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Rogers Warns Air Force Not To Resist Space Corps Proposal

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Jun-2017
Updated: 22-Jun-2017 05:29 PM

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) warned top Air Force officials not to undermine his proposal to create a Space Corps within the service.  He characterized his blistering remarks about being "outraged" and "shocked" by their reaction as a "friendly warning," but it sounded more threatening than that.  Rogers chairs the House Armed Services Committee's (HASC's) subcommittee that oversees most military space programs. His remarks were made during today's markup of that subcommittee's portion of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The proposal became public on Tuesday when HASC posted the draft bill text and report language that the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces took up today.  All the HASC subcommittees are in the process of marking up their segments of the bill.  The full committee will mark up the final bill next Wednesday (June 28).

The idea is to create a Space Corps within the Air Force by January 1, 2019.  It would be analogous to the Marine Corps, which is part of the Department of the Navy.  The Space Corps would be led by a Space Corps Chief of Staff who would report to the Secretary of the Air Force and be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).  That would be similar to the Commandant of the Marine Corps who reports to the Secretary of the Navy and is a member of the JCS.  The Space Corps Chief of Staff would be co-equal to the Air Force Chief of Staff.  The proposal also would create a U.S. Space Command as a subordinate unit of U.S. Strategic Command.

Rogers and the top Democrat on the subcommittee, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), said in a joint statement on Tuesday that this reorganization is needed because "the strategic advantages we derive from our national security space systems are eroding."  They blame not only advances being made by adversaries, but the "crippling organizational and management structure" imposed upon the U.S. national security space enterprise by the existing organization of the Air Force.  They chastised the Air Force for not being able to "even recognize the nature and scope of its problems."

Rogers' interest in creating a Space Corps has been rumored for some time and the two top Air Force officials -- Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein -- were asked about it during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 17.   Goldfein said this was not the right time to create a Space Corps because he and Wilson are seeking to integrate -- not separate -- space into the overall military framework as they shift from a paradigm where space was considered a benign environment to one where it is a warfighting domain.  He insisted that separating space would "slow us down."

Yesterday, Wilson and Goldfein repeated those sentiments to the media.  As reported by Breaking Defense, Wilson said "the Pentagon is complicated enough" and the proposal would only add to its complexity.  "I don't need another chief of staff and another six deputy chiefs of staff," she was quoted as saying, while Goldfein repeated his concerns that at this juncture space must be integrated into, not separated from, the other warfighting domains (land, sea, air and cyberspace).

Rogers reacted harshly to those comments today.  "Well, the Secretary should tell me where in this proposal it says she needs to add six more deputy chiefs of staff. If she can't implement this proposal without creating six new deputy chiefs of staff, that's on her." 


Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), left. chairman of the Strategic Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee during subcommittee markup of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act, June 22, 2017.  Screengrab.

He said he was "outraged" and "shocked" by the response from the Air Force leadership.  He later asserted:  "Maybe we need a Space Corps Secretary instead of leaving it to the Secretary of the Air Force."

Rogers' lengthy statement acknowledged that he expected the Air Force to resist change, but insisted that "this is the same Air Force that got us into the situation where the Russians and the Chinese are near-peers to us in space. We will not allow the status quo to continue."

He left an opening for Wilson and Goldfein, saying that he is willing to work with them to find a solution, "but, at the end of the day, whether or not they're in the room when decisions are made is their choice.  But they better shape up or they'll figure out who is in charge here.  I'll let you in on a secret: it's the branch of our government that controls the purse strings."

Under the Constitution, only Congress decides how much money the government will spend and on what.

The markup session went on from there.  Several amendments were adopted, but only one concerned space programs.  Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) offered an amendment that essentially urges the Air Force to think more positively about reusable launch vehicles.  It is not prescriptive, but requires the Secretary of Defense to brief HASC by March 1, 2018 on DOD's "plan to evaluate the risks, benefits, costs, and potential cost-savings of the use of reusable launch vehicles" for national security missions.  During his remarks on the amendment, Franks pointed to recent successful launches by Blue Origin and SpaceX of reusable vehicles and reminded his colleagues that NASA's space shuttle was reusable and it was utilized for national security launches.  Why then, he asked, would the Air Force pass up an opportunity to save money by using new reusable launch systems? 

The amendment was adopted by voice vote.  The text is as follows:

 


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