National security experts throw cold water in an Area of Strength euphoria

President Donald Trump wants a new Space Force branch of the U.S. army, but it opens an old discussion about military use in the space. Here, the U. S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly over NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with former NASA astronaut and air force Colonel Buzz Aldrin. Credit: U. S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Christopher Boitz

WASHINGTON — A military branch for space would indeed be necessary for the United States to maintain its superpower status in the last frontier. But the Pentagon and the Congress should not rush to create a Space Forcewithout at least weigh the disadvantages, experts caution.

President Trump on 18 June ordered the Pentagon to a sixth branch of the military devoted to space, and Congress is ready to back that request with a legislation that would be included in the 2020 defense policy bill.

The president of the thrust of the Space-Operation in the spotlight, but neither the administration nor the Congress has clearly defined its mission, said Brian Weeden, a program director at the Secure World Foundation. [Military Space Spacecraft, Weapons and Tech]

Weeden spoke on Monday at The Brookings Institution in a panel discussion on the pros and cons of having a separate military service for space.

The former Secretary of the air force Deborah Lee James is one of the fiercest critics of Trump’s proposal. The Space Force in her mind is the classic shiny object that distracts from the real debate. And Washington being Washington, “it is a virtual certainty that if a space of power is adopted, and goes through, it takes a lot of time, effort and will definitely be a distraction.”

In the end, “it could end up as the best invention since sliced bread,” said James. But it would come at a great price, because it will “slow down the momentum” in the air force to speed up space investments and programs. “At this time, the focus is on getting things done,” said James. “Suddenly shifts the focus on who is going to report to whom, and how do we get these guidelines written and everything that goes along with the creation of a new bureaucracy.”

Air Force leaders “will work hard to ensure it is not a distraction, but it will be, no matter how much they try to soften,” said James. “Eventually it will, but you will go through years of thrash.”

Analysts have calculated that the formation of a new military service could take two to five years. One thing to remember is that a large government reorganisations, never pan out as planned, noted Michael O’hanlon, senior fellow at Brookings. He remembers that after the attacks of 9/11, the George W. Bush administration has an office of the director of national intelligence to lead the 16 intelligence agencies. “That could ultimately have achieved net benefits, but it took a decade of disruption to get it right.” Also the creation of the Department of Homeland Security “, it requires a huge effort and produced a lot of chaos,” O’hanlon said. “And it is not likely to improve the performance of the agencies now under its umbrella.”

Seemingly small things like the Space Force uniforms (the butt of many late night comedians’ jokes) will be a part of the process of the emergence of a new service and will add to the disruption, James said. “These are the details people joke about. They may seem trivial, but they are details that need to be worked out. These things take time and by nature is a distraction,” she said. “It would be a shame that something as important as a new military service focused on the space one way or the other would be born out of that spot.”

The typical “bureaucratic details” command a lot of attention, said Weeden. Invariably, controversies about things like uniforms, logos, and mission statements can drag out the process.

“At this moment I do not know what a space is, strength is, it makes not a lot of definition,” he said. With Russia and China, the development of a more powerful anti-satellite weapons, the U.S. military has on the beef in the space warfare capabilities, but a new service is probably not the answer. “I’m skeptical,” said Weeden. “Warfare is not what an ‘organize, train and equip in service.”

Bring back Space Command

The congress has already found a solution to the warfare problem, and it would not need a Space Force, Weeden said. The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2019 directs the air force to Air Force Space Command “sub-unified command under U.S. Strategic Command. That would set the stage for the Air Force Space Command to eventually increase to a full-to us Space Command. “That will take care of the warfare part,” said Weeden.

James agreed. “I am a supporter of, that would be the ticket for solving the war problem.”

Until 2002, the U.S. army had a separate space command, which was similar to the major combatant commands such as Central, Pacific and European commands, O’hanlon explained. After the attacks of 9/11, the Pentagon decided it needed a North Command to improve security in North America. At that point, Space Command was deemed unnecessary and the responsibilities are shifted under the broader Strategic Mission.

James said that if the Area of Strength going forward, it might consist of anywhere from 35,000 to 40,000 people who are now in the Air Force Space Command, the Army of the space within the intelligence community.

Deputy Minister of Defence, Patrick Shanahan is due to submit a report to Congress on Wednesday, outlining possible options. An Area of Strength is conceivable could be modeled after the former U. S. Space Command, or is there more joint, such as the U. S. Special Operations Command. Or it could be formed after the Marine Corps, a semi-autonomous service under the Department of the Navy.

“I think you will see that all of these things in this report,” said James.

Regardless of what steps the Pentagon and the Congress to take the next, leaders must ensure that the Space Force not a divisive party-political issue, said Frank Rose, a Brookings fellow and former assistant secretary of state for arms control. “My concern is that the Space of Power is recognizable with President Trump,” he said. “After the elections in November there will be a ‘reflexive anti-Trump sentiment.’ … A partisan debate is not the right way to go. We need to have a serious debate.”

This story was provided by SpaceNews, dedicated to treating all aspects of space.


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