- - Sunday, June 24, 2018


Last Monday, President Trump caught the Pentagon by surprise by ordering it to establish a sixth military service: a “Space Force.” Mr. Trump said it is to be carved out of the Air Force and the two would be “separate but equal.”

For it to be equal, a Space Force would have to be comprised of more than 300,000 people and have a budget in excess of $150 billion.

The president’s order can’t be carried out without authorizing legislation from Congress. The facts show that Congress shouldn’t create a Space Force because it’s an idea whose time has not yet come and may never.

The idea of a Space Force is decades old. Last year, Rep. Mike Rogers, Alabama Republican, advocated a Space Force just like the one the president ordered. Mr. Rogers’ proposal was based on his accusation that the Air Force was botching the mission of space warfare. In fact, the Air Force — and the Navy, which shares a part of the space mission regarding missile defense — are both performing very well.

There may be a good reason for a Space Force, but the facts don’t reveal it.

Last October, Defense Secretary James Mattis sent a letter to the members of the House Armed Services Committee opposing the formation of a Space Force. It said, in part, “I oppose creation of a new military service and additional organizational layers at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint warfighting functions.”

Mr. Mattis clearly doesn’t want a redundant force and has better ideas of where he could better spend another $150 billion. He understands that the military is still trying to do more with less money than it needs. Behind his remarks is the fact that the president’s success in getting more money for the defense budget this year was minimal. The added money isn’t nearly enough to repair old aircraft, ships and vehicles, far less add the many more people needed.

Mr. Mattis is a warfighter, and so is the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Air Force Gen. John Hyten. Last August, Gen. Hyten said “There’s no such thing as war in space; there’s just war. There’s no such thing as war in cyber; there’s just war.” He added, “You can’t fall into the trap of saying ‘There’s a space problem, so I’ll ask the space guy to go fix the space problem.’ It’s a problem with an adversary. I may not want to [direct] a response to a space problem in space. I may go a different direction. So, it has to be from an adversary perspective, not a domain perspective.”

Gen. Hyten’s remarks go hand-in-glove with Mr. Mattis’. America has chosen to fight battles — and wars — through joint warfighting functions such as Strategic Command and Central Command, which is responsible for the Middle East. Space warfare, as Gen. Hyten says, will be part of any war, not a separate conflict but a domain in which weapon systems and intelligence-gathering methods, such as spy and reconnaissance satellites, play a necessary role.

The Air Force has been paying as much as 30 percent of its $150 billion budget to fund and launch those satellites. It also funds launches and operates several satellite constellations itself.

They’ve been doing a pretty good job. Using the services of United Launch Services, the Air Force has successfully launched 120 satellite payloads since 2006, according to the ULA website. All have reached their designated orbits and perform their missions. (In January, trying to save money, the Air Force launched a top-secret payload called “Zuma” on one of Elon Musk’s SpaceX company’s rockets. It didn’t reach the proper orbit and was lost.)

To add a new Space Force will, as Mr. Mattis suggested, cost a ton of money that will be absorbed in creating the force and hiring its people without accomplishing any defense mission. It will also create competition with the Air Force for both missions and money. Which space missions the Air Force is responsible for can be separated without damaging Air Force performance of other missions? Would the proposed space force take over the civilian space program run by NASA? Those questions, and many others, have to be answered before any Space Force can be formed.

Lt. Gen. David Deptula (USAF, Retired) was the first deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. He was the Air Force’s senior official for the intelligence community. He is one of the most-respected warfighters in the defense community.

As Mr. Deptula told me by email, “The creation of an independent armed space force may be the future of our national security space enterprise, but for now is premature. It is crucial to ensure that any new space force maximize military effectiveness by ensuring space functions are fully integrated into the broader national security enterprise. Progress in this regard could be hindered by prematurely setting up a segregated organizational stovepipe.”

The president should cancel his order and Congress should shelve the idea of a Space Force. Both should listen closely to those who advocate greater integration of our warfighting capabilities. Anything that detracts from such integration or those capabilities cannot increase our national security.

• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”

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