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Top US Air Force general opposes formation of separate 'Space Corps'

May 18, 2017 (Photo Credit: SpaceX)
WASHINGTON — While the U.S. Air Force needs to change the way it thinks about space operations, creating a separate “Space Corps” isn’t the right answer, at least right now, the service’s top general said Wednesday.

The U.S. Air Force is in the midst of a major strategic shift from seeing space as a “benign environment” to a “war-fighting domain” where adversaries could seek to start a war or engage in combat, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told lawmakers during a panel Monday.

Goldfein argued that the service’s focus should be on ensuring it can meld space operations with the rest of the war-fighting domains. The Air Force needs to figure out how it can apply its existing tactics, techniques and procedures in space instead of seeing it merely as an area from which to “report, sense and monitor.”

“Anything that separates space and makes it unique and different, relative to all of the war-fighting missions that we perform that are reliant on space, I don't think believe that will move us in the right direction at this time,” he said in a Senate Armed Services Committee strategic forces subcommittee hearing.

Last month, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., called for the creation of a separate “Space Corps” that would be able to focus all of its attention on training, organizing and equipping in space.

Rogers pointed out that the U.S. Air Force has 12 core functions, and space makes up only one of those. Furthermore, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army have their own stovepiped space capabilities and organizations, creating a fragmented, overly bureaucratic enterprise.

“Space must be a priority, and it can’t be one if you jump out of bed in the morning thinking about fighters and bombers first,” he said then, according to prepared remarks.

But Goldfein said his big concern is that a major organizational transition could slow down the changes the U.S. Air Force needs to make on the operational side to ensure that it is prepared to — if necessary — engage in a war that has extended into space.

“Whether there's a time in our future when we want to take a look at this again, I would say that we probably ought to keep that dialogue open,” he said. "But right now, I think it would actually move us in the wrong direction."

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The Government Accountability Office stated in a May 17 report that Defense Department space programs continue to face cost and schedule problems and that the continued fragmentation of the space enterprise contributes to those issues.

Cristina Chaplain, author of the GAO report, told lawmakers that she understood Goldfein’s reluctance to pursue a Space Corps and that Congress should take into account concerns about unintended effects to space operations before pursuing a sweeping reorganization.

“But I will say that the solutions tried to date that don't separate space as people think it should be separated, haven't worked very well,” she said. “And the reasons that people in these prior studies and even today believe there needs to be some kind of segmentation is to protect the space budget, is to leverage expertise for the workforce and it's to really clearly designate who is in charge. So if it's not going to be [a Space Corps] it needs to be some kind of solution that does those things."

U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, whose first day on the job included testifying at the hearing, said the 2018 budget request would include a bump to space funding. As the Pentagon’s principal space adviser, she also plans to review proposed changes to the Air Force’s space organization.  

“I want to go through them in detail and analyze them and make sure that we’ve got this right, but there has been considerable staff work done on how do we organize effectively to support the war fighter,” she told reporters after the hearing.

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