A former Space Force skeptic in the Senate is expressing more support for President Trump’s pet project to develop a sixth military branch devoted to space investment by 2020.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) told reporters Thursday that he is becoming more persuaded by the idea of a Space Force since Vice President Mike Pence revealed the current plan earlier this month (Defense Daily, Aug. 9).

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.)
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.)

“He has a good argument,” he said, though noting, “I would prefer to do it without the additional bureaucracy.”

The Pentagon released a final report to Congress on Aug. 9 detailing four efforts it can pursue without congressional approval to move toward building a full-fledged service branch. Those steps include establishing a space development agency to rapidly develop and field key space capabilities; creating a “Space Operations Force” to function similarly to U.S. Special Operations Forces; developing a legislative proposal for Congress that lays out the services and support functions necessary to build a sixth military branch; and establishing U.S. Space Command, a new combatant command.

Recent discussions with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have persuaded Inhofe – who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and is the senior Republican on the committee in Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) absence – of the need to streamline the U.S. space architecture to keep up with near-peer adversaries, he added.

“One reason I had never considered before is we are competing with Russia and China, and if they have their separate bureaucracy handling it and we don’t, it gives the impression that we’re not as enthusiastic as they are” on maintaining an advantage in the space domain, he said. “They’re winning me over on that one.”

“There is an old saying that I’ve used for a long time, that is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I didn’t consider that to be broke,” he added. “However, it maybe could be done better, and I am open-minded to seeing that.”

Inhofe did not express concern about the current projected timeline. The White House has indicated a desire to stand up a full-fledged Space Force by fiscal year 2020. “If we’re going to have it … then get on with it and have it,” he said.

He noted that SASC members will likely to begin holding hearings related to Space Force ahead of the FY ’20 budget cycle. “We’ll be holding hearings on which is the best way to do it, how can we be the most effective and most cost-effective at the same time,” he said.

Lawmakers have previously expressed concern about the potential cost of standing up a sixth military branch (Defense Daily, Aug. 16). No official cost estimates have been released, but Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan previously told reporters that it could cost billions of dollars.

Inhofe told reporters: “I don’t know why it would cost that much more,” but he added that “if you can perform the same thing without having additional bureaucracy, we might want to consider doing that. That’s what hearings are all about.”