Lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee are expected to approve a trimmed version of the Pentagon’s proposal to sweep space-related personnel into a new component of the Air Force.
Under a deal reached by Reps. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., and Mike Rogers, R-Ala., a bipartisan amendment will be added to the annual defense authorization bill during committee markup this week. The resulting “Space Corps” would be “smaller and more focused” than the “Space Force” sought by the Trump administration, chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., told reporters Monday.
“The main difference from the administration’s approach is less bureaucracy. We don’t have three four-stars, we only have the one,” Smith said. “There’s a lot less mandatory transfers of personnel into the Space Command,” he said, another sticking point in ongoing talks between the Pentagon and Capitol Hill.
The HASC deal anticipates a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff for space, according to a senior Republican committee aide, who said that the GOP was “very gratified with where things currently stand.”
“The fact that it’s independent is the next step that we’re taking,” the aide said.
Bringing a space force another step closer to reality, the HASC deal echoes the response from the Senate Armed Services Committee, which in late May also approved a trimmed version of the Trump administration’s proposal.
But not everyone is convinced. In mid-May, the House Appropriations defense subcommittee rejected funds for a new space force, instead approving $15 million “to study and refine plans for the potential establishment of a Space Force.” In their report, the House appropriators said the Trump administration’s proposal “leaves many unanswered questions and lacks important details and supporting analysis to justify the proposed size, scope, cost, roles, and authorities for the new military service.”
Senate appropriators have yet to weigh in on the Space Force debate.
Smith cautioned Monday that the partisan political environment in Washington could intrude on the debate. He said that he “hopes Democratic members understand” that Space Force is not “President Trump’s idea.”
“Don’t think of this as, ‘if you’re for the Space Force, that means you 100-percent support President Trump,’” Smith said. “We were talking about this long before the president even knew Space Force could possibly have existed. He grabbed onto it. But this isn’t about him.”
“This isn’t about whether we’re going to support one of his proposals or give him a win — I don’t care about that,” he continued. “I want to organize our space assets in the most efficient, effective way possible.”
He criticized the Air Force for failing to appropriately prioritize the space domain, saying on Monday that the service branch has “mucked up.”
“I think the Air Force has not done a particularly good job of managing space. And if I was not in a breakfast setting with a bunch of reporters I would put that much less diplomatically,” he said. “They’re not doing a good job.”
The panel is expected to take up the amendment on Wednesday when they review the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.
As for what the new component will be called — Space Force? Space Corps? — that remains up for debate.
“I am predicting for you now that what you will see during markup will be Space Corps,” the committee aide said.