AFA: Space Force, No, But How About a New Name for the Air Force?

AFA: Space Force, No, But How About a New Name for the Air Force?

The Air Force Association (AFA) has issued a position paper rejecting the idea of creating a new U.S. Department of the Space Force as demanded by President Trump, at least for now.  Instead, it calls for renaming the Air Force as the Aerospace Force to highlight that air and space are “indivisible,” as pointed out at the beginning of the Space Age by then Air Force Chief of Staff Thomas White.

President Trump began talking about creating a Space Force as a sixth military department in March.  The idea was not welcomed by the Pentagon, which already was resisting efforts in Congress to create a Space Corps within the Air Force like the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy.

At a meeting of the National Space Council on June 18, however, Trump made clear that he means business, directing Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to “carry out that assignment.”  Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson have dutifully fallen in line, at least publicly, despite their previous strong opposition just to the Space Corps proposal, never mind a separate military service.

Vice President Mike Pence released a report spearheaded by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan on August 9 that outlined the steps toward a Space Force.  Trump and Pence want the new department in place by 2020.  Details of the proposal, including the cost, will be included in the President’s FY2020 budget request to Congress, which must authorize the establishment of a new military department and fund it.

The idea of a Space Force remains controversial, although support is growing for a separate unified combatant command, U.S. Space Command.  The United States had one from 1985-2002, but it was eliminated in 2002 following a reorganization of the combatant commands in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

AFA is a non-profit organization dedicated to “dominant air, space, and cyberspace power, a strong national defense” as well as supporting the men and women of the Air Force and aerospace education. Former Air Force Secretary Whitten Peters is chairman of the board and Gen. Larry Spencer (Ret.) is president.  Its annual Air, Space, and Cyber conference is currently underway outside Washington, D.C.

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. Credit: Air Force website

Yesterday, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson spoke at the conference and spelled out her views on “The Air Force We Need.”  She referenced a memo she signed on Friday detailing the Air Force’s proposal on how to stand up a Space Force “that is bold, and that carries out [the President’s] vision.”  She estimated the cost at $12.9 billion over five years.  The proposal represents the Air Force’s point of view, not necessarily that of the Pentagon as a whole.

The same day, AFA issued its policy statement that a Space Force may be needed in the future, but not now.  “Currently there are no space arms which are fundamental to setting up an armed service.”  The time will come only after Congress debates and changes existing constraints on “a fully weaponized space capability” and allows “the Air Force to mature space warfare theory and concepts of operation for war in, from and through space…”  For now:

The US Air Force has led the Armed Forces in establishing America’s space capability such that it is unrivaled in the world. Today, to split up the well-integrated set of air and space capabilities that have been organized to seamlessly contribute to America’s military capabilities would result in more harm than good. — Air Force Association

The position paper quotes then-Air Force Chief of Staff Thomas White as saying in 1958, as the Space Age began, that “Air and space are not two separate media to be divided by a line and to be readily separated into two distinct categories; they are in truth a single indivisible field of operations…”

Instead, it recommends renaming the Air Force as the Aerospace Force.  “From an employment perspective effects from air and space have been integrated and are indivisible. The US Air Force may want to reflect this reality so it is better understood by Americans by considering renaming the US Air Force to the US Aerospace Force.”

The AFA also cites the money needed to create a new department as a negative: “Too much mission, too few dollars. Standing up a separate space bureaucracy amplifies the problem…”

It does support reestablishing the unified combatant command for space, however.

The AFA’s arguments against the Space Force largely parallel what Mattis, Wilson and other Pentagon officials were saying before Trump’s June directive — basically that it is antithetical to their ongoing efforts to cut overhead costs and to integrate, rather than segregate, the military services for joint warfighting in all domains (land, sea, air, space and cyber).

Congress will be the ultimate arbiter of whether a new department is created or not.  The idea has met with mixed reviews on Capitol Hill so far.  The effort to create a Space Corps within the Air Force was driven on a bipartisan basis by leaders of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC).  The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), then chaired by the late Sen. John McCain, was not convinced and blocked it.   McCain’s SASC successor, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), has said he wants to know how much it will cost before making a decision.  Meanwhile some of the HASC members who supported the Space Corps have expressed reservations about an entirely new military department.  The outcome of the debate may well depend on which party controls the House and Senate next year.

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