The debate about establishing a new branch of the United States military that specializes in space and orbital defense has been going on since long before President Trump threw his support behind a “Space Force.” In fact, a “Space Corps” was even included in Congress’ defense budget last year, before being lost in the effort to combine the Congressional proposal with the budget passed by the Senate.
Despite some of the responses Trump’s remarks have garnered among social media users and pundits alike, there is little debate about the need for orbital defense under the umbrella of the U.S. Armed Forces — the real question experts have been mulling over is how to do so in the most fiscally effective way possible. Those who support the establishment of a new branch argue that the Air Force has consistently demonstrated an unwillingness to devote adequate resources to the defense America’s increasingly at-risk orbital assets — with some, like Rep. Mike Rogers arguing that he can’t fault the branch for failing to come through with its promises when we also expect them to maintain continuing kinetic operations all around the world. A space branch, they argue, would be able to argue on its own behalf to fund integral efforts to our nation’s defense.
Those who oppose the establishment of a space branch (aside from those simply stretching their “Everything Trump does is bad” muscles) have also made well-reasoned arguments about the administrative and logistical overhead required of standing up an entirely new branch of the military. If a Space Force employs experts who specialize in orbital defense, one can associate that with the Marine Corps’ infantry: ultimately, it’s that edge of the war fighting apparatus that justifies the existence of the branch itself. In the Corps, however, door kickers represent the minority — many claim the rule of thumb is generally something like three support Marines to every one actively in the fight. The tasks conducted by those support Marines include everything from pay to supply and transportation. If the Space Force retains that (admittedly general) ratio, it would mean recruiting, training, and supporting three people in a support role for every one tasked specifically with orbital defense, and as Defense Secretary James Mattis has pointed out, that represents a significant investment out of a total defense budget that’s likely not to grow at a commensurate rate.
In short, establishing a new branch wouldn’t increase the budget by a sixth, it would instead divide the existing money in six portions rather than five — and that glosses over the immense startup costs associated with establishing new infrastructure, training methodologies, and physical command locations.