WSJ Says No to Space Force, While Trump Promotes it Again

WSJ Says No to Space Force, While Trump Promotes it Again

President Trump may not have originated the idea of creating a Space Force as another branch of the military, but he certainly has become one of its most enthusiastic promoters.  He works it into many of his speeches, including yesterday’s July 4 celebration at the White House.  Not everyone agrees, however, and this morning the Wall Street Journal joined the ranks of the opponents.

The idea of a Space Force, either as part of the Air Force or as a separate branch of the military, has been around for many years, at least since the 2001 report of the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization chaired by Donald Rumsfeld.

More recently, however, the House-passed version of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) called for a Space Corps as part of the Air Force, analogous to the Marine Corps within the Navy.  The Trump White House opposed the idea, as did the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), however, and the provision was not included in the final bill.  Instead, agreement was reached to commission a study on options.  An interim report is due next month, with the final report expected in December.

President Trump champions creation of a Space Force during a March 13, 2018 speech to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Screengrab.

This year’s House-passed NDAA would require U.S. Strategic Command to create a U.S. Space Command as a sub-unit.  The Trump White House opposed it arguing that it is premature to take any such steps until the report is completed.

Despite opposition to these ideas in official Statements of Administration Policy to Congress, the President himself is all for a Space Force.  Since March, he has broached the idea many times in speeches, most dramatically at the June 18 meeting of the National Space Council.  There, he turned to Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and directly asked him to “begin the process” of creating a Space Force “separate but equal” from the Air Force.

He has mentioned it several times since, including yesterday at a White House celebration of Independence Day with members of the military.

From the Air Force, we have Captain Brook Peel. As a Weather Officer, he leads deployable weather forecasting teams to make it possible for American aviators to own the skies, anywhere we fly. He also helped lead the Air National Guard’s response to Hurricane Maria.  He did an incredible job.  And because of his exceptional leadership, he was named Weather Company Grade Officer of the Year for 2017.  Thank you very much.  Thank you very much.  Incredible.  (Applause.)

And we have the Air Force — and by the way, I might add, we very well may soon have the Space Force.  You’ve been hearing about that.  (Applause.)  Everyone is very excited about that.  — President Trump, July 4, 2018

Top military leaders at the Pentagon oppose the idea because they view it as 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).

The military does follow orders and the response to date is they will do exactly what the President requested — begin a process — though they are looking at it as a part of, not separate from, the Air Force as the President stated.

In an op-ed today, the Wall Street Journal sided with the Pentagon in opposing the idea all together: “This plan is not ready for the launchpad…”  Agreeing there is a lot of work to do to streamline how space activities are executed by the Air Force, the newspaper credits Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson with efforts she has underway to fix existing inefficiencies and asserts a “wholly separate space force would replicate these problems on a larger scale.”

Creating a Space Force would require congressional action.  Last year the House and Senate could not agree on a solution to improving oversight and management of military space programs.  It is not clear where the Senate stands this year.  The topic is not addressed in its version of the FY2019 NDAA.  SASC closed its markup of the NDAA so there are no public records as to what was said at the time.  The House and Senate are rushing to try and complete work on the NDAA this month.  If they succeed, it will be done before the congressionally-mandated report is submitted.

The Wall Street Journal anticipates that Congress will go along with Trump “albeit it after a fight over whose district will host the space cadets.” But it urges caution on the grounds of wasteful government spending.  The budget deal reached earlier this year that insisted on increases in domestic spending in order to get increases in defense spending “will be a waste if the GOP sets up a space force that copies and pastes the military’s culture of inefficiency.”

Another concept in the mix is a Space Guard, akin to the Coast Guard, with law enforcement powers and other responsibilities over military, civil and commercial space activities.  That also is not a new idea. It is attributed to an article by Air Force Lt. Col. Cynthia A. S. McKinley in the spring 2000 issue of the Aerospace Power Journal.

The congressionally-mandated report could provide useful analysis of all these concepts and clarify the trade-space.  Trump does seem enamored with having a Space Force, but he cannot accomplish that alone.

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