The Pentagon is close to picking an outside firm to write a roadmap for the possible creation of a military space department, a key lawmaker said Feb. 28.
The fiscal year 2018 defense authorization act, which Congress passed late in 2017, calls for the deputy defense secretary to hire a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) to craft the roadmap in case Congress ultimately decides to form a space department.
The FFRDC will determine “how we do set up a separate space service, what’s it going to look like and what’s a reasonable timetable,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces panel. The Department of Defense is “supposed to make that down-select next week.”
The FFRDC will then have until Aug. 1 to deliver an interim report to Congress. A final report is due Dec. 31.
Rogers estimated that setting up a space department would take three to five years due to the need to avoid disrupting ongoing space operations.
“We have to keep using these assets while we’re in the process” of setting up the new department, Rogers said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
The study provision was part of a compromise between House and Senate negotiators. The House proposed creating a space corps in the Air Force Department, but some senators resisted, saying that more study is needed before a new entity is formed.
At CSIS, Rogers and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), the top Democrat on the strategic forces subcommittee, both predicted that Senate opposition will soften once the study is finished. With U.S. satellites increasingly vulnerable to potential adversaries, especially China and Russia, Rogers and Cooper have argued that a new entity is needed to ensure space receives more attention.
“We’re in a really bad situation” in space, Rogers said.
“We could be deaf, dumb and blind within seconds,” Cooper added. “Seldom has a great nation been so vulnerable.”
To better educate fellow lawmakers and the public about that situation, Rogers called for declassifying more information about threats to U.S. spacecraft.
“It’s disturbing that we can’t let more people know, because there would be a hue and cry in the American public for us to fix this situation if they knew how bad things were and what we’ve allowed China and Russia to do,” Rogers said.
The United States is pursuing its own counter-space capabilities, but Rogers believes those efforts are insufficient.
“We have to be a lot more innovative, and I mean fast,” he said.
On a more positive note, Rogers said he is pleased that the Air Force has begun shifting more space authority to Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, head of Air Force Space Command, as required by the FY 2018 defense authorization act.
“I think that’s a good move on their part,” he said. “I just hope they continue to do that.”