WASHINGTON — Creating a new military branch focused solely on space could disrupt Pentagon capabilities and exacerbate existing issues rather than fixing them, the Defense Department's No. 2 uniformed official warned Tuesday.
Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "the time is not right for a conversation about a separate space corps or space force," adding that creating one would "complicate the command and control of the current space constellation."
Selva was on Capitol Hill to testify at his reconfirmation hearing to continue for a second two-year term as vice chairman. Based on statements from the senators, he will easily be awarded another term.
But his comments may cause some consternation in the House, which voted to include a proposal for the creation of a Space Corps in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act. The NDAA passed by the House Armed Services Committee would direct the Defense Department to establish a Space Corps by Jan. 1, 2019. The Space Corps would fall under the Department of the Air Force but operate as an independent service, similar to the Marine Corps’ relationship to the Department of the Navy.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has indicated he thinks the Space Corps idea is a flawed one, a view apparently shared by Selva. The latter used his appearance Tuesday to make the case that the Pentagon has already begun reforms in how space is handled and urged senators to allow those changes to take effect before looking at more dramatic solutions.
The general pointed to three reform tracks the department has underway. The first is the consolidation of "national defense of space" responsibilities into a single command-and-control center, located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He also recommended that the secretary of the Air Force continue to have acquisition authority for all satellites that are critical to military defense.
Finally, Selva pointed to a number of reforms underway, directed by U.S. Strategic Command chief Gen. John Hyten. Those include giving the commander of Air Force Space Command the responsibility to manage the Pentagon’s entire constellation of satellites, as opposed to having various pieces managed through subcomponents, as well as elevating Air Force Space Command from a three-star to a four-star role.
"It will require time to evaluate the impact of this increased level of oversight, affecting both the provision of joint space forces and the conduct of joint space operations," Selva wrote in his prepared testimony. "Further, DoD is currently conducting an NDAA-directed review more broadly of the overall space enterprise, which will provide greater insights on this particular matter. I support allowing time to implement this reorganization and to evaluate its efficacy."
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.