30 October 2018
Air Force leaders more vocal about their support for Trump's Space Force proposal
by Sandra Erwin
Space News


Top leaders of the U.S. Air Force are doing their best to counter the narrative that they oppose President Trump’s plan to establish a Space Force.

"The United States Air Force is all in on Space Force and we've been contributing input to making the President's vision a reality,” Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, told the MILCOM technology conference yesterday in Los Angeles. (h/t Kim Underwood of Signal Magazine)

SMC oversees $7 billion a year in space program funding, and is where most of the Defense Department’s space expertise and resources reside. Thompson noted that SMC stands ready to help the Space Force. “The U.S. Space Force is going to need experts,” he said.

Thompson’s remarks come on the heels of extensive comments by Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson last week on “The Takeout” podcast with CBS News' Major Garrett. 

“I am completely aligned with the president,” Wilson insisted, reiterating what she had said publicly over the past several months. Garrett pressed Wilson to address the rumor that the president was “peeved” at her for opposing the Space Force and was considering replacing her.

Garrett: “Do you have any reason to believe the president is peeved with you?”

Wilson: “No”

Garrett: “Do you have any reason to believe you’re in any jeopardy?”

Wilson: “Not at all”

Garrett: “So what’s behind a report saying there is distance between you and the president?”

Wilson: “I wouldn’t put too much stock in it.” And she added, facetiously, “When the White House denied it, my husband was very disappointed.”

Garrett: “Are you willing to serve after the midterms?”

Wilson: “I take my life day by day.”

On the Space Force issue, the secretary also pushed back on Garrett’s suggestion that the Air Force could end up weakened by the establishment of a new service that presumably would draw on Air Force resources.

The Air Force is focused on “developing capabilities,” she said. “The organization chart is less important.”

She repeated one of her frequent lines that the Air Force is “the best in the world at space.” That said, “Our adversaries want  to deny us use of space” and the question is “do we organize in a different way given the emergence of a new threat and a new set of circumstances?”

Rundown of the latest Space Force developments

BIG PUSH BY VP PENCE At the National Space Council meeting last week, Vice President Mike Pence made an impassioned case for the establishment of a Space Force. But no matter how much President Trump wants it, congressional authorization by law is required to form a new military branch. Pence said Trump will work tirelessly to make sure the legislative language to create a Space Force makes it into the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. The council endorsed the Pentagon’s recommendations and a policy directive is being drafted for Trump’s signature.

Stephen Kitay, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, also offered a strong endorsement for the president’s plan. “This will be a force that is focused on space and the space needs of our combatant commands,” he said at a space conference in Huntsville, Alabama. “This force will train and grow national security space professionals and will develop the doctrine and capabilities needed to enable the joint warfighter and ensure that we can fight and win should warfare extend into space.”

Kitay, formerly a senior staff member on the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee, said that the administration is "working to make sure that we educate Congress and the American people more about the serious nature of those threats and the importance of space.”

On the upcoming debate on Capitol Hill: “I think it’s going to be an exciting and interesting discussion.”

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said his primary focus as he drafts a Space Force legislative proposal is on how the military will acquire cutting-edge space technologies. He is pressing forward with the establishment of a Space Development Agency to take the lead in acquisitions of new systems and also to help to consolidate duplicative space projects pursued by individual services. “How do you align the department so we don’t solve the same problem multiple times?” he asked.

All the services use space, and some investment should be shared, he said. The biggest challenge here is “not the technology but how do you get DoD aligned?"

Shanahan’s thinking appears to be influenced by conversations with Army Futures Command’s Lt. Gen. John Murray. Ground forces are the military’s biggest users of space services like communications, timing, navigation and early warning of missile launches. Shanahan said the Army should have some say in the “space architecture,” such as how future constellations are designed and constructed. “If the Army is first in developing a component of our space architecture, how do we get everybody to hold hands and say the Air Force is going to adopt the same thing?"

WARNING ABOUT SPACE FORCE A contrarian view on the Space Force comes from Dan Grazier, military fellow at the Center for Defense Information at the Project on Government Oversight. He predicts that “if we create this new bureaucracy, its first goal is going to be protect its own existence. A secondary goal will be to justify its existence. Only after that it’ll start focusing on the mission at hand. And even then, the mission at hand is going to be disconnected from the operations of the other services.”

Drawing on his research as a military historian, Grazier said the establishment of a new service is likely to fuel rivalries, which could be counterproductive, he argues. The military already struggles to deliver space capabilities to forces in the field because the organizations that worry about space are not responsible for the equipment that is needed on the ground. The Air Force buys satellites but the Army has to buy the radios that talk to the satellites. “We see this now,” says Grazier. "An independent service dedicated to space will quickly forge its own bureaucratic path separate from the existing military forces. This will provoke more inter-service rivalries and distract from rather than contribute to future military success.”

Nonprofit led by former U.S. lawmakers working to connect DoD with commercial space industry

The national security space program at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress is working on a list of recommendations on how the Pentagon could work better with the commercial space industry.

Congress next year will consider a Trump administration proposal to establish a new military branch for space. One of the justifications for creating an independent Space Force is that the Air Force’s procurement system is stifling innovation. The Space Force debate might not be settled for another year or two, but there is a lot the Air Force could do today to modernize space systems faster, said Joshua Huminski, director of the National Security Space Program at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. 

The program is run by the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence and Global Affairs, co-chaired by former Republican congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan, and former Democratic congressman Glenn Nye of Virginia.

“The question we’re tackling is what is the Air Force doing today and what can it do tomorrow to better integrate capabilities,” said Huminski. 

The center is nonpartisan and “vendor neutral,” he said. Rogers started the national security space program with the goal of promoting closer ties between policy makers and the business community.

MAKE CHANGES SOONER NOT LATER The national security space sector is poised for sweeping change if the Pentagon moves forward with efforts to create a Space Development Agency and if Congress approves standing up a Space Force. Huminski said Rogers believes procurement should be fixed sooner, regardless of how the reorganization pans out. “We’re driving ahead rather than waiting to see what happens.”

The center’s national security space program aims to “identify ways in which commercial, particularly emerging ‘new space’ technologies, can be more efficiently and effectively integrated into the national security space architecture, where appropriate,” Huminski said.

“Commercial space is in the midst of a massive boom. From new launch providers, reusable rockets, new and smaller satellites, larger constellations, and more capable sensors are rapidly coming online. If the United States is to remain the dominant power in space, it will need to seize upon, integrate, and exploit these technologies more swiftly than it currently is doing.”

Joshua Huminski, Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. 

The center's recommendations will be rolled out next year when the new Congress is in session. The group so far has hosted three off-the-record roundtables in Washington and in Los Angeles, and more are planned, Huminski said. The proposal will address acquisition culture, mission assurance and risk tolerance. "Our goal is to strengthen the national security space architecture as a whole, not advocate for one vendor over another.”

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