Air Force General Welcomes Debate Over 'Space Corps'

The Air Force is under increasing pressure to form a "Space Corps" to protect America's technologies in space.
The Air Force is under increasing pressure to form a "Space Corps" to protect America's technologies in space.

Look past whether a proposed U.S. "Space Corps" -- which survived the House version of the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act late Wednesday -- eventually becomes a fully functional military branch, a U.S. Air Force general said Thursday.

What's more important is the fact that the military and Congress are working to get more focus and resources for the space domain, which has been growing more contested for years, said Brig. Gen. Mark A. Baird, director for space programs at the Air Force's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Acquisition.

It's "a good sign because people are now focusing on this problem that we have that we are recognizing across all sectors of the government, that we need to be ready and we need to be poised and postured and budgets need to be put in place to make the right changes so that we protect the nation," he said.

"The organizational 'what boxes go where' -- that's going to be decided and debated … but I'm excited to see we have so much focus on, 'We have got to address this issue coming up,' " Baird said at the Defense One Tech Summit in Washington, D.C.

He added, "I'll salute and drive on whatever they go tell us to go do, but at least the focus is what's exciting … on this issue."

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Opponents to the proposed Space Corps, such as Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, lost their argument late Wednesday after the House Rules Committee struck down an amendment to study the language further. In June, the House Armed Services Committee voted 60-1 to move forward with a separate Space Corps branch within the FY18 NDAA.

However, the proposal may not see the light of day in the Senate, where lawmakers aren't as eager to push it through.

The House bill includes a section, "Management and Organization of Space Programs," that "would authorize the creation of a Space Corps within the Department of the Air Force and require the Secretary of the Air Force to certify its establishment by January 1, 2019," according to the budget document.

But the Air Force says it will not stand up a separate branch for space, mainly because of limited resources.

"We think right now it's important to take the capabilities and the resources that we have and focus on implementation and integration with the broader force, versus creating a separate service," Air Force spokesman Col. Patrick Ryder said last month.

Ryder's comments followed weeks of hearings, in which Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein vehemently opposed the idea.

"I don't support it at this time in our history, based on where we are in this transition from a benign environment to a warfighting domain," Goldfein said during a Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces hearing in May.

"I will tell you that my sense is that we have an opportunity being placed in front of us right now to take a look at what is the way we fight in the air, on land, at sea, and we know how to do this business," he said. "And now, how do we take those processes, procedures, tactics, techniques, and actually apply them across the space domain?

"And so right now, to get focused on a large organizational change would actually slow us down," Goldfein said.

Though the Air Force maintains it has no current plan to stand up a "Space Corps," Ryder said that does not mean the service isn't leading the space effort for the Defense Department.

"The fact that the Air Force has since 1954 essentially been the predominant military leader in terms of space operations, we think applying that -- and getting the resources necessary to enable those forces -- is really where we need to be right now," he said.

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