WASHINGTON — Space, for US House Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Mike Rogers, is the next frontier.
The Alabama Republican told Defense News he plans in 2017 to spearhead a major reorganization of the way the US government manages space capabilities — yielding changes that are "very disruptive" but ultimately positive.
"It will be very disruptive and that will make some people unhappy because they don't like change," Rogers said. "I wouldn't fool with it if I was just moving the chairs around on the deck. We intend to have a substantial effort. That's why we have been taking our time."
For months, Rogers and the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Jim Cooper, of Tennessee, have been discussing with experts a 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office that recommends a course correction on space, Rogers said.
Next year's National Defense Authorization Act, the House Armed Services Committee's annual defense policy bill, could be the legislative vehicle for change — if not executive action under the new administration, but Rogers is still undecided — as are the specific changes.
"It's my hope that we move in some way towards a space reorganization, it won't happen in one fell swoop," Rogers said. "I see it being a major effort that will take next year and the next NDAA to memorialize what we want to do."
The idea is to continue meetings with current and former officials through January, when Rogers plans to offer concepts.
"It's not just going to be legislative. We're going to have a new secretary of defense and we're going to be working with the secretary to embrace this. A lot of this is just the secretary of defense saying we're going to do this and where we need legislation, Congress will provide it to us. Where we don't, I'm telling you we'll get this done," Rogers said.
The reorganization, as envisioned, would help the US catch up with adversaries, taking into account the emerging and essential role of space in potential future wars and in domestic commerce and communications. Space management, which has long been fragmented, is unable to keep pace with new challenges, he said.
Rogers said he was particularly frustrated by the GAO report’s finding that it takes six to eight years for the US to field a new capability to space.
While he doesn’t expect government to be as fast as the private sector, "we’ve got to figure out how to make the acquisition process more nimble and rapid and get the capabilities in space we need," Rogers said. "When you look at the bureaucracy and the fragmentation in space, it explains why."
China, according to a report from the US military to Congress, has been developing anti-satellite lasers, jammers and missiles. Without referencing China directly, Rogers stressed the need for the US to catch up and develop defensive and offensive capabilities "to be a counterbalance" and a deterrent.
"The next war, space will be one of the first things our adversaries go after, taking our eyes and ears out," Rogers said. "We don’t have enough resilience or the ability to respond in like kind. Our adversaries have gotten offensive capability and we’ve never. It’s not like we’re weaponizing space, it’s already been weaponized.
"They need to understand that if you go against our space assets, you will never get them all, we will make you pay an unacceptable price and we can get all of yours. That’s kind of the goal."
Each of the armed services has a little bit of control of space, Rogers said. To optimize it, Rogers is seeing an organizational structure in which "there is someone at the top who comes to work every day and their priority is space."
Right now, the closest thing the Defense Department has to a top space official is the Air Force secretary, who as of 2015 also functions as the principal DoD space advisor (PDSA) responsible for overseeing the implementation and funding of the Pentagon’s space strategy.
The GAO has questioned whether the PDSA has the authorities necessary to unify the department’s space initiatives, but Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, who currently inhabits the role, said progress is being made.
"If you look at results over the last few years, we have put billions of additional dollars into space, space resiliency, the situational awareness in space. So there have been a lot of additional focus, a lot of additional dollars put to space," she told Defense News in a Dec. 8 interview.
The Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSPOC), created in 2015 to conduct war-gaming and experimentation efforts that integrate the military’s space capabilities, is another positive step forward, she said.
In its 2015 report, the GAO examined several different concepts for space management, including merging all military space acquisition and operations into a "defense space agency" or creating a brand-new military space department, complete with civilian secretary and separate budget. The agency acknowledged that pursuing any of those options could result in "significant short-term disruption to DOD’s space organizational structure, roles and responsibilities," but given enduring challenges, "proposals such as these might deserve a closer look if the new PDSA role does not prove effective."
James argued that the Air Force is especially well-suited to play a key leadership role in the DoD space enterprise because it manages the majority of the military’s space assets, and all of the service’s platforms are heavily dependent on space.
"If you were to take that away and put that over here in some new organization, you’ve just splintered the team," she said.
"Any of these approaches — a new assistant secretary, or a new SOCOM-like structure, or a new this or a new that — that would be standing up a brand-new organization, which would mean more people, more expense, more everything, which kind of flies in the face of trying to be more efficient, trying to reduce whenever possible. So that would be a whole other expenditure that somebody would have to figure out how to pay for," she said.
James was more open to changes that would strengthen the role of the next PDSA by giving that official more authority over policy and acquisition decisions. That would strengthen the existing space-management infrastructure without adding to the Pentagon’s budget, she said.
Bureaucratic inertia will be an impediment, Rogers predicted, which is why the next defense secretary will have to be convinced.
"Nobody’s going to want to turn loose any of their funding authority, nobody’s going to want to turn loose any of their control," Rogers said. "We’ll just have to make it happen. That’s why the secretary of defense — the top’s going to have to buy in and say if you don’t like it, that’s bad.
"We don’t know what it's going to be, but I can just tell you we’ve had resistance from people who like the status quo. Whether its working or not is not their issue."
For the aerospace industry, the changes will be aimed at making it easier to work with DoD "because it is just unacceptably burdensome now ... many in the commercial sector don’t want to fool with the defense space," Rogers said.
That includes a different acquisition structure than is seen in most of DoD, one that is more agile and responsive. Rogers would like to see more dialogue with industry about what’s feasible before the Pentagon offers a solicitation for proposals.
"Technology is changing so rapidly, there needs to be a lot of communication back and forth about what is doable," Rogers said.
"Up until a year ago the private sector was having a tough time even talking to [DoD], and I had them come and sit down — me and Jim Cooper. We invited eight different major satellite companies, all folks who interact with DoD space and found it frustrating. It was helpful."
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.
Valerie Insinna was Defense News' air warfare reporter. Beforehand, she worked the Navy and 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.