Debate intensifies over Rogers’ Space Corps proposal

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WASHINGTON – With former U.S. Air Force officials demanding more time for the service to prove it is on track with space development, U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) continued to argue Sept. 7 the time is now to create a Space Corps, or something akin to it.

The Air Force has had enough time to prove its mettle in space, Rogers, the chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee said during a keynote speech at a Center for Strategic and International Studies conference on space organization.

“The Air Force is as fast as a herd of turtles as far as space is concerned,” said Rogers, who introduced legislation in June to create a Space Corps – a new military branch similar in structure to the Marine Corps – to focus on space operations and acquisition.

A Space Corps would be a better steward of space matters than the Air Force would be, Rogers said, because there would be no competing interests as there are now with space falling under the Air Force’s aviation-focused structural umbrella.

The Air Force’s inability to put space first has created acquisition and operational problems, he said.

“I don’t think the Air Force can fix this,” he said. “You can’t have two No. 1 priorities. The Air Force is focused on air dominance, as it should be.”

But several former Air Force officials at the conference contended the service should – and can – be the entity that controls the majority of national security space programs.

No special, separate space organization is necessary, they said. Instead, what’s needed is more time for the service to further develop and implement the recent operational concepts for warfighting in space recently detailed by Space Command.

“It is very distracting to talk about reorganizing,” said Lisa Disbrow, former Air Force undersecretary, during a panel discussion on defining problems and opportunities.

The nation already has “the world’s best space force,” she said.

Some of the space-funding problems were not of the Air Force’s making, noted Doug Loverro, who served as deputy assistant defense secretary for space policy during the Obama administration. National budgeting changes had a major impact on those programs, he said.

“After sequestration,” he said, “the space budget never recovered.”

In another keynote speech, retired Gen. Robert Kehler, the former commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said space development was derailed not by a lack of interest, but by a greater concern to battle terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Why are we behind in space?” Kehler asked. “There was a shooting war.”

While space operational and acquisition issues may continue to exist, he said, those problems can be addressed within the existing Air Force organizational structure.

“Nothing is stopping us,” he said.

“A Space Corps will not fix space acquisition,’ he said. “It will not produce more space professionals or provide more resources.”

Instead, space advocates should be focused on what he calls the “most urgent” problem: “We must prepare ourselves fight a conflict that extends into space.”

One of the ways to do that, he said, is to steal a page from the Navy. “We ought to think about space the way we do about submarines, not the Marines,” he said, noting the submarine force is somewhat of separate, special force that is still part of the Navy.

One possibility the ex-Air Force officials did say might be worth pursuing is some kind of  Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) for space to streamline acquisition by giving a handful of service officials the ability to fast-track programmatic approvals.

Speaking during a panel discussion at the conference, Bill LaPlante, a former Air Force assistant secretary for acquisition, said the service used such an RCO to push through B-21 bomber decisions more quickly.