Proposed Space Force Would Pull Expertise From All Service Branches

June 18, 2018 5:57 PM
Team Vandenberg supported the successful launch of the fifth Iridium mission on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex-4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California on March 30, 2018. US Air Force Photo

The White House’s proposed military Space Force would likely rely heavily on existing personnel from inside the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Army, plus a host of other intelligence agencies, experts told USNI News on Monday.

The Space Force was announced by President Trump on Monday. Trump’s directive doesn’t provide mission specifics, but the language suggests the Space Force would be charged with protecting both commercial and government assets in space.

“As space becomes increasingly contested, the demand for the Department of Defense to focus on protecting U.S. space assets and interests also increases. At the same time, the rapid commercialization of space requires a traffic management framework that protects U.S. interests and considers the private sector’s needs,” the directive reads.

But before the proposed sixth branch of the military is formed, Congress needs to approve legislation and the Department of Defense would have to iron out the fine details, according to a Monday afternoon statement from Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White.

“We understand the President’s guidance,” she said. “Our policy board will begin working on this issue, which has implications for intelligence operations for the Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy. Working with Congress, this will be a deliberate process with a great deal of input from multiple stakeholders.”

The Pentagon also has to do the homework of creating Space Force theory, doctrine and strategy, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Power Studies, told USNI News on Monday.

“Creation of an independent Space Force may be the future, but right now it’s premature,” Deptula said.

The last time an independent service branch was created was when the Air Force was split off from the Army after World War II in 1947. By the time the Air Force was created, its leadership had spent two decades between WWI and WWII developing an air power strategy and new technology. During WWII, the then-Army Air Corps continued to refine and implement strategy and technology.

Today with space, developing military strategy hasn’t hasn’t happened to the same degree, Deptula said. As for the technology required for a Space Force to be effective, it’s still very much in the developmental phase.

“I’m all for missile defense using directed energy weapons in space to take out ballistic missiles,” Deptula said. “It’s a great idea, but we’re not there yet.”

Military planners likely have some time to develop the Space Force theory, doctrine, and strategy, since Congress doesn’t appear close to approving the branch, Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, told USNI News.

“To really create a Space Force you need legislation, and the legislation appears stalled,” Clark said.

At the pace Congress operates, Clark said it’s unlikely that anything more than a broad proposal could be approved this year, and that might be a stretch. At best, he said the soonest legislation could be approved creating the new branch would be in 2019.

If passed, Congress would likely leave the organizational details for the Pentagon to iron out. Maybe some new flag officer billets would be created by legislation, but their job descriptions would probably be developed at the Pentagon. Even determining the rank structure — a Navy/Coast Guard model using admirals, or an Army/Air Force model using generals — would come from the Pentagon, Clark said.

The process used by the Department of Defense to establish U.S. Cyber Command provides a possible model, Clark said. Each service branch has cyber experts, and they were pulled together to form the new command. A new Space Force would likely do something similar, pulling in personnel from jobs with an existing space focus.

“Appropriators [in Congress] would decide how much money, and the Department of Defense would decide what duties would be moved to Space Force,” Clark said.

Deptula thinks the Space Force will be created in the future, but he is not sure the Congress has the drive to create the force.

“We can’t even recapitalize the geriatric forces we have inside the Air Force, so where is this extra money going to come from?” Deptula said.

Ben Werner

Ben Werner

Ben Werner is a staff writer for USNI News. He has worked as a freelance writer in Busan, South Korea, and as a staff writer covering education and publicly traded companies for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., Savannah Morning News in Savannah, Ga., and Baltimore Business Journal. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from New York University.

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