SIMI VALLEY, California – A senior Defense Department official emphasized Dec. 1 that a standalone Space Force would help the Pentagon maintain direction for efforts to remain competitive in the domain amid reports that a sixth military branch lacks public support.
“Our idea is about focus,” Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord said during a panel at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Institute here. The Defense Department wants to ensure it is properly assessing the threats posed by potential adversaries in the space domain, and that its strategy supports the buildup of both offensive and defensive capabilities, she said.
That means “no more federated assets,” she added, referencing the fact that many of the Pentagon’s space assets are split across the services, with the majority residing within the purview of the Air Force, but also within the Navy, Army and other DoD organizations like the Missile Defense Agency.
“We have done a pretty careful inventory of what all the different services are doing,” Lord said, adding that there is “an enormous amount of research and talent” going into deliberations over a prospective Space Force and how to more efficiently share resources there.
The Pentagon is learning from its experience elevating U.S. Cyber Command (CYBERCOM) to a unified and independent combatant command, Lord noted. CYBERCOM was originally created in 2009 under the National Security Agency, but was elevated to its current role in 2017.
“We are learning from standing up CYBERCOM that it probably took too long to get organized,” she said.
A new survey by the Reagan Institute released Friday indicates that the U.S. public remains skeptical on whether a fully fledged Space Force is merited. The survey, conducted between Nov. 11 and 14 and based on interviews of more than 1,200 adult Americans, showed deep partisan divides in support for a sixth military branch, but that overall the idea is not wholly embraced, with 48 percent of respondents supportive and 43 percent opposed.
The Defense Department is expected to submit a legislative proposal for a sixth military branch dedicated to space early next year. The White House is reportedly weighing options that range from a “Space Corps” that continues to reside within the auspices of the Air Force, as the Marines Corps does in the Navy, to a Space Force that encompasses varying degrees of space assets and services across the Navy, Army and possibly the MDA or intelligence agencies such as the National Reconnaissance Office.
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) said during the morning panel that Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill agree that more investment is needed in space and that there is “ample opportunity” to streamline many of the current processes related to space operations. “What we are trying to figure out is the best approach forward,” he said.
In an afternoon panel at the Reagan Forum, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the outcome must ensure the U.S. military is properly resourced to fight wars in space, “regardless of what the org chart is.”