Perspectives: Does the U.S. Need a Space Force?

Perspectives: Does the U.S. Need a Space Force?

Along with other defense uncertainties in the intensifying Washington impasse, one looming question is the administration’s desire to build a Space Force as a sixth military branch alongside the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, according to a Defense One column published last week.

How quickly a Space Force develops will partly depend on the final fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which currently includes parallel proposals to create a “Space Corps” in the House version, or an initial “Space Command” under the Air Force in the Senate version, according to the column.

The Center for International Policy’s Sustainable Defense Task Force has strongly urged against a Space Force because it is likely to increase bureaucracy, encourage costly and unworkable high-tech weapons systems, and focus attention on further militarization of space rather than cooperatively managing the nation’s civilian and military space assets, the column states.

The column also argues a Space Force is likely to be expensive with even the limited Space Development Agency costing nearly $11 billion over the next 5 years, according to recent Bloomberg report, as On Base also previously reported.

The House Defense Appropriations subcommittee has also expressed concerns about the “many unanswered questions” from DOD’s proposal. The subcommittee notes “It is fully within the Department’s current authority to make space a higher priority without creating a new military service,” that would create “additional overhead cost and disruption,” the Defense One column states.

How the Space Force arrived on the nation’s policy agenda has two explanations, one political and one bureaucratic, the column says.

On the first, the White House has embraced a sweeping and tangible military initiative that will fulfill a fascination with space vehicles while simultaneously exciting the administration’s political base, according to the column.

The second driver is bureaucratic in attempting to ensure that military space priorities were not given subordinate to costly, traditional Air Force priorities like bombers and fighters, the column argues.

There are many reasons to reconsider building a full-blown Space Force; the first being excess bureaucracy, according to the column.

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis acknowledged this in a 2017 letter to Congress referencing a prior Space Force concept, stating “ at a time when we are trying to integrate the Department’s joint warfighting functions, I do not wish to add a separate service that would likely present a narrower and even parochial approach to space operations,” the Defense One column states.

The column cites a second reason to question a Space Force it is likely to increase the risks of waste. Taxpayers should be wary of proposals to accelerate development through reduced accountability, according to the column.

Citing DOD’s Missile Defense Agency, the Union of Concerned Scientists has indicated a similar approach meant that major missile defense programs were “shielded from oversight,” the column states.

A DOD-led effort may also undermine significant civilian concerns in space, the column suggests. The majority of satellites are civilian, and we should be wary of further weaponizing space, according to the column.

A separate Space Force ultimately increases bureaucracy between troops and the support they need, the column argues. Congress, the administration, and the 2021 presidential candidates should bear this in mind before boarding the Space Force bandwagon, the column concludes.

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