Space Force: Help Wanted

By Walter Pincus

Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist Walter Pincus is a contributing senior national security columnist for The Cipher Brief. He spent forty years at The Washington Post, writing on topics that ranged from nuclear weapons to politics. He is the author of Blown to Hell: America's Deadly Betrayal of the Marshall Islanders. Pincus won an Emmy in 1981 and was the recipient of the Arthur Ross Award from the American Academy for Diplomacy in 2010.  He was also a team member for a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 and the George Polk Award in 1978.  

OPINION — Congress has to take a serious, long, hard, public look at President Trump’s June off-the-cuff idea of a Space Corps, and turn down, rather than blindly approve, the idea for a fourth separate military service, with its own Secretary of Space.  It’s clear that the Trump administration has not given it extensive thought.

However, one group has — Trump’s 2020 Presidential Campaign. The campaign quickly sent out a mass mailing last Thursday announcing future sale of “a new line of gear” to commemorate the Space Force, almost immediately after Vice President Mike Pence announced the plan to create it by 2020. That mailing was followed on Friday by a Tweet from the President, “Space Force all the way!” the whole idea began to smell of politics and merchandising.

It’s not surprising that former-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, described the Space Force as being “raffled off,” instead of being “established after extensive study with a clear mission.” A raffle is defined as “a gambling competition,” and in that sense, I join Dempsey in seeing it as just that, another example of Trump’s gambling with taxpayers’ money.

The 15-page, Organizational and Management Structure for the National Security Space Components of the Department of Defense, released after Pence’s announcement, tries to show some thought was involved. But that paper’s attempt to put the various parts together, shows what a bureaucratic mess we could be getting in this deal.

For example, the first task is listed as establishing something called a Space Development Agency which is to be “a joint organization charged with rapidly developing and fielding next-generation capabilities.” I take that to mean it will have members of the other armed services participating, since they all have space elements.

The Air Force’s own Space and Missile Center (SMC) executes 85 percent of the Defense Department’s military space procurement budget; delivers missile warning; positioning, navigation, and timing; satellite communications; space situational awareness; and other vital national security space capabilities, according to Thursday’s report.

In April, after a four-month review, SMC Commander Lt. Gen. J.T. Thompson independently began restructuring his already massive organization, which manages a $6 billion space portfolio. Its goal is to create a more unified enterprise that looks at systems horizontally from design to production. According to Thursday’s report, the proposed new Space Development Agency will accelerate and extend this SMC transformation to all the services.

As a result, the Pentagon plan calls for “a senior SMC leader” to lead the streamlining effort. Other officials from SMC are identified to carry out “oversight, integration, and fielding of classified space capabilities.” In short, it looks like SMC will become the new agency inside the Space Force, but no one admits that.

The second task described in the Pentagon report calls for creation of “an elite group of joint warfighters specializing in the domain of space” called the Space Operations Force. Will it be made up of members of the other services? The Pentagon paper compares it to Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Like SOCOM, “they will support the combatant commands by providing space expertise in times of crisis and conflict,” according to the report.

The report says that within the Space Operations Force will be “career space experts who are trained, promoted and retained as space warfighting professionals,” along with “engineers, scientists, intelligence experts, operators, strategists and more.” In other words, it would seem to have its own cadre.

Of course, SOCOM’s role is to oversee the special operations units maintained by the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. But each service has its own Special Operations Command running their own operations. When a joint force is needed, SOCOM becomes the commander.

Under the Trump Space Force plan, does each service have to create its own special Space Operations units? That remains unclear.

To provide civilian leadership, the plan calls for a new Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space, who would report directly to the Defense Secretary and “oversee the growth and expansion of this new branch of the service.” This person would have to deal with the gritty things like will there be special recruiting offices around the U.S. for the Space Force? Will the Space Force have its own special health program and hospitals? And what about having a separate Space Academy, staffed with its own professional band and a prep academy for prospective sports figures.

Eventually that position would transition “to a full independent Secretary of the Space Force in the years ahead,” according to the report. Remember there is no Secretary of the Marine Corps or Secretary of the Coast Guard, so space is more than just another branch of military service in Trump’s world.

Finally, the new plan calls for something that already exists: a U.S. Space Command, led by a four star general or flag officer. Today, that is Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, Commander, Air Force Space Command (Air Forces Strategic-Space) and the Joint Force Space Component Commander. He is part of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), and based at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.

Raymond’s current command has approximately 36,000 space and cyberspace professionals assigned to 134 locations worldwide. “As the Joint Force Space Component Commander, he directs assigned and attached USSTRATCOM space forces providing tailored, responsive, theater and global space effects in support of national objectives,” according to the Air Force.  What happens to Gen. Raymond?

Of course, Congress will look at all this next year, if the Trump administration follows through with legislation in the fiscal 2020 Defense Authorization Bill. It should require many House and Senate public hearings, and that will give Republican legislators a chance to talk about something other than the Mueller investigation findings.


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