Vice President Mike Pence today unveiled the Trump administrations plans to form a sixth military branch called Space Force. Its a stupid idea. As a major science nerd, Star Wars fanatic, and lover of the cosmos the thought of Trumps Space Force causes my inner child to leap for joy and make weird laser sounds. But Im not a child. Im a grown up and a military veteran. And the US armed forces shouldnt be anyones fantasy factory. Don't get your hopes up. Before we go any further, Id like to make it perfectly clear that, were this bad idea to become a reality, my criticism of the program is in no way meant to disrespect the brave people whove served or will serve in the military. This isnt about our nations warriors, its about politics. We dont need a Space Force, plain and simple. Heres four reasons why: The United States Air Force Space Command, established over 35 years ago, is headquartered in Colorado. More than 20,000 military personnel perform missions for Space Command, ranging from deploying and monitoring satellites to guarding against ballistic missiles. It seems silly to form an entirely new branch, just to cover the same duties. This isnt the same thing as when the US Army spun out the Air Force. That was to fill a total void in our countrys defense capabilities. In fairness, Pence today said that Space Force wouldnt be built from scratch, but would instead draw upon existing infrastructure. So the question is, will the Air Force just detach Space Command and supplement it with troops and officers from the other branches, or does the Federal government plan to make the existing branches foot the bill by contributing resources from their own budgets? A better idea would be to sharpen the Air Forces focus and put Space Forces budget into Space Command. Especially since, reportedly, that budget isnt going to be very high. Pence also said today that President Trump wanted to budget $8 billion dollars for Space Force over the next five years. Thats $1.6 billion a year. What kind of bargain bin Space Force are we going for here? An aircraft carrier group in the US Navys fleet costs almost a billion dollars a year to operate. And the construction of the Navys newest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald Ford, cost nearly $13 billion. The Air Force, along with its Space Command, had a budget of nearly $170 billion last year. Im not sure how much of that specifically went to its space endeavors, but Id be willing to make a game show guess it was more than $1.6 billion. By comparison, NASA got almost $20 billion in 2017, and it doesnt have to concern itself with national defense. My point: $8 billion is chump change for a military effort. So what, exactly, is it that Space Force is supposed to do for pennies on the dollar compared to the Navy and Air Force budget, that those branches dont already do? Its mission cant involve a lot of space craft with a budget so small. It doesnt seem like a robust military branch, but a cheap publicity stunt. But people die in the military every single day — even when they arent at war. The military, including any future Space Force, isnt a joke. Unfortunately for my narrative here, Space Force actually began as a joke. Trump was talking to Marines at Miramar (you know, the Marine Corps base where expert pilots from the Navy and Corps train to be Top Guns) about defense spending when he went off script to talk about space, quoting himself somehow: I said, maybe we need a new force, well call it the Space Force, and I was not really serious. Then I said, what a great idea, maybe well have to do that. Im starting to think its not about space or the military, but about invigorating voters. As reported by The Verge, the Trump/Pence PAC just sent emails out asking people to vote on Space Forces logo — ahead of merchandising. And, based on the Twitter reactions Ive seen, the public seems to like the Mars badge the most. It looks like Space Force and Trumps plans to go to Mars are tied together — which only makes sense politically. The Trump/Pence PAC is already trying to monetize the Space Force: "As a way to celebrate President Trumps huge announcement, our campaign will be selling a new line of gear. " Dont get me wrong I believe we need to send a manned mission to Mars. But I cant think of a conceivable reason why the military needs to be worried about going to other planets when were currently fighting the longest war in our nations history right here on Earth. NASA and the private sector seem to have Mars under control. But maybe the Trump administration has top secret information on aliens that makes a Starship Troopers scenario likely. In that case, Im overwhelmingly positive well need to spend far more than $8 billion. Im not the only one who thinks Space Command doesnt need to be its own branch, the brass seems to agree. Former Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James recently told listeners at the Brookings Institution she believe Space Force wasnt a good idea because: It is a virtual certainty that it will be a huge undertaking that will consume a lot of time, effort, thinking. I do not believe we should have a separate space force. The myriad of details which people joke about, the academies, the uniforms and what not, those may seem trivial but they are details that need to be worked out. According to a CNBC report, James said shed spoken with members of the Pentagons leadership who told her that they thought it was a bad idea. She said, none of them are in favor of a space force but they are stuck. The president has said it and it will be interesting to see how they now deal with it. Hopefully the adults in the Pentagon, whove yet to commit to creating an entirely new branch, will find a way to stow Trumps outlandishly irresponsible scheme. Itll waste billions of dollars reinventing the wheel — a wheel the US Air Force already has. And, having served in numerous capacities alongside warriors in the US Air Force, Im quite confident in the capabilities of our current fighters to defend us from threats both here on Earth and above the clouds, and their ability to adapt as the mission requires. And they deserve that same confidence from their Commander In Chief.
