The U.S. Air Force's former top civilian said more resources should be dedicated to the space mission, but argued that creating a new military branch known as "Space Force" is not the answer.
"My very short response is no. I do not believe that we should have a separate Space Force," Deborah Lee James, the 23rd Air Force secretary, said during a panel Monday at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, D.C. "And I come down to the fundamental issue of why I think this is so."
She said the Air Force has faced criticism over its management of the space mission, due to inadequate funding, a slow acquisition process and gaps in the personnel promotion and management systems.
But, "Space Force is not your answer," James said.
During her tenure, in the final three years of the Obama administration, the service pumped roughly $5.5 billion into the overall space mission. That figure has ballooned over the last two budget cycles, with the Air Force expected to spend roughly $40 billion over the next five years, officials have recently said.
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James, who serves on various boards of directors, including those of Textron and the Atlantic Council, said she understands President Donald Trump's push to make the space mission a priority.
But she said she also fears the up to 30,000 airmen and civilians who work on Air Force space missions "will get totally lost in the bureaucracy" of a new military branch.
Instead, another combatant command solely focused on space would better serve the mission, she said. "
A military service trains, organizes and equips -- it doesn't war fight," she explained. "Combatant commands do the war fight.
"I would support a full-up, unified command, so it would be the equivalent of a [Strategic Command]," she continued. "I would certainly support that going forward to focus solely on space … that would really be the ticket for solving that everyone is mostly focused on."
James' comments come ahead of a highly anticipated report from Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan's office, which is expected to give more detail on the Pentagon's approach to setting up a new military branch. The report, originally mandated under the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, is anticipated to be delivered to lawmakers as early as this week.
Following Trump's surprise call for a separate "Space Force" in front of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford last month, officials have been weighing how best to proceed with forming the proposed sixth military branch. It is unclear whether the existing military services are involved in the process.
"The president's statement to the National Space Council adds emphasis to the Air Force position -- space is a warfighting domain and the entire national security space enterprise must continue to enhance lethality, resilience and agility to meet the challenge posed by potential adversaries," Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein stated in a letter to airmen days after Trump's comments. "We look forward to working with Department of Defense leaders, Congress, and our national security partners to move forward on this planning effort."
James on Monday said she has faith in both Goldfein and Wilson's effort to prioritize the space mission in the service.