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Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal

Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee from both parties on Thursday aired their skepticism about President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse passes voting rights and elections reform bill DEA places agent seen outside Capitol during riot on leave Georgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee MORE’s Space Force proposal as Pentagon brass sought to defend the plan.

At a hearing on the proposal, senator after senator questioned whether adding bureaucracy could have the opposite of its intended effect to improve the military’s operations in space.

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“When we first heard about the proposal I asked two simple questions: What will the organization fix, and how much will it cost?” committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Tim Kaine moves to claw back war powers authority | Study on sexual harassment and assault in the military Commissioners tasked with scrubbing Confederate base names sworn-in at first meeting Biden seeks to walk fine line with Syria strike MORE (R-Okla.) said in his opening statement. “It's come out of the administration that this is going to be a $2 billion program. So, for my purposes, I'm going to assume that's right. But I'm still waiting for the answer for the other question.”

“I fully agree that the threat is real and that changes need to be made to better address the threat,” ranking member Jack ReedJack ReedOvernight Defense: Tim Kaine moves to claw back war powers authority | Study on sexual harassment and assault in the military Commissioners tasked with scrubbing Confederate base names sworn-in at first meeting CORRECTED: Overnight Defense: COVID-19 stymies effort to study sexual assault at military academies | Biden, Saudi king speak ahead of Khashoggi report MORE (D-R.I.) added in his own opening statement. “However, creating a new branch of the Armed Forces for the first time in seventy years is not a decision Congress should make lightly.”

The skeptical questioning to acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanOvernight Defense: National Guard boosts DC presence ahead of inauguration | Lawmakers demand probes into troops' role in Capitol riot | Financial disclosures released for Biden Pentagon nominee Biden Pentagon pick could make up to .7M from leaving Raytheon Lloyd Austin can lead — as a civilian MORE, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Strategic Command chief Gen. John Hyten underscores the difficulty Trump faces in getting what has become one of his top defense priorities across the finish line.

Arguing that threats from other countries necessitate a greater focus from the military on space, the Trump administration has proposed creating a Space Force within the Department of the Air Force. That would make the Space Force's relationship to the Air Force similar to that of the Marine Corps to the Navy.

Pentagon officials argued a separate military branch for space is inevitable as Russia and China increasingly look to space for military purposes.

“Five years from now is going to look much different,” Shanahan said. “I think sometimes we look through the lens of today and we extrapolate going forward.”

Hyten later seconded Shanahan’s comments, saying, “We’re going to have a Space Force some day. I think what the committee has to decide is when is that going to happen.”

“You want to get ahead of the problem, not trail it,” Hyten said.

But Thursday’s hearing made clear senators’ skepticism remains.

“I guess we need some convincing that there is a necessity for a sixth branch without our armed forces," Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstDemocrats cut deals to bolster support for relief bill Bill to shorten early voting period, end Election Day early in Iowa heads to governor's desk We know how Republicans will vote — but what do they believe? MORE (R-Iowa) said.

Should Congress approve the proposal, Space Force headquarters would be set up within 90 days, and the service would be fully operational by 2024, Wilson told senators.

House lawmakers in both parties are generally supportive of the idea of a Space Force under Air Force purview but have expressed concerns about some specifics of the Trump proposal, such as how many new four-star generals would be created.

Senators, though, have been deeply dubious of the need for a new service. The reason a House-passed 2017 plan for a space corps did not become a reality was because of fierce opposition in the Senate.

There were several questions about whether establishing a Space Force would bifurcate space from the other services, thereby undermining the “jointness” the military touts as an imperative.

“In Maine, there are certain basic principles of life. One is, you don't drive on the ice after April 15th. Second is, you hate the Yankees. And third is, if it ain't broke, don't fix it,” Sen. Angus KingAngus KingOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine Senate Democrats negotiating changes to coronavirus bill Biden CIA pick pledges to confront China if confirmed, speak 'truth to power' MORE (I-Maine) said, adding he does not think the Pentagon’s current approach is broken.

King and others questioned why a Space Command, which the Pentagon is also moving to establish, would not be sufficient.

“Can you explain why we need to put all space assets, space forces into a separate service as opposed to a combatant command?” Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonGarland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks National Sheriffs' Association backs Biden pick for key DOJ role The Memo: Is Trump mounting a comeback — or finally fading? MORE (R-Ark.) asked. “Unless, as Sen. King said, we're going to have a large number of actual soldiers in space fighting and they need a different set of skills, this is primarily going to be about technology and acquisitions and so forth. So I think what a lot of us on the committee are trying to figure out is what's the incremental advantage of having a separate space force.”

There were also questions about the amount of overhead, with Reed noting Space Force would have the highest ratio of overhead to operations of any service with about 1,000 people in the headquarters of a 16,500-person service.

Despite the pushback, at least a few members of the committee expressed support for the idea, including Sens. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisMcConnell backs Garland for attorney general GOP senators demand probe into Cuomo's handling of nursing home deaths CNN anchor confronts GOP chairman over senator's vote to convict Trump MORE (R-N.C.), Kevin CramerKevin John CramerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior reverses Trump policy that it says restricted science | Collins to back Haaland's Interior nomination | Republicans press Biden environment nominee on Obama-era policy Republicans press Biden environment nominee on Obama-era policy OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine MORE (R-N.D.) and Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnGarland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks Judiciary Committee greenlights Garland's AG nomination Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy MORE (R-Tenn.).

Cramer and Blackburn were members of the House when it voted on the space corps proposal in 2017.

Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) said he was “more inclined” than some on the committee to support a Space Force, but that he was still hearing too many generalities from the Pentagon.