The "Space Corps" debate continues, with lawmakers pushing harder than ever to convince the Air Force it's time to create a separate military entity to protect U.S. technologies in space.
Speaking before an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Wednesday, Reps. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., and Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said it's feasible for the Pentagon to create a separate space corps in three to five years because of necessity -- warning that the situation in space is increasingly dire because adversaries such as Russia and China are waiting in the wings to exploit America's vulnerabilities.
"The situation we are in as a nation, the vulnerabilities we have to China and Russia, I'd like for the American public to know more, [but] I can't because I don't want to go to jail for leaking classified info. But we're in a really bad situation," Rogers said.
He also had a message for the Air Force, which has honed the space mission for decades: Stop denying the U.S. may be losing the space race.
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"The first thing [the Air Force] could do is just to come out of denial, admit we've got a problem and that we've got to fix it. And work with us instead of fighting us," said Rogers, who serves as the chairman of the House Armed Services subpanel on strategic forces.
In November, lawmakers removed language in the Fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act requiring the service to overhaul its space mission in exchange for a space corps. They still, however, required a study of the idea and backed changes to management of the space cadre.
Senate votes superseded the House Armed Services Committee decision to move forward with a separate space branch within the NDAA. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also attempted to put the kibosh on the effort in the weeks preceding the HASC vote.
While it wasn't immediately clear why key lawmakers such as Rogers and Rep. William "Mac" Thornberry, a Republican from Texas and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, didn't fight to keep the language at the time, officials have said it will act as a steppingstone for future decisions.
During the CSIS panel Wednesday, Cooper stressed urgency.
"When you asked about deadline, timeline, think about yesterday," he said. "You know, even the chairman's answer of three to five years, we fought and won World War II in five years. Remember that our defense budget is really not set by us; it's set by our adversaries. Our bureaucratic changes should not be determined at our convenience, but at what's necessary."
He continued, "I've been particularly proud of Deputy Secretary of Defense [Patrick] Shanahan, who seems to totally get it. Many other people get it, including people within the Air Force. So we just need the bureaucracy, the brass, the official folks to get onboard with enthusiasm, and with speed and with clarity.
"Historians will not be kind when they look back at this period. So let's get on the right side of history here. We have a chance. We have a window; let's not blow it," Cooper said.