Mattis opposes plan to create new military branch for space

Mattis opposes plan to create new military branch for space
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Defense Secretary James Mattis opposes a provision in the House’s version of the annual defense policy bill that would create a new military branch dedicated to space, a development congressional opponents of the move are hoping will bolster their position.

In a letter released Wednesday by Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), Mattis argued now is not the time to create a new branch of the military.

“I strongly urge Congress to reconsider the proposal of a separate service Space Corps,” Mattis wrote in a letter to Turner. “I believe it is premature at add additional organization and administrative tail to the department at a time I am trying to reduce overhead.”

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Turner is pushing an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would strip out the provision creating the service and replace it with a requirement for the Pentagon to study the issue.

Turner introduced a similar amendment when the Armed Services Committee considered the bill, but it failed in a voice vote.

The Ohio Republican is hoping his amendment will make it past the Rules Committee for a vote on the House floor, and in a conference call with reporters, he highlighted Mattis’s letter as evidence the full House should consider the issue.

“I don’t know of any other circumstance, and there may have been, where the secretary of the Air Force and the secretary of Defense weighed in an amendment,” Turner said.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has also voiced her opposition to the Space Corps plan, arguing it would add unneeded bureaucracy to the Pentagon. She reiterated her concerns in her own letter to Turner.

The Space Corps would protect U.S. interests in space; deter aggression in, from and through space; provide combat-ready space forces; organize, train and equip space forces; and conduct space operations, according to the NDAA.

The service would be housed under the Department of the Air Force, similarly to how the Marines are housed in the Department of the Navy.

Those who support the creation of the branch say it’s needed to ensure national security threats in space get the focus they deserve.

"It has been painfully apparent from the briefings we’ve gotten from our general officers that both Russia and China have nearly caught us in space capabilities," Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the Strategic Forces subcommittee, said during the Armed Services Committee's markup of the bill last month.

But opponents such as Turner argue Congress has not done nearly enough due diligence to create a new military service, something it has not done since 1947.

In Wednesday’s conference call, Turner said the chairmen of the Intelligence Committee and Appropriations Committee have also voiced their concerns to him about the plan.

Turner acknowledged there are issues with how the military handles space, but argued that it’s Congress’s fault for not giving the Pentagon the funding it needs.

Creating the Space Corps, he said, would be saddling a new Defense secretary and new Air Force secretary with a congressionally mandated new military branch before they have time to fully study the issue.

In his letter, Mattis also argued the issue needs to be studied more and that removing budget caps would be a better start to fixing the problem. 

“I share congressional concerns about the organization and management of the department’s space capabilities,” Mattis wrote.

“The creation of an independent Space Corps, with the corresponding institutional growth and budget implications, does not address the specific concerns nor our nation’s fiscal problems in a responsive manner.”