Rogers, Cooper Reject Gold Plating of Space Corps

Rogers, Cooper Reject Gold Plating of Space Corps

Reps. Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Jim Cooper (D-TN), the bipartisan duo advocating for a Space Corps within the Air Force, pushed back against what they see as slow walking and gold plating of the idea.  Both think their Space Corps idea is a better, less disruptive approach to solving the problems they see than creating a Department of the Space Force, especially one with a $12.9 billion pricetag.

Rogers and Cooper are the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC).  Their Space Corps proposal was adopted by the House in the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but the Senate did not agree.  Instead, studies were required, the first of which was released on August 9 by Vice President Mike Pence.

Rep. Jim Cooper (L) and Mike Rogers (R) speak at Aspen Institute, Sept 27, 2018. Screengrab

In the months between passage of the FY2018 NDAA and August 9, however, President Trump transformed the debate by calling for a Space Force. It was not clear then, nor is it now, exactly what a Space Force entails, but Trump went further at a June 18 meeting of the National Space Council where he directed Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to “begin the process” to create a sixth military department “separate but equal” to the Air Force. The August 9 report, written by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, addresses creation of a Department of the Space Force.

“Space Corps,” the HASC proposal, refers to splitting the Air Force into separate components for air and space, but both under the direction of Secretary of the Air Force.  It would be analogous to the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy.  “Space Force,” Trump’s idea, is a new military department completely separate from the Air Force.

Just a year ago, HASC’s Space Corps proposal was strongly opposed by Air Force officials. During debate on the FY2018 NDAA, Rogers sharply warned the Air Force not to resist it.  They and other Pentagon officials, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, did anyway until President Trump began talking about a Space Force.  They fell in line behind the President, at least publicly, after his June 18 directive to Gen. Dunford.

On September 14, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson signed a memo spelling out the service’s view of what the Space Force should be and estimating its cost at $12.9 billion.  It is an Air Force view, not the Pentagon’s.  Shanahan said on September 19 that an internal working group is collecting input, like Wilson’s, and discussing options.

At an Aspen Institute seminar today, Rogers and Cooper reacted to the Shanahan report and Wilson’s memo.

They stressed that there is no official proposal from the Administration yet, so there is no way to know what the Space Force will be or how much it will cost.  They scoffed at Wilson’s $12.9 billion estimate.  Cooper exclaimed “give me a break.” Rogers praised CSIS defense budget analyst Todd Harrison’s characterization of it as “malicious compliance.”

Rogers said to the best of his knowledge Shanahan is talking only about merging the space-related elements of the Army, Navy and Air Force, plus the Missile Defense Agency, to create the new department.   “I told him I don’t share that view, I won’t fall on my sword about it, but I don’t think it’s necessary.”

Cooper was more direct. “We don’t need a whole new separate service to do this. We need a more capable Air Force capability to do this.”

Their proposal, to keep it within the Air Force, should have no additional cost other than hiring a second Chief of Staff for space.  “We’re just taking existing capabilities and separating them,” Rogers explained.

They also rejected Wilson’s proposal to pull in elements of the Intelligence Community (IC) such as the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).  Rogers sees no need for that.  “The NRO’s not broke,” so there’s no need to fix it, and HASC does not have jurisdiction over the IC, which would complicate the effort.

In fact, Rogers said he and Cooper are on the lookout for “gold plating and slow walking” of the Space Corps. “That’s what you do when you try to kill something.  … That’s what’s going on now.”

The two said Space Corps is the least disruptive way to fix the problems they see — that the Air Force does not pay sufficient attention to the space part of its portfolio, takes too long to acquire new systems, and does not have a culture to ensure a highly trained cadre of space professionals.

The Air Force “bureaucracy is beyond repair and plus they’re in denial that there’s a problem,” Rogers charged.  “We feel the only way to get more rapid in our capabilities and develop a cadre of professionals who are capable of dealing with this … is to pull [space] out so it’s a separate organization with a culture that’s wrapped around this mission of space dominance and they recruit and they educate and they promote toward that goal.”

As for timing, Pence said on August 9 that the White House wants the new department in place by 2020.  Asked if that is realistic, Rogers said it is “very doable if you keep it narrow,” like the Space Corps.  Cooper agreed a Space Corps is possible by then, but not a Space Force.

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