BOSTON — The debate has gone back and forth for years, but the outgoing director of the Pentagon’s National Security Space Office believes it is time for the U.S. Air Force to
begin taking steps that would lead to the creation of a
space corps within the next few years.
The issues surrounding the future of military space activity
are similar to those the Defense Department confronted when it had to decide how best to organize
air power, a debate that eventually led to
the creation of the Air Force a half century ago. That change occurred when the nation’s leaders
began to realize that air power was different than the traditional Army mission, Air Force Maj. Gen. James Armor said during an Oct.
Armor is on terminal leave from his position of director of the National Security Space Office, and will formally retire on Jan. 1.
Even during World War II
and the years that followed, it took a while for the military to realize the full magnitude of the difference between air operations and other missions, and the need to protect air assets by taking measures like having fighter aircraft escort bombers, Armor said.
The Air Force today deserves great credit for what it has accomplished in space, recognizes the value of space as a supporting function, and has policy statements that call for it to maintain space superiority, but it has yet to devote sufficient priority in its budget to accomplish this goal, Armor said. While money is tight across the board within the Air Force budget, space needs the stronger advocacy that could come with the creation of a space corps, he said.
Space situational awareness is one example of a mission that has lost out too often in the Air Force’s internal budget battles, Armor said. While the Air Force needs to recapitalize its aircraft fleet, the failure to devote enough attention to space situational awareness, including new systems and more analysts who can properly inform senior-level decision makers, has left that capability “near crisis,” he said.
“This is a recipe for surprise,” Armor said. “We can’t tell what’s going on in space. Things happen, and it takes days, weeks, months to attribute the cause.”
The relatively small number of military personnel devoted to space today – about 11,000
including personnel in other services
– indicates that a corps, rather than separate service, would be appropriate, Armor said.
that figure does not include personnel devoted to the ICBM mission, which he said is sufficiently different from space that it ought to be managed separately. While Armor said
he would like to organize the space corps under the four-star general who leads Space Command today, he said the
leader of the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based organization should handle space and missile operations with separate hats.
While the creation of a space
corps could not prevent space from being traded against aircraft in the Air Force budget,
separating personnel and budget devoted to space would help decision makers
in the Pentagon and in Congress
more clearly understand the level of resources associated with space, Armor said.
Most of Space Command’s 40,000 personnel today are devoted to the ICBM mission – operating missile systems, performing security in missile fields
and handling missile-related acquisition matters, which can give an inaccurate picture of the level of resources applied to space, Armor said.
In addition to the space corps, the Air Force should continue to have its secretary or undersecretary maintain the role of executive agent for space in order to serve as a senior civilian advocate for military space, and coordinate space work that would remain in the Army or Navy, Armor said.
discussed the matter of a space corps with senior Air Force leaders over the past year or so. He said they
listened but disagreed with the concept, and said that the Air Force is best served by having space integrated within its organization and budget.
During those discussions, some senior Air Force officials argued against the creation of a space corps by noting that the service was able to improve its focus on airlift missions in the 1990s through integrating airlift professionals who had served in the field into positions on the Air Force staff at the Pentagon, Armor said. However, relying on the approach again would not give space the chance to play a greater role for the military than airlift, he said.
Armor said that he does not expect the Air Force to embrace the idea of a space corps anytime soon. Service leaders are unlikely to warm up to measures that make it more difficult to move money between space accounts and other Air Force programs, as would be the case with a corps that has a major force program that gives its budget some separation from other service efforts, he said.
he has received a better
response to the concept of a space corps from
members of Congress and their staffs.
While Air Force leaders have pointed to a rise in funding for space programs in recent years as evidence of the service’s commitment to space, Armor said
the additional money
generally has come at the initiative of the
Office of the Secretary of Defense or Congress, rather than from the Air Force.
type of trend should it continue, could lead Congress to force the Air Force to establish a space corps, or cause it to take the space mission away from the Air Force entirely and create a separate service, Armor said.
For its part Congress is not ready at this point to force the issue and create
a new space service.
U.S. Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said during a Nov. 1 interview that there is considerable room for improvement in the Air Force’s approach to space, particularly with space situational awareness. However, she said that she believes that the Air Force can accomplish those improvements without the creation of a separate space corps or service.
U.S. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), a member of the strategic forces panel, said
the Pentagon needs to find a way to raise the profile for space situational awareness and other missions that play a role in space superiority, though it is not clear to him at this time that a space corps or service is the answer.
“However, if it is demonstrated by objective study that this would more effectively elevate the priority of space in our nation’s defense strategy, expedite research and development for deploying space superiority platforms, and promote the modernization of our space assets, I would not only support this in Congress, I would be its fervent advocate,” Franks said in a written response to questions
Nov. 5. “Our adversaries have already integrated space in their military strategy; therefore, the United States is far past due in developing an immediate and long term strategy to command space and protect our critical space assets. American space superiority is an essential key to lasting peace and stability.”
Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.), ranking member of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said
the question of the need for a space corps should be addressed by a study currently under way of military space management and organization led by A. Thomas Young, a former senior NASA official and former president and chief operating officer of Martin Marietta Corp.
Everett noted in a Nov. 6 written response to questions that a similar commission – The Commission to Assess U.S. National Security Space Management and Organization – headed by Donald Rumsfeld prior to his nomination in late 2000 to serve as secretary of defense
concluded that a space corps was not necessary.
“I believe now is the right time to re-look at this; however, I feel the pros and cons of a Space Corps should be thoroughly considered before any decision is made one way or the other,” Everett said in a Nov. 6 written response to questions.
Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), one of Congress’ most vocal advocates for military space, said
he is not convinced “at this point” of the need for a separate space corps or service.
“Over the last several years the Air Force has done a better job embracing military space and integrating space assets into their traditional responsibilities,” Allard said in a written response to questions
Nov. 5. “But I hope to continue to encourage those inside the Air Force and in our space industries to remain the world’s leader in space development by constantly improving procedures, expanding operations, developing new technologies and increasing opportunities.”