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Senators question building Trump’s proposed Space Force

Vice President Mike Pence, sits at the National Space Defense Center while touring Schriever Air Force Base Friday, June 23, 2017, during his visit to Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Christopher DeWitt)
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Two key senators questioned top Air Force officials on Wednesday about the need for a Space Force, expressing skepticism about the use of $2 billion during the next five years to build a sixth military service.

Creating the Space Force would just add red tape to an already bloated Pentagon bureaucracy, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said during a hearing on Capitol Hill to examine the Air Force’s proposed fiscal year 2020 budget. The Air Force budget includes $72.4 million to establish a Space Force headquarters within the Air Force Department, including a new four-star general who would lead the organization and sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“We ought to be asking ourselves, are we just dazzled by this concept of a Space Force?” asked Durbin, the ranking member on the Senate subcommittee on defense appropriations. “Is this going to make us safer? Would $2 billion spent on new equipment, better equipment, new training for those who actually operate the equipment, be a better investment in national defense than a ‘Space Force’? We have the responsibility, along with the Armed Services Committee to ask those questions.”

The subcommittee’s chairman Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., signaled he too had questions about the need to build the new service that President Donald Trump has championed. Shelby, like other key lawmakers, did not signal whether he would ultimately support the proposal.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who has announced she will step down from her position next month, said building the new service would signal the importance of the Pentagon’s space mission. She said that in her about two years as the Air Force’s top civilian she had spent roughly one-third of her time working on space issues.

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“The organizational change … elevates and enhances the influence of space leaders in the Pentagon in the long haul,” said Wilson, who has recently backed the creation of Space Force after initially opposing it. “All these things taken together are the right move for the country.”

The Space Force money requested for 2020 would build a force of about 200 people — an as of yet unspecified combination of uniformed servicemembers and civilians — who would prepare the service to receive operational troops the following year. By 2024, the Space Force would absorb some 15,000 space-focused personnel from across the existing military services, the Pentagon has said. About 90 percent of that force is now in the Air Force.

Congress must approve any steps that the Pentagon could take to begin establishing a Space Force. It would be the military’s first new service established since 1947, when the Air Force was split from the Army.

Durbin said Wednesday that he worried establishing a separate military service to oversee the work of such a small force – for comparison, the Marine Corps with about 225,000 troops is the Pentagon’s smallest service now – could lead to a service with a headquarters element just as large as its operational force.

The Democrat cited the late Sen. John McCain, who routinely fought with the Pentagon over creation of new bureaucracy, as part of his reasoning on opposing a Space Force.

“I think I would know [McCain’s] answer to it – he’d basically push back on the creation of brass and bureaucracy, saying ‘let’s put it into capabilities and readiness for the people who are serving our nation already,’” Durbin said.

The Space Force funding is just a fraction of the Pentagon’s overall proposal for 2020 space funding. The Defense Department requested $14 billion for space functions, a 17 percent boost from 2019 space funding enacted by Congress. That money would pay for the development of improved space-based communications and missile-detection systems and would also fund four space launches for national security purposes next year and the emplacement of an advanced GPS III satellite.

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© 2019 the Stars and Stripes

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