By Monique M. Chouraeshkenazi, Ph. D.
Contributor, In Space News
Note: This article first appeared on In Homeland Security.
For the past 35 years, the U.S. Air Force Space Command has been responsible for protecting our nation’s space operations and resources. Its mission is to support all global military operations via satellite and cyber operatives.
A subsidiary of the U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), the Space Command has primary responsibility for all space operations within the U.S. Armed Forces. Nearly 40,000 command personnel are responsible for completing operations in 88 locations throughout the world.
On June 18, 2018, President Trump recommended the establishment of a sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Forces that would be a separate entity for America’s space programs. The proposed U.S. Space Force would be responsible for all space-related operations, ultimately being a comparable component to the Air Force Space Command’s missions and objectives.
Experts believe Trump’s mandate for a separate space program will be global acknowledgement that the United States is not only revolutionizing but also safeguarding its technological advancements in space security.
The U.S. Space Force would be a joint military initiative. As Trump said in a June speech to the National Security Council, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Space Force would be two separate agencies, but equal in their responsibilities and mission objectives.
Congress has established two research teams to determine the necessity, feasibility and costs for the projected organization. The first study is due to be completed as early as this month and the next study is to be completed in four months.
On July 18, Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein reported the first study is near completion. The Center for Naval Analysis is handling the second study.
History of the Proposed US Space Force
Previous administrations have considered a separate space program, but such ideas never came to fruition. For many years, those who supported a separate space organization lobbied for an entity dedicated to space security, operations and warfare.
Under Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure as Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration, a congressional commission was established to consider the creation of a space management program to restructure the Department of the Air Force and include DoD space programs to make it more cost-effective. The program did not move forward mainly due to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the U.S. response, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
In 2017, the U.S. Space Corps was proposed as the sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. It would have taken over space warfare operatives by the Department of the Air Force.
Last summer, the House Committee on Armed Services voted to include the proposal for the establishment of the space agency under the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. If approved, the space corps would have been a branch of the Department of the Air Force.
Due to much opposition to the establishment of a new branch, the legislative act was not approved. Instead, Congress extended the Air Force Space Commander’s term of six years as the sole entity within the Air Force for space operations, acquisition and training, as stated by Adam Smith (D-WA), Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Now, President Trump has reintroduced the proposal. He wants the Space Corps to coexist with Air Force space operations to improve policies and continuity, and to provide a competitive advantage over other national space agencies.
Limiting Factors to Creating the US Space Force
The DoD would be responsible for developing and funding the nation’s first small armed organization in response to space warfare operations. According to Katie Rogers of the New York Times, Congress and the military have been adamant in their opposition to the establishment of a complex, lengthy and expensive space force program.
Both entities have stated that a plan to establish another branch of armed forces for space protection and space missions would require a long and detailed process. Current and former defense leaders emphatically opposed Trump’s mission, stating that a separate Space Corps would not be conducive to DoD and the Air Force.
While serving as Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James was vocal her opposition to the Space Corps initiative. Her response to President Trump’s proposal during a press conference in Washington, D.C., was no different.
Another opinion: The US Must Create a Space Corps to Remain Dominant over Its Enemies
“It’s no secret that the institutional Air Force and the secretary of defense all were opposed to this…but now they’re stuck…if they want to keep their jobs, they have to do something,” she told Space News.
James’s concern was that Secretary of Defense James Mattis would have to provide multiple options that would not harm the DoD, the Air Force and national security, while satisfying the president.
General Goldfein also opposed the creation of a space force. He stated, “If you’re saying the words separate and space in the same sentence, I would offer [that] you’re moving in the wrong direction,” Jon Harper and Yasmin Tadjeh reported in the National Defense Magazine.
In 2017, current Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson also expressed her disdain for the “Space Corps” project. “The Pentagon is complicated enough. This will make it more complex, add more boxes to the organization chart and cost more money,” Wilson said. “If I had more money, I would put it into lethality, not bureaucracy…I don’t need another chief of staff and another six deputy chiefs of staff.”
Even last year, Secretary of Defense Mattis wrote a letter against the space force idea to Representative Michael R. Turner (R-OH), chairman of the House Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee. “At a time where we are trying to integrate the department’s joint war-fighting 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.
Global Implications of Having a US Space Force
Since the Air Force’s establishment in 1947, its mission has always been to support and defend the United States through aerial and space warfare operations. Having another branch alongside a well-established agency such as the Air Force is not conducive to protecting space assets, weaponry or national security.
Creating a U.S. Space Force would be a long-term and complex initiative that would provoke unnecessary and excessive costs, extensive research, and more distractions from other security concerns. Additionally, it would be imperative to have comprehensive discussions with experts on how a project of this magnitude would be accomplished.
The idea of having an agency committed to space operations may seem attractive, as it would be a competitive advantage over space power countries such as China and Russia. But that is not enough cause for such as a comprehensive task.
The U.S. need for a revolutionized space force should be indicative of the Air Force’s priorities. Another organization that would create additional costs and bureaucracy is not necessary.
However, there is a need to advance space security and warfare objectives to stay ahead of global threats. China has publicly stated its goal is to become the advanced nation on space technology by 2045. With China’s Strategic Support Force, it is a possibility.
Roscosmos, the Russian space corporation, dominated two-thirds of the “Space Race” in the mid-20th century. It is still the only space program that bills itself as the “human space flight provider to the international community.”
Russia’s space program has more space station experience than any other country. The United States must sustain its space operations and protect U.S. resources in space. Additionally, Air Force Space Command’s objective is to provide resilient, dependable and affordable space capabilities for the Air Force, Joint Force and our nation.
There may be some kinks in advancing the nation’s global superiority and security protection in space, but the Air Force Space Command is already doing that job. President Trump’s proposed U.S. Space Force plan requires congressional approval and requires careful consideration, because the fate of the Air Force is at stake.
About the Author
U.S. Air Force veteran Dr. Monique Chouraeshkenazi (formerly Maldonado) is the founder and CEO of MD Educational Consulting Firm and an associate professor of the School of Security and Global Studies at American Military University. As a security management expert, Monique served as Chief of Special Security and Enlisted Military Assistant to the U.S. Defense Secretary and assistant to the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency Director. She holds a bachelor’s in homeland security studies (AMU), a master’s in criminal justice (Boston University), and a Ph. D. in Public Policy and Administration (Walden University).