America needs a space force
Image Credit: Muhammed Nahas/©Gulf News

Since taking office, President Donald Trump’s top priority has been to strengthen our national defence and protect the American people. We have made historic investments to rebuild our armed forces. We have removed unnecessary restraints on our commanders, giving them the rules of engagement they need to defeat our enemies. And to meet the emerging threats in space, the newest war-fighting domain, the president has called for the creation of the US Space Force.

On Friday, the defence secretary released a legislative proposal at the president’s direction to establish the Space Force, within the Air Force, as the sixth branch of the armed forces. This legislation is the first step toward creating a new, separate military department for space in the future, and our administration will continue working closely with leaders in Congress on both sides of the aisle to get a bill that creates the Space Force to the president’s desk this year.

Space is central to our way of life. US leadership in space has pioneered groundbreaking new technologies; revolutionised how we communicate, travel, farm and trade; supported countless US jobs; and above all made the strongest military in the history of the world stronger still.

Crowded and confrontational

Over the past 60 years, the United States has assembled the world’s largest, most sophisticated constellation of military and intelligence satellites. And we have forged the technology to leverage US power in space here on Earth, giving our war-fighters and intelligence community a strategic advantage and increasing the agility, precision and lethality of our military.

But the domain of space, once desolate and uncontested, is now crowded and confrontational. As the Defence Intelligence Agency detailed in a recent report, China and Russia are aggressively developing and deploying capabilities — including anti-satellite weapons, airborne lasers, menacing “on-orbit” capabilities and evasive hypersonic missiles — that have transformed space into a war-fighting domain.

While our adversaries have weaponised space, too often we have bureaucratised it. Organisational inefficiencies that plague our space military authorities, war-fighting capabilities, acquisition programmes and personnel policies stifle our ability to meet the rapidly evolving threats in space.

Responsibility for our national-security space programmes is spread across more than 60 departments and agencies, resulting in a glaring lack of leadership and accountability that undermines our combatant commanders and puts our war-fighters at risk.

We’ve known about this problem for decades. A 1994 General Accounting Office report warned of these “fragmented responsibilities.” In 2001, the Rumsfeld Space Commission stated that America’s military and intelligence agencies are “not yet arranged or focused to meet [our] national security space needs.” In 2008, the Allard Commission bluntly observed: “No one’s in charge.”

For too long, these warnings have been ignored. But in this administration, we are no longer just studying the problem — we’re starting to fix it. And the Space Force is the solution.

Unified command

At the president’s direction, the defence secretary is already establishing a unified combatant command for space that will centralise the command-and-control structure for space war-fighting. It will also develop and implement the unique strategy, doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures our armed forces need to deter and defeat a new generation of threats in space.

But to ensure the success of our war-fighters in this new domain, Congress must modify Title 10 of the US Code to establish a new branch of our armed forces that is responsible for organising, training and equipping space forces, including both combat and combat-support functions for offensive and defensive space operations.

For that reason, the defence secretary’s proposal calls on Congress to establish a chief of staff and undersecretary for space, and to consolidate existing uniformed and civilian personnel involved in military space activities into the new Space Force.

The first-year cost to stand up a lean, focused Space Force is expected to be $72 million (Dh264.4 million), and less than $2 billion total over the next five years. Once fully established, the additional cost will be roughly $500 million per year, the equivalent of 0.07 per cent of our entire defence budget.

Under this proposal, the Space Force would be within the Air Force, similar to the placement of the Marine Corps within the Navy. More than any other organisation, the Air Force has been at the vanguard of building the world’s best military space programs. So, creating the Space Force within the Air Force is the best way to minimise duplication of effort and eliminate bureaucratic inefficiencies.

Just as the Air Force first began within the Army before becoming a separate military department, so too will this first step in establishing the Space Force pave the way for a separate military department in the future.The Space Force is the next and the natural evolution of US supremacy in space.

— Washington Post

Mike Pence is Vice-President of the United States.