US Space Force Likely to Survive in Biden Administration, Experts Say

Gen. John Raymond and Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman hold the flag of the Space Force Flag.
Gen. John "Jay" Raymond, Commander U.S. Space Command, left, and Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman, right, hold the flag as President Trump gestures, during the presentation of the Space Force Flag in the Oval Office of the White House, May 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Biden administration is likely to retain at least one big piece of President Donald Trump's stamp on the Defense Department: The U.S. Space Force.

Experts say the development of the newest military branch will likely face little opposition from the White House as it further defines its role within the Pentagon and as a part of U.S. national security.

Read Next: Pentagon Denies Reports That Marine Raiders Are Training Troops in Taiwan

"Whereas under the Trump administration, national security space, commercial space and civil space, were getting a lot of high-level attention -- in some cases, maybe some micromanagement -- now, [these entities] will largely be left to their own devices" under Biden, said Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

"It puts more of the onus on [Chief of Space Operations] Gen. [John] Raymond to chart a path forward and to be aggressive and to be innovative, because if he's not, there's not going to be anyone in the White House pushing him to be," said Harrison, who has been a prominent voice regarding the Space Force's creation and development.

The Trump administration took hold of the messaging surrounding the Space Force early on -- with Trump himself surprising Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs, in 2018 with the new assignment. The concept of Space Force has been criticized and even mocked, and some continue to hold that space operations should fall under the Air Force.

But "a new administration can't just get rid of a military service anymore than President Trump could just create a new military service on his own -- it takes an act of Congress," Harrison said.

Even if officials within the administration have reservations about Space Force, "at this point, it'd be 10 times more disruptive to try to disband it while you're in the middle of standing it up," he said.

With Russia and China making technological advancements in space, the creation of a Space Force made sense for the Department of Defense, Michèle Flournoy, the former undersecretary of defense for policy -- and rumored pick for Biden's next defense secretary -- said in September.

"Space is changing so dramatically based on what the Chinese are investing in, what the Russians are investing in... that I think we had to take some steps to make this a true profession of arms," Flournoy said during an event hosted by Defense News.

"We need to focus on growing a professional cadre of space thinkers, concept developers, writers, technologists and get on with really understanding how we're going to operate and defend [U.S. assets] in space."

Harrison said that with the Space Force caucuses in both the House and Senate, congressional support is only growing, and stressed that it was a bipartisan effort from the start. In 2017, Reps. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., proposed that the Air Force create an internal "U.S. Space Corps" in hopes of taking adversarial threats in space more seriously. (The Air Force, considering itself the leader of space operations, at the time opposed the idea).

"I think that's an important part of the legislative history that shows that this wasn't just Trump's idea. This isn't Trump's Space Force," Harrison said.

Expanding Alliances

The Biden administration has the unique opportunity to make inroads in space diplomacy beyond the Space Force -- an area in which the Trump administration has lagged, said Frank Rose, a senior fellow and the co-director of the Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution.

Trump's "space security strategy has been primarily focused on military means," Rose said, adding that while bilateral agreements are increasing, the national security space has largely been insulated within the "Five Eyes" intelligence alliance -- composed of the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

"There's not a strict, military solution to the challenges that the United States and its allies face in outer space," Rose said. Within a renewed great power competition with Russia and China, coupled with the looming uncertainty of future defense spending, "our allies are our asymmetric advantage," Rose said. Raymond has also emphasized this.

"Russia and China don't see [operations of] space, cyber, and nuclear [capabilities within their own] silos," Rose said. So, expanding the U.S.'s alliance "is going to be critical," he said.

Watching Procurement

A strong early sign is that the sixth military branch -- which still falls under the Department of the Air Force -- hasn't moved to create any "bureaucratic bloat" as it builds on its ranks, Harrison said.

Key lawmakers always intend to keep the Space Force small and have monitored its creation and the hiring of additional mission-essential personnel since its inception last December.

Raymond has also touted how the service has whittled down the Pentagon's Space Force headquarters from about 1,000 to roughly 600 people in recent months.

However, one area that may draw scrutiny from the new administration is planned investment in technologies by the Space Development Agency, particularly its purchase of more low-earth orbit satellites, Harrison said. The SDA, which stood up in March 2019, is tasked with overseeing procurement of new satellites for the Defense Department, among other capabilities.

"Some of these folks are going to have to catch up on what's happened in space technology over the past few years" in LEO advancements, especially under companies such as Elon Musk's SpaceX, Harrison said.

"People weren't sure that that could work five, six years ago," he said of LEO tech, which entails significant launch costs, but saves fuel. "So there's gonna have to be a lot of catching up there."

Trump's Contribution

The experts who spoke with agreed the Trump administration has elevated U.S. space operations in beneficial ways.

"When it comes to space policy, it has been a net positive," Harrison said.

Trump was a catalyst behind "the reestablishment of the U.S. Space Command," as well enhancements to "the resiliency of our space architecture," Rose added.

Harrison noted lawmakers and the Pentagon have long debated space, with discussions of the merits of a Space Corps versus a Space Force dating back to the early 2000s. But Trump just finally went ahead "and did it."

"Without President Trump's intervention, and really pushing it as hard as he did, it probably would not have been enacted into law," Harrison said.

"I think you got to give him credit for that."

— Gina Harkins contributed to this report.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Related: Space Force Warfighters Will Someday Deploy to Space, General Says

Story Continues