Since the House Armed Services Committee announced the proposal to separate orbital operations from the U.S. Air Force and instead establish a separate military branch tailored specifically to space, there has been a fair amount of debate among law makers and defense officials as to whether or not such a change is necessary, or even beneficial.  Intelligent men and women on both sides of the aisle have weighed in, with many important leaders in America’s defense infrastructure arguing against the change.

Most notably, in my mind, are the arguments levied against the formation of a “Space Corps” by both Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Defense Secretary James Mattis.  It’s no secret that I have a deep respect for Mattis in particular, so when the man claims the establishment of a space branch could hinder America’s defense efforts, you can be sure I’ll sit and listen.  In a letter Mattis wrote to Ohio Rep. Mike Turner, the Republican Chairman of the House Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee who also opposes the change, he explained his concerns that another branch would add a burdensome “additional organizational and administrative tail.”

“At a time when we are trying to integrate the Department’s joint warfighting functions, I do not wish to add a separate service that would likely present a narrower and even parochial approach to space operations,” Mattis wrote.

The man isn’t wrong.  America’s already whopping defense budget is in dire need of another influx of cash in order to maintain the massive military footprint our nation has throughout the world, and another military branch will, without question, add to the cost of administration.

Unbeknownst to many outside the various administrative facets of our country’s military, each branch seeks its own contracts when it comes to the software and hardware employed to track and manage personnel and equipment.  While the Marine Corps uses a system called MCTFS (the Marine Corps Total Force System) that can be accessed through various portals like ODSE, UDMIPS, 3270 and probably a handful of other random number and letter combinations, none of those systems can export data in a manner that is congruous with the Army’s, Air Force’s, or even the Navy’s administrative suites.  In effect, each branch uses its own software platforms, its own data storage and access methodologies, and its own population of administrators and disbursers just to maintain records and pay service members.  It’s a massive, inefficient, and expensive undertaking that would need to be duplicated once again by the formation of another branch.

Add to that the eventual need for physical assets like buildings, bases, and all of the stuff you need to occupy and maintain them, alongside a command structure that would require establishment… and you can begin to get a slight sense of just what Mattis means when he says a Space Corps would create a new “tail” to have to chase.

The thing is… I still think we need to do it.

America is hopelessly under protected in space, but we haven’t been forced to address that concern throughout the last sixteen years of war fighting because we’ve been engaged in a fight against groups that can’t muster air support, let alone orbital attacks… but the ensuing short sightedness in our budget allocations could mean real disaster for us in a conflict with another space-fairing nation: such as China or Russia.