with other Air Force endeavors, but Defense Secretary James Mattis has said he believes the administrative and logistical hurdles of standing up an all new branch, complete with staff and facilities, would be too significant to make the branch cost effective.
Rogers, however, believes a space-specific hierarchy is exactly what the Defense Department needs in order to cultivate a culture of dominance in this new battlespace.
Our belief is the only way you are going to see space adequately funded and nurtured and developed is to segregate them into this separate service so the No. 1 culture is space dominance. They have an education that supports that, they have a promotion system that supports that. They have a budget that is completely segregated and protected so when Congress decides to put money against things we know it is going to stay there.” Rogers said.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press