It was not meant to happen in 2018. But it will happen, perhaps in a few years.
That is Congressman Mike Rogers’ take on the space corps, a cause he has championed as chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee of the House Armed Service Committee.
Rep. Rogers, of Alabama, and ranking subcommittee Democrat Rep. Jim Cooper, of Tennessee, inserted language into the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 directing the creation of a stand-alone space corps within the Department of the Air Force — similarly to how the Marine Corps was stood up within the Department of the Navy. The provision didn’t make the final bill but the committee’s crusade to give space an independent voice in the Pentagon continues.
Rogers noted that it took 26 years for the Air Force to evolve out of the Army Air Corps. “We don’t have 26 years for this. But it’s going to happen. It’s inevitable,” he said Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.
“What we did this year demonstrated a sense of urgency,” said Rogers.
The space corps is the rare issue that lawmakers on the left and right agree on. The ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Adam Smith told reporters last week that the space corps will be revisited next year in the 2019 NDAA. Having a separate organization that “really focuses on space, given how important it is now, I think does make sense.”
Rogers said he is convinced that “we have to segregate the space professionals.”
The space corps would exist inside the Air Force, which currently oversees 90 percent of U.S. military space programs. “What we have found is that space has not been able to get the attention it needs, culturally or resource wise,” he said during a panel discussion that also featured Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and U.S. Strategic Command chief Gen. John Hyten.
It is obvious to the committee that a space corps is the only way to ensure the United States does not fall behind, Rogers said. “I think it needs a unique, lean agile acquisition system. By segregating those space professionals in the Air Force into a separate organization, segregating the resources and an educational system for space professionals, we can develop a culture that focuses on the number-one mission which is ‘space dominance.’”
The U.S. military has to have a “cadre of space professional who, when they come to work, their number-one mission is to be superior in space,” Rogers said. “We studied this,” he insisted. “The Air Force’s number-one mission culturally is air dominance, as it should be,” he added. “Space is a subordinate mission, and that’s no longer acceptable.”
Rogers suggested that the Air Force leadership should have worked with him to shape the space corps instead of rejecting the idea and pushing back.
“We were going to give the secretary of the Air Force a clean slate to design the space corps from scratch,” he said. “It would look whatever she wanted it to look like.” It could have its own acquisition system, too. “She could design it to be as lean and agile as she wanted it to be.”
Rogers called Wilson a “friend” with whom he served in the House of Representatives, and stressed the space corps plan was no reflection on her leadership. “Secretary Wilson just got here. She didn’t cause this problem. DoD let this problem languish, and the Air Force was not able to self correct.”
The acquisitions process is “lethargic” and “nobody owns it,” said Rogers. “That has to be changed. We are going to have to rip this out by the roots and put up a new system that has good acquisition but also builds a culture around space dominance.”
And he brought up other grievances.
Last year, out of 37 Air Force colonels who were up for promotion to brigadier general, none were space professionals. One was added to the list but only after Rogers raised the issue. “Even one is unacceptable,” he said. This sends the message to young officers that they should not choose space “because you’re not going to be valued,” Rogers said. “We need to make sure young people know they’ll be valued, educated and nurtured.”
A space corps would “create more opportunities,” said Rogers. He noted that in the Air Force’s professional military education curriculum, out of 450 hours of required courses, only two are dedicated to national security space. “This is a cultural thing that will never be properly addressed until we have the segregation that we’re talking out,” he said. “That’s my view, that‘s the view of the House Armed Services Committee, and we’re going to continue promoting this because we’re not willing to allow China and Russia to surpass our capabilities in space.”
Rogers credited Hyten for shedding light on the advances in counter-space technology being made by potential U.S. adversaries. “It helped our committee understand why we have to have a sense of urgency.”
“Hyten has enormous influence over our committee,” he said. “The picture he paints to us in both classified and unclassified settings is scary.”
Wilson did take issue with some of Rogers’ criticism.
“We have exceptional airmen” who are focused on the space mission, she said. “It is an exciting time to be in space in the U.S. military.” Yes, only one out of 37 colonels who made it to brigadier general last year was a space professional but over the last two cycles more space officers have become general officers, Wilson said. “There’s tremendous opportunity.”
She agreed with Rogers and Hyten that “we need to move quickly,” but argued, as she has repeatedly, that a space corps is not the answer.
“We need to integrate and elevate space as part of a joint war fighting force. To me anything that separates space from the joint fight is moving us in the wrong direction,” said Wilson. “I agree with Chairman Rogers that the focus has to be on moving fast and providing capabilities to war fighters. But I don’t think that creating more seams between a space corps and other services helps in that regard.”