WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is coming to grips with the possibility that Congress will pass a law to create a new military service dedicated to space.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Air Force leaders oppose the measure, but regardless of the final legislative outcome, there is a growing recognition that military space issues demand more attention in the building, said Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

“We had a meeting on space just this morning,” Lord said Oct. 11 at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference. “There is a lot of debate on space going on right now,” she said. “We have a lot of needs there, there’s a lot of opportunity.”

Lord said the House version of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act — that calls for the Air Force to spin off a separate “space corps” — has sparked a “very vibrant dialogue” with Congress on how to move forward as the United States is challenged in space by rising powers.

“We’re right in the midst of that debate,” Lord said. “The leadership in the building is taking this very seriously.” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan are “putting a lot of time and effort into this.”

Lord said a team of senior leaders is “looking at the gaps we have in our space architecture, how we fill the capability and what is the best way to do that.” Across the Defense Department, she said, “We’re all in the process of rationalizing what we have in space, looking across the services and making sure we are looking at space as a domain, that all services play smartly and in a complementary way.”

She was particularly emphatic about the Pentagon needing to shake up its procurement and contracting methods to insert fresh software updates into systems and protect networks from cyberattacks. “We have to get a lot better, faster, more agile,” she said. “When you talk about control stations for space assets, there really is a critical need to get, smarter, faster and cheaper with what we do.”

The space corps controversy is unfolding as the Pentagon moves forward with a major reorganization of Lord’s office. Congress passed language in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that directs the breakup of the organization into two new undersecretary offices — one for research and engineering, and one for acquisition and sustainment.

There is now a strong chance that former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin will be nominated to be the first undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, according to Defense News.

Griffin has been outspoken about the nation’s space infrastructure becoming increasingly vulnerable to enemy attacks.

During the first meeting of the White House National Space Council Oct. 5, Griffin warned in stark terms that the United States is in danger of being overmatched by emerging space powers.

“It must be recognized that space itself is a neglected domain,” he said. “The United States must know what is being launched, from where it originates, to where it is going, what are its characteristics, what are its likely purposes, all the time,” Griffin continued. “Our space assets are critical to the way in which we fight and win wars. … Our space infrastructure will be targeted by those who seek to change the global order.”

Griffin also sounded alarms about the rampant militarization of space. “The choice to weaponize space is not one we can make,” he said. “We can match or raise our adversaries.” To avoid a future conflict, “we must appear to be so strong that nobody wishes to take us on.”

A case in point would be a physical or electronic strike against U.S. Global Positioning System navigation satellites. “We need to be extremely clear that an attack on these assets is an attack on the United States and that we will not tolerate it.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...