WASHINGTON — The White House’s push to create a new armed service for space has a key opponent in Sen. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Although Reed did not say he would block the effort, he could be an obstacle if the administration proposes legislation for 2020 as planned. The Senate and House Armed Services committees and their annual defense policy bill represent a likely avenue for such a sweeping reorganization.
“I think we have to reorganize our space forces because our threats are now in multiple dimensions. But I think creating a separate service with all of the infrastructure and the bureaucracy is not the way to go,” Reed, of Rhode Island, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
President Donald Trump is expected to sign the 2019 defense policy bill on Monday. That bill, which authorizes $716 billion for national defense, would create a sub-unified command for space under Nebraska-based U.S. Strategic Command, whose main mission is to oversee the military’s nuclear arsenal.
The administration last week rolled out its road map for a new service by 2020, as Vice President Mike Pence announced he would seek Congress’ support for funding and authorization. He argued the American military must reorganize to match the threat its adversaries pose to vital space-based intelligence, communications and positioning capabilities.
The White House will first have to persuade a number of lawmakers. (The Senate rejected a space corps proposal last year.) The SASC’s No. 2 Republican, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.; House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Subcommittee Chair Mike Turner, R-Ohio; SASC Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chair Deb Fischer, D-Neb., and the SASC Cybersecurity Subcommittee’s top Democrat, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., have all publicly expressed skepticism, if not opposition, to creating a space service.
Reed, on Sunday, acknowledged space capabilities are vital to fighting troops, but said Congress is already weaving together the Defense Department’s various space-focused strands through the 2019 defense policy bill. A former Army Ranger and paratrooper, Reed suggested Joint Special Operations Command is the right organizational model.
“So, this is not a one-service dimension, and I think creating a separate service would just add bureaucracy without effect. What we have to do is unify our current efforts,” Reed said. “One of the good models for this is a Joint Special Operations Command, which is multiple services — SEALs, Rangers, Green Berets, Air Force, special operators — they operate very unified, but there’s no new service with all the paraphernalia and bureaucracy of a new service. That’s the direction we should head."
Last week, House Armed Services ranking member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., did not take aim at the administration’s proposal, but he blasted a Trump re-election campaign solicitation that asked supporters to vote on a logo for the proposed service.
“It is extremely inappropriate for President Trump to politicize the U.S. military by having his campaign ask supporters to choose a logo for a proposed branch of the armed forces," Smith said in a statement Friday. “Mixing organizational decisions about national security with private political efforts should not occur.”
Smith said the move was emblematic of Trump’s politicization of national security, adding: “That must stop.”
“If and when President Trump provides a comprehensive legislative proposal for a new space organization,” Congress will review it and continue work “to develop a solution that we assess will best protect the United States,” Smith said.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.