Defense

Senators wonder why we need Space Force

satellite network (Andrey VP/Shutterstock.com) 

The Senate Armed Services Committee held its first hearing to consider the Defense Department's proposal to launch a Space Force. Lawmakers still aren't sold that a separate space military service needs to exist.

Senators across party lines questioned the potential redundancy and increased bureaucracy that could come with creating a Space Force at the April 11 hearing. DOD leadership, however, insisted that focusing on warfighting capability while utilizing existing professionals would be the proposed new service's best use case, helping shift culture, investments and advancing ahead of growing threats.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said he hasn't received a satisfactory answer on what a Space Force would "fix" and how much it will cost outside of previous $2 billion estimate.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) supported standing up a U.S. Space Command, but he said "the problems with this proposal is it doesn't put one person in charge of space" and that "we need a centralized authority" to oversee the acquisition, design and placement of hardware but not necessarily via a separate Space Force.

"I think Space Command makes sense," King said, "I understand that, but to create a new bureaucracy that's going to cost us half a billion a year, I've got to be convinced there's some incremental value there."

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan responded that "if the environment was going to be the same going forward, I'd say don't fix it." However, there is insufficient capacity to keep pace with potential threats to U.S. satellites as well as possible space-borne weapons fielded by Russia and China and that the proposed force creates a path for DOD to acquire technical expertise to counter those threats, he said.

Ranking member Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) didn't disagree with this assessment, noting that, "there are legitimate concerns that the Department of Defense is not effectively organized to address the threats posed by our near-peer adversaries in space."

But Reed said he was concerned about the relatively high proportion of headquarters officials to personnel envisioned by the new Space Force and by workforce rules that could have some enlisted personnel and civilian employees transferred against their will.

But one thing that was agreed on was that any form of a Space Force needs to include a National Guard and U.S. Reserve component.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), who also questioned why the Air Force needed a dedicated Space Force under its wing, said the omission of a Space Reserve component was concerning. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said she couldn't envision a Space Force without those components and would work to explicitly include them in a proposal.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) was the most enthusiastic Space Force supporter on the committee. "I may be the outlier on this panel, but I totally appreciate why you need to have a Space Force. I get it," she said.

"When you look at technological advancement, when you look at the 5G coming on, you look at the cyber pressures, you look at that lower orbit component. When you look at the integration that is taking place in the new space economy, I fully understand why you need to make this a priority and why you need to focus on this," Blackburn said.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is a staff writer at FCW covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at lwilliams@fcw.com, or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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