Space Force Plan Could Fizzle Under HASC Democratic Leadership

With Democrats in charge of the House of Representatives come January, the path to President Trump’s coveted Space Force just got a little rockier.

As Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) is expected to pivot from his position of ranking member for the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) to chairman after the results of the Nov. 6 midterm elections, he could prove to be a road block for any Space Force-related efforts that require congressional approval, analysts said Nov. 7.

Falcon Heavy lifts off from Florida during its first flight Feb. 6, 2018. (Photo: SpaceX)

Falcon Heavy lifts off from Florida during its first flight Feb. 6, 2018. (Photo: SpaceX)

Smith has been a vocal opponent of Trump’s plans to build up a sixth military branch dedicated to space efforts, and promises to scrutinize any proposed increases in the defense budget, said Bill Ostrove, a military markets analyst with Forecast International, a Newtown, Connecticut-based market and analysis firm.

“He has said that he’s open to considering changes to the military space establishment, and he acknowledges that there are certainly issues that need to be resolved, but it seems that he feels that the Space Force isn’t the way to go about fixing them,” Ostrove said “He sees it as a much more expensive way of solving the problem.”

Some of the Trump administration’s proposed efforts to move toward a Space Force could still be viable, he noted. In August, Vice President Mike Pence and the Pentagon unveiled steps that could streamline the DoD’s space operations that did not require congressional approval. They include: the establishment of a unified combatant command for space; a joint force for space warfighters akin to Special Operations Command and the standup of a new Space Development Agency to focus on new R&D and acquisition programs (Defense Daily, Aug. 9).

Similarly, a new “Space Corps” built up within the current Air Force could yet be viable, Ostrove added. The House voted to approve such a measure in the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but it was removed from the final version of the bill. Those decisions will emerge when the Pentagon releases its expected report to Congress on the Space Force effort in the February timeframe, he said.

“There’s going to be some sort of change. … I think that that [report] will have a lot of influence as well,” he said.

The Space Force could have at least one Democratic champion: Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, ranking member of the HASC Strategic Forces Subcommittee, co-signed the Space Corps bill with subcommittee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.).

But should Cooper take the gavel from Rogers in the new Congress, he would have to convince his Democratic peers of the value of a new space branch amid likely efforts to curb overall defense spending, Ostrove noted.

The House did lose one Republican who has been clear in his opposition to the formation of a Space Force: Rep. Mike Coffman, a HASC Strategic Forces Subcommittee member who also chairs the Military Personnel Subcommittee, lost his seat to Democrat Jason Crow Nov. 6.

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