This morning, Vice President Mike Pence recommended creating three new organizations within the Defense Department that would be devoted to different space military needs. Then, he said President Trump will work with Congress next year to establish the US Department of the Space Force by 2020. Pences recommendations are outlined in a report from Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who Congress directed to come up with ways the Defense Department could reorganize its management of space activities. The US military has long relied on space technologies for various combat operations, such as satellites that do surveillance and reconnaissance or probes that can detect missile launches from space. However, all of the militarys responsibilities for space are spread among the Air Force, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the Army. Lawmakers have discussed restructuring the militarys space management system to unify it. On June 18th, Trump called for the creation of a Space Force during the third meeting of the National Space Council, a newly formed advisory group that helps shape the US agenda in space. Im hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces, Trump said at the meeting. Thats a big statement. The announcement was surprising, but the Space Force has become part of Trumps talking points. Establishing the Space Force would require Congress to pass new legislation. Trump hopes to get that process started by asking for Space Force funding in his annual budget request next year, according to Pence. Then the administration will work with Congress to create the Space Force through next years National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is annual legislation that outlines the policies, responsibilities, and budgets for the various branches of the Defense Department. Congress recently passed the final NDAA for fiscal year 2019 on August 1st, but it did not include any language about creating a Space Force since the process for writing the act started before Trumps announcement. They put together a draft of that bill in the spring, Doug Loverro, an independent consultant and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, tells The Verge. Theyre not allowed to change anything in the draft they put forward, unless in places they explicitly disagree. The things they can only negotiate are things they have written. And the whole Space Force announcement happened in June. So the Space Force will have to wait until the next NDAA. But Pence hopes the military will make a few big changes in the interim based on the Shanahan report. First, hes calling for the creation of a new unified combatant command for space that will be named the United States Space Command. This would seemingly reorganize the warfighting chain of command for space, which is separate from what the Space Force would do. Within the Defense Department, there are two primary chains of command: warfighting and OTE (organize, train, and equip). OTE is the responsibility of the various military branches, such as the Air Force, Army, and Navy. Theyre in charge of figuring out what kinds of military equipment they want to make and then training the necessary people to use that equipment. This is what the Space Force would focus on: creating satellites and training personnel to operate them. The warfighting chain of command works at a higher level. This area of the Defense Department consists of various combatant commands, such as EUCOM or STRATCOM, which decide how to strategically use the branches of the military. For instance, CENTCOM decides what troops and equipment it needs stationed in the Middle East based on whats available, and then the armed forces provide those resources. Currently, the warfighting chain of command for space is overseen by STRATCOM, which is mostly focused on nuclear deterrence and global strike. But the Trump administration would create a separate command for space apart from STRATCOM, led by a four-star flag officer. This is a throwback: in 1985, the US created the US Space Command to do exactly this, but the organization was put under the umbrella of STRATCOM in 2002. Pence also wants the Defense Department to create a new organization called the Space Development Agency, which would reorganize how the military acquires new space technology. Currently, space acquisitions are done by the Air Forces Space and Missile Systems Center. But this new agency would seem to take that responsibility away from the Air Force. Pence called for a new elite group of joint warfighters, specializing in the domain of space, who would be part of a newly minted Space Operations Force. Its not clear where this organization will reside, but it may serve as the backbone for what the eventual Space Force will become. Theyre going to be pulling people from the Air Force, from the Marines, from the Army, to put them in this new organization to think about how space fits into warfighting, Brian Weeden, a space expert at the Secure World Foundation, a nonprofit that specializes in space security, tells The Verge. It sounds like that is to be the nucleus that becomes the separate Space Force. A new civilian position will also be created, Pence says: the assistant secretary of defense for space. This person will report to the secretary of defense and make sure the new reorganization efforts are running smoothly. Creating a new branch of the military is not a simple process, Pence said during his speech. It will require collaboration, diligence, and, above all, leadership. As challenges arise and deadlines approach, there must be someone in charge who can execute, hold others accountable, and be responsible for the results. These changes may sound like good news to some lawmakers who have supported shaking up the way the military does space. For instance, experts argue that the Air Force acquisitions process for space takes too long to get satellites into orbit and that the military is resistant and slow to implement changes to space policies. Reorganization could help get rid of those problems or just create new ones. There are problems with the current creation, says Weeden. Im just not convinced these changes are going to fix those problems. Reorganizations always take longer and are more complicated than we think they are. Im concerned this is going to suck up a lot of time, energy, and resources.