The House Wants a Space Corps; Who Would Fill It?

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By Madison Alder

It might sound like science fiction, but a space army might not be the stuff of just galaxies far, far away.

The potential “space army” wouldn’t be looking for techy raccoons, crime-fighting trees, and Chris Pratt to join their ranks, however.

“We want to take the people that are already doing space and tell them to focus on one mission: space dominance,” Rep. Mark Rogers (R-Ala.) told Bloomberg BNA July 13. A new Space Corps also would provide greater opportunities for advancement for the men and women in its ranks, according to Rogers.

The U.S. House of Representatives July 14 passed the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act and in it, a provision that would create a U.S. Space Corps. The provision, written by Rogers and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), would effectively create a new branch of the U.S Armed Forces within the department of the Air Force.

The provision, Rogers said, would act as a reorganization of the current space resources. Though the Army and Navy have small space divisions, the Space Corps provision would be primarily concerned with the Air Force’s Space Command, which currently makes up about 90 percent of national security’s space forces, he said.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson criticized the idea of a Space Corps, saying it’s unnecessary and would further complicate relations between divisions.

But the “problem is in the Air Force,” Rogers said, adding that “it’s broken.”

The current Space Command and the Air Force have different missions, Rogers said. Space Command’s budget is being “robbed” by the Air Force to focus on air dominance. “We want to build the culture of wanting to be dominant in space.”

The provision, however, wouldn’t expand the size of the Space Command, Rogers said. It would create a new branch of the U.S. Armed Force devoted to space defense—much like what the U.S Marine Corps is to the U.S. Navy.

Greater Opportunity for Promotion

The reorganization would also give personnel currently in Space Command more opportunities for advancement, Rogers said.

Cooper, who worked on the language of the provision with Rogers, told Bloomberg BNA July 13 that the idea of a Space Corps “should be great news” for those already in Space Command.

“There’s a chance they could be promoted,” Cooper said.

Space Command in 2015 employed over 36,000 men and women at 134 locations around the world, according to the division’s website.

Cooper and Rogers provided an an example of the type of recognition the congressmen said space personnel are lacking by pointing to a list the Defense Department released in March 2017 nominating 37 Air Force colonels to first-star generals. None of the new generals came from Space Command, although one space professional was promoted after the March list was released.

“The Air Force has mainly focused on piloted aircraft,” Cooper said. “We think that space deserves its own identity.”

House Bill Leaves Much to Interpretation

“I don’t think it’s fair to say that space officers are discriminated against,” a defense scholar and former official who wished to remain anonymous told Bloomberg BNA July 13. The promotions alone don’t indicate anything about how the Air Force views space professionals, he said.

Though there would be a “transitional period in which more people are promoted” if the provision were to become law, he said there’s no guarantee it would continue.

“There is a lot that the legislation just doesn’t address,” the former official said.

For example, he said the Chief of Staff of the Space Corps would be appointed by the secretary of the Air Force, but the Air Force secretary doesn’t necessarily have to appoint the commander of Space Command to that role.

The provision also doesn’t mention what would happen to space professionals in the Air Force who are not specifically in Space Command, he said.

An Uncertain Future Ahead

Though the bill passed the house easily, 344-81, defense authorization legislation coming out of the Senate Armed Services Committee doesn’t include a Space Corps provision.

The House bill provision has also gained many critics including the White House and the Air Force. On July 11, the Trump administration released a statement on the NDAA in which it called the establishment of a Space Corps “premature.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at malder@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

For More Information

The House-passed defense bill can be found at http://src.bna.com/qOo.

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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