WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force’s top civilian has been one of the biggest critics of creating a separate military service for space, but now that President Donald Trump has directed the Pentagon to craft a new “Space Force,” she wants to make sure its done right.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said Wednesday at the Defense News Conference that she was now in “complete alignment” with Trump’s desire to stand up a Space Force, complete with a separate military department with the same authorities as any other service.
That will manifest itself in a fiscal 2020 spending request that includes a separate budget for the “Department of the Space Force” and a “fulsome” proposal of how to structure the new service. From there, it will be up to Congress to decide whether to approve its formation, Wilson said.
“If we’re going to do this, let’s propose to do it right,” she said. “Let’s have this debate, support the president’s proposal and put it forward — and make sure that we don’t do this with half measures. I think that’s probably the most important part for me.”
In August, Vice President Mike Pence revealed changes to the Pentagon’s space enterprise meant to pave a way for an eventual Space Force, such as reinstating U.S. Space Command as a unified combatant command. In her first comments on the new service since that announcement, Wilson didn’t go into detail on why her thinking had changed, but said that Trump’s bid to create a Space Force was “forward-looking.”
Over the past several years, Wilson had argued to Congress that carving space from the Air Force could jeopardize the service’s efforts to integrate space with its other war-fighting operations. However, the critical tone of Air Force leaders — which included Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein — softened when Trump in March said that he was considering forming a Space Force.
In June, the president ordered the Pentagon to do just that.
“We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force. Separate but equal. It is going to be something. So important,” Trump said in a June 18 announcement.
Only Congress has the authority to create a new military service, and there have been signs that the idea could face resistance, particularly in the Senate, where no notable proponent of Space Force has emerged.
The new head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said in August that he needs to see a Pentagon estimate for the cost of standing up the service before deciding whether to support it.
“We don’t know the ingredients yet. We don’t know what the cost would be. When that time comes, we’ll take a position,” he said.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.