Plans for military space branch survive House hurdle

Plans for military space branch survive House hurdle
© Greg Nash

The House’s plan to create a military branch dedicated to space survived a challenge late Wednesday when the Rules Committee did not allow an amendment to move forward that would have pumped the breaks on the plan.

The debate over the creation of the Space Corps has become heated, with opponents pointing to concerns from Pentagon leaders, and proponents arguing bureaucracies such as the Pentagon are too resistant to change.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would create a Space Corps to 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.

The new service would be housed under the Department of the Air Force, similar to how the Marines fall under the Department of the Navy.

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Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) filed an amendment that would have stripped out the provision creating the service. It would have replaced the provision 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.

Turner argued the issue is important enough for full House consideration, on Wednesday unveiling a letter to him from Defense Secretary James Mattis opposing the Space Corps.

Turner contended that Congress has not done nearly enough due diligence to create a new military service, something it has not done since 1947. That was when the Air Force was created, which Turner said was the result of four years of hearings and studies.

“There have been no hearings held in the House on this. Zero,” Turner said. “Most members of the House have no idea that we’re about to create another service branch.”

Proponents of creating the Space Corps, though, say the Pentagon has a bad track record of opposing changes that have ultimately been for the better, such as the creation of the Air Force.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), who as chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee has spearheaded the Space Corps efforts, said a Space Corps is needed as adversaries such as Russia and China advance their space capabilities.

“National security space can no longer be treated as a pay-for,” Rogers told the Rules Committee. “We have very real risks Russia and China in space, and warfighting has become absolutely dependent on space.”

The Air Force opposes the Space Corps, Rogers said, because it uses its space funding as a “money pot” when it runs short on funds for aircraft.

Rogers also said the language in the NDAA gives Congress an out if it doesn’t like the direction the creation of the service heads in. The bill requires the Pentagon to submit an interim report by March 1, 2018, at which point, Rogers said, Congress can decide not to proceed if it so chooses.

The Senate version of the NDAA does not include the creation of the Space Corps, meaning it’s still possible the plan will be put on hold when the two chambers reconcile their versions of the bill.