The United States House Armed Services Committee introduced groundbreaking legislation earlier this week that hopes to establish a new branch of the American armed forces: a “Space Corps.”
Like the Marine Corps falls under the purview of the Department of the Navy, this new Space Corps would fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Air Force, and would be tasked with defending U.S. assets in orbit above the earth. America has grown increasingly dependent on its satellite infrastructure for everything from reconnaissance to navigation and communication – but it has become apparent in recent years that the United States has fallen behind some competitor nations in terms of offensive and defensive capabilities in orbit. As such, this bipartisan effort aims to ensure America retains its strategic superiority in space as well as on Earth.
The legislation, introduced by the subcommittee’s top Republican, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, and top Democrat, Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, would mandate that the Air Force stands up its new branch of orbital warriors by January 1st, 2019.
“There is bipartisan acknowledgement that the strategic advantages we derive from our national security space systems are eroding,” Rogers and Cooper said in a prepared statement. “We are convinced that the Department of Defense is unable to take the measures necessary to address these challenges effectively and decisively, or even recognize the nature and scale of its problems.”
“Thus, Congress has to step in,” the statement continues. “We must act now to fix national security space and put in place a foundation for defending space as a critical element of national security. Therefore, our Mark will require the creation, under the Secretary of the Air Force, of a new Space Corps, as a separate military service responsible for national security space programs for which the Air Force is today responsible. We view this as a first, but critical step, to fixing the National Security Space enterprise.”
The Space Corps would be led by its own Chief with a seat at the table alongside the rest of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, much like the Marine Corps today. That chief, according to the bill, would have a six-year appointment and hold equal authority to that of the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, answering directly to the Secretary of the Air Force. The markup of the bill also mandates that the Space Corps work as a sub-unified command under STRATCOM, in hopes that it could better integrate orbital operations into the overall combat strategy employed by our nation.
Of course, merely proposing such a ground-breaking development doesn’t guarantee an elite fighting force of Space Soldiers (or, as may be more likely, mobile satellites tasked with autonomous defense of our assets and rapid redeployment methods used to replace downed satellites like DARPA’s space place initiative) and the bill markup still faces a considerable uphill battle before it can come to fruition.
The Air Force’s top brass, for instance, doesn’t agree with the subcommittee’s proposal, claiming the introduction of a space-specific branch would only serve to confuse matters.
“I don’t support it at this time,” Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said of the proposal in May. “Right now, to get focused on a large organizational change would actually slow us down…Whether there’s a time in our future where we want to take a look at this again, I would say that we keep that dialog open, but right now I think it would actually move us backwards.”
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the Air Force is already working to bolster our orbital defenses, claiming that what they need is more funding, rather than organizational restructuring.
“I could not agree more that now is the time to address the threats our nation faces in space, which is why the Air Force has proposed a 20 percent increase in space funding in this year’s budget, and announced last week a reorganization that integrates, elevates and normalizes space,” the secretary said.
In order to move forward, the bill will require formal support from the entire committee at its anticipated vote after the 4th of July Weekend, before going on to be debated by the House. If it survives those steps, it will go on to the Senate where a separate defense authorization bill is already subject to consideration – and only if it manages to survive through Senate approval would it go on to be either signed, or vetoed, by President Trump.
Image courtesy of NASA