The road to President Donald Trump’s desired Space Force by 2020 requires congressional approval, and several senators have mixed feelings about the proposed effort to build a brand new service dedicated to space.

The Pentagon and Vice President Mike Pence revealed Aug. 9 a roadmap to building a sixth service that could combine all of the U.S. military’s space assets, services and personnel, with the goal to stand it up within two years (Defense Daily, Aug. 9). Senators on Wednesday were supportive of the need to improve the United States’ space architecture as potential adversaries appear to level the playing field, but remain cautious about how best to proceed.  

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)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters Wednesday he was “open-minded” about a new space-focused service, but that he planned to seek more information from Defense Secretary James Mattis.

“Do we really need another branch of the service? What would be the benefit of having a separate branch? … Can you do it with an existing military structure or do you need something new? I’d be curious to see what the military says about this.”

It’s not clear yet whether a Space Force could be achieved by 2020, Graham noted. “Again, I’m open-minded, but I need to talk to the military.”

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), said lawmakers will need to decide the most efficient and cost-effective way to counter the space-based threats facing U.S. assets.

“There is an absolute threat and we need to figure out how to counter that,” she told reporters. That being said, “I think it would have been good to brief us before throwing the plan out there,” she added.

The 2020 timeline is “admirable” due to the current threat environment, but legislation does take “a lot of time,” she said.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who serves as ranking member of the SASC, said bringing more flexibility to the U.S. military’s space architecture is necessary but “irrelevant to [creating] a new force.”

The better model to support would be a sub-unified space command, as recommended in the FY ’18 National Defense Authorization Act, or a new Special Operations Forces-like entity dubbed Space Operations Force, he noted. Both proposals were included in the Pentagon’s Aug. 9 report to Congress.  

Still, neither of those efforts could happen overnight, he noted. “I think you want to get those things done first, and I think if you get them done correctly and appropriately, you’ll find yourself in a much better position,” he added.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who serves on the SASC and the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competition in the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said the Space Force proposal raised many “legitimate issues” about access to space and potential threats in that domain.

However, readiness of the current five services remains his priority, he noted.

“Readiness has plummeted, …. [and] we’re finally rebuilding that,” he said. “Let’s get the five services that we currently have back to readiness levels that the American people think we should have. … Nobody thinks we’re at the readiness levels that we should be. And then once we get there, then we can talk about the Space Force.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who sits on the SASC Strategic Forces Subcommittee, said the United States’ “vulnerability in space and the increasing aggressiveness of our adversaries threatening our space architecture is significant and troubling” and he believes the Space Force is “a good idea.”

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb), who chairs the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, which includes space told reporters, “I just want to be able to hear the department’s plan.”