America must leap at opportunities to bolster national security in space

America must leap at opportunities to bolster national security in space
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Too much of the debate around the future of national security in space is focused on organization and bureaucratic reforms. What will the Space Force look like? What will the Space Development Agency do? How will the Space Development Agency interact with Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center? Who will own what program? Who will lose as a result?

Unsurprisingly, this discussion has generated strong feelings by the various state delegations and constituencies that may or may not be affected by these reforms. In focusing the bulk of the dialogue on these issues, the core underlying issues that truly will impact national security in space are being unaddressed, and the threat necessitating reform and the opportunities that are unique to today are currently being overlooked.

The reality is that the current moment is probably the best in recent history to affect real change and to fundamentally shape the future of national security in space. From the executive branch through the legislative branch, never in recent history has space been as high profile of a policy subject. At the same time, the threat environment is as challenging as ever. The United States for decades treated space as a contested but largely benign sanctuary environment until recent years.

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To be sure, it is still contested as Russia and China enjoyed satellite and other capabilities to counter American strength, but no other country enjoyed such dominance of space and related capabilities as did the United States. This is rapidly changing as Moscow and Beijing develop increasingly capable space assets and simultaneously develop their own military and intelligence mission sets enabled for space.

Getting national security in space right requires going beyond the near term political considerations and focusing on the longer term underlying challenges. How do we organize, equip, and train the American national security space apparatus? What acquisitions authorities are needed? How do we change Pentagon culture to truly go fast in space? How can we take more advantage of the growing constellation of commercial companies?

Bringing both sides of the discussion to the table to address the threat and the opportunity was the core focus of our National Security Space Program at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. Over the course of 18 months, five roundtables, and a tabletop exercise, we brought together over 125 experts from across the spectrum to debate, discuss, and develop solutionsto integrate commercial capabilities into the existing military and intelligence architecture of the United States.

We found that we as a country need to fundamentally change the way we approach and think about space. It is no longer a product, but a service. We need to increase competition, not artificially constrain it. We need to break the long acquisitions cycles and become more responsive to the threat, not go by arbitrary “design by committee” strategies. We need to stop operating as though space were a benign sanctuary environment.

Put simply, we need to update and modernize our approach to national security in space, truly go fast, respond to the current threat environment, and take advantage of the burgeoning commercial space environment. This does not mean that we abandon the existing structure, as Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson rightly noted at the Space Symposium. There is still a need for these unique government specific capabilities. However, it is about taking advantage of new emerging capabilities to increase the resiliency of our existing architecture, enhance strategic deterrence, and deliver much better capabilities for our service members on the ground.

It is this latter part that is of paramount importance in our dialogue as well. Too often, for many space pundits, space starts and stops in orbit. Rockets go up, satellites circle the earth, and that is the end of the story. In reality, it is about achieving an effect on the ground be it imagery, navigation, or communications. In the end, it is about that soldier, sailor, or airman on the ground that matters. We cannot treat space in a vacuum and must instead ensure our service members are enabled by space.

Getting national security in space right is a nonpartisan issue, and we as a country benefit more than anyone else from space capabilities. However, unless we take a step back from the minutiae of bureaucratic politics and address the fundamental change in the paradigm, Russia and China will end up leading in space, and that is something we simply cannot afford.

Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersDem proposal to ban Pentagon funds for border wall survives House panel votes Dem proposal to ban Pentagon funds for border wall survives House panel votes House panel OKs space military branch MORE served in Congress as a Republican representative from Michigan and is a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He is now the David Abshire chair with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.Glenn Nye served in Congress as a Democratic representative from Virginia. He is now the chief executive officer and president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.