Senate Armed Services chair not convinced of need for Trump's Space Force

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeDemocrats, environmentalists blast Trump rollback of endangered species protections Bottom Line Overnight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador MORE (R-Okla.) is unconvinced that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE's proposed Space Force is necessary, leaving it out of his top priorities for next year's defense policy bill.

With Inhofe’s soon-to-be House counterpart opposed to the idea for a new military branch, the senator’s wavering spells trouble for a plan Trump wants done by 2020.

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Inhofe, a staunch Trump supporter, has been briefing reporters one-on-one on his priorities for his committee next year, laying them out in bullet points in a two-page document. Space Force is not mentioned in the document.

In a recent interview with The Hill, Inhofe said he didn’t include one of Trump’s top priorities in his list because he still thinks Space Force is unnecessary until the Pentagon proves otherwise.

“It wasn’t on my list because I don’t think we need it,” he said Wednesday morning. “I have time and time again, ever since this subject came up, I’ve said there are two things you have to answer. One is, is it going to do a better job than we’re doing today? And then two, it’s going to cost more — how much more money is it going to cost?”

Still, Inhofe did not rule out the possibility that the Space Force could be in next year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) if he gets the answers he’s looking for.

“Until I hear those questions, I will be opposing it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen,” he said.

In June, Trump directed the Pentagon to create a Space Force, followed in August by Vice President Pence outlining the administration’s plans for it to become the sixth branch of the military by 2020.

Congress, however, will need to approve the service’s creation in next year's NDAA for it to be a reality.

The Pentagon has said it will send Congress its legislative proposal for Space Force in February.

Inhofe, who became committee chairman in September after the death of Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 Fighter pilot vs. astronaut match-up in Arizona could determine control of Senate The Hill's Morning Report — Recession fears climb and markets dive — now what? MORE (R-Ariz.), opposed a similar House plan in 2017 for a separate branch of the military dedicated to space.

But Inhofe appeared to soften to the idea once Trump began pushing Space Force, saying in August the administration is “winning me over.” Still, even then, Inhofe said he was awaiting further cost information before making a final decision.

In September, a widely leaked Air Force memo pegged the costs in the first five years at $13 billion. Supporters of Space Force accused the Air Force of inflating the costs to drive opposition.

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Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who is leading the Pentagon’s planning, has estimated the costs will likely fall between $5 billion and $10 billion.

Inhofe said the Pentagon has yet to give him more information on its Space Force planning despite the requests.

The chairman, who has said he plans to delegate more authorities to subcommittees than under his predecessor, said a subcommittee hearing on Space Force is “certainly on the list to consider,” but has not been finalized.

He also said space is an area where he might be able to find agreement with Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithWarren's pledge to avoid first nuclear strike sparks intense pushback Landmark US-Russia arms control treaty poised for final blow Young Democrats look to replicate Ocasio-Cortez's primary path MORE (D-Wash.), who is poised be House Armed Services Committee chairman come January.

“We’re two different backgrounds,” Inhofe said of him and Smith. “I think this is a good example of something that we agree on, for different reasons.”

Inhofe, who warns Russia and China are jumping ahead of the U.S. military in certain areas, said he is unconvinced space is one of those areas.

Smith, meanwhile, thinks the military can do better in space, but does not believe Space Force is the answer.

In a recent breakfast with reporters, Smith reaffirmed his opposition, saying “creating a whole new bureaucracy” is not the solution to the problem.

“It costs more money than it nets,” Smith told the Defense Writers Group. “So we will have a conversation within our committee about the best way to place a greater emphasis on space. I think there is bipartisan concern about creating a separate branch of the military for space.”