A fifth branch of the military for space exploration?

An Alabama representative said the Pentagon is mishandling its responsibilities in orbit because it's too focused on land, sea and air battles

Tom Roeder
The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

Space has become so important to U.S. military efforts overseas that it deserves its own service branch, putting it on equal footing with the Army, Navy and Air Force, a congressional leader said at the Space Symposium at The Broadmoor on Tuesday.

Alabama Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, who heads a space-aimed subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, told a breakfast crowd that the Pentagon is mishandling its responsibilities in orbit because generals and admirals are too focused on land, sea and air battles rather than looming threats above Earth.

"My vision for the future is a separate Space Force within the Department of Defense, just like the Air Force, which had to be separated from the Army in order to be prioritized and become a world-class military service," Rogers said. "Simply put, space must be a priority and it can't be one if you jump out of bed in the morning thinking about fighters and bombers first."

Colorado Springs for the past 35 years has been the military's hub for missions in orbit and is home to Air Force Space Command, which oversees 38,000 airmen and civilian workers and controls the military's constellations of navigation, communication and missile warning satellites.

Space Command has faced a budget crunch in recent years amid Pentagon belt tightening. The command's budget declined by more than $1 billion to about $12 billion annually. In 2017, the Air Force plans to spend about $5.5 billion on space hardware purchases - rockets and satellite systems.

Rogers said military space spending would be a higher priority under his envisioned Space Force, and the troops who work on space programs would have better paths to higher ranks and more incentive to stay in uniform.

"Space needs to be put on par with the other domains of conflict - land, air, sea and cyber," Rogers said. "And we need to go beyond just the words, it cannot remain a subservient mission."

Colorado Springs Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn was aware of Roger's proposal, but said less drastic measures could accomplish the goal of improving America's military stance in space.

"The first priority has to be what is the absolute best for our military in space, there are several approaches that are on the table," Lamborn said.

Lamborn said he's aiming to get a hefty chunk of the Trump administration's proposed $54 billion defense spending hike to flow to space programs. He hopes that could get long-stalled Space Command wish-list items, including smaller satellites and spacecraft that can be launched on demand back on track.

"We need smaller faster satellites," Lamborn said. "We need to just flood the zone so its impossible for an adversary to take away our advantages in space."

Lamborn's words may be music to the ears of Space Command boss Gen. Jay Raymond, who described his efforts to change how the military approaches its space missions to a packed afternoon session at the Symposium.

"This is a really, really exciting time to be in the Air Force and it's a really exciting time to be in the space business," Raymond said.

Raymond is pushing a plan that gives his space airmen more intensive training, better battle plans and new satellites in a bid to stay ahead of rivals including Russia and China in space. Military space missions have become more dangerous in recent years, with adversaries like North Korea and Iran demonstrating weapons that could be used to target America satellites.

"We're not interested in that fight, we don't want that fight, but we are interested in being prepared for it," Raymond said.

The Air Force is adding a new general at the Pentagon to focus on space, Raymond said.

"We are going to stand up a three-star deputy chief of staff for space," Raymond said. "They will go to work every day focused on this."

After his speech, Raymond said the Air Force is well-equipped to handle its space duties.

"I applaud Congress' interest in this," he said. "We are working closely with them. And I am working hard to make us the world's best force in air, space and cyberspace."

Meanwhile, a key space warfare center in Colorado Springs got a shorter name Tuesday.

The Joint Interagency Space Operations Center at Schriever Air Force Base lost several syllables in the change. It's now the National Space Defense Center and the change reflects the increasing concern that America's future wars could spread to orbit.

The center, Raymond said, is helping develop war plans for the Air Force and intelligence agencies for a space fight, a key topic at the symposium.

With an expected boost in military space spending under Trump, the symposium is drawing big crowds of contractors lining up for the possible bonanza.

The symposium, in its 33rd year, was expected to draw more than 12,000 participants and hundreds of vendors in what could be another record year for the nation's largest space trade show. With a planned $54 billion jump in America's defense budget, military space programs are drawing extra attention this year at the show, which runs through Thursday.

Kevin O'Neil who heads Colorado Springs defense contractor Braxton Technologies said business was booming Tuesday at the symposium as potential customers flooded his booth.

"And it's just getting started," he said.

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©2017 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

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