Senate Panel Told ‘Space Force’ Vital to US Warfighting Mission

March 27, 2019 by Tom Ramstack
The Pentagon. (Photo via Pixabay)

WASHINGTON – Defense department officials warned a Senate panel Wednesday that the United States risks losing its military advantage in space to growing threats from China and Russia.

They are trying to convince Congress to authorize a new branch of the military that would be called the U.S. Space Force. They propose a budget of about $500 million a year for the Space Force.

“Space is integral to the U.S. way of life and the U.S. way of war,” Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, said in his testimony. “Although United States space systems have historically maintained a technological advantage over those of our potential adversaries, those potential adversaries are now advancing their space capabilities and actively developing ways to deny our use of space in a crisis or conflict.”

China surpassed the United States last year in the number of rocket launches for satellites, he said.

Without better military space capabilities, the United States could lose its ability to deter aggression and project its power abroad, Rapuano told the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces.

Currently, the U.S. military space program is operated by the Air Force. President Donald Trump wants to organize a sixth military branch dedicated specifically to space operations.

“If authorized, the Space Force would transform our approach to space, increasing our responsiveness in this warfighting domain,” Rapuano said.

Advantages could be less bureaucracy and a permanent means of advocating for space-based defense, he said.

Rapuano’s testimony coincides with release this week by the Government Accountability Office of a dire report on gaps in U.S. space-based defenses.

“Threats to satellites from both adversaries— such as jamming and cyber attacks — and space debris are increasing,” the GAO report said.

The Defense Department is changing how it designs its space systems to increase their resilience and survivability.

“But it has been challenged in adopting new approaches, such as using commercial satellites to host payloads, and in prioritizing cybersecurity for all of its weapon systems,” the report said.

Other challenges come from leadership changes among top Defense Department managers for its space program and a lack of experienced personnel to handle the complex systems, the GAO reported.

Some of Armed Services subcommittee senators were skeptical about whether a separate Space Force is necessary.

Sen. Angus King, an Independent from Maine, said a Space Force could create an expensive new agency that duplicates efforts the Air Force could do alone.

However, Cristina Chaplain, the GAO’s director of acquisition and sourcing management, said the Air Force sometimes has difficulty balancing traditional flight operations and its current space program. The result can be “disconnects,” she said.

A separate Space Force could be better managed, she said.

Defense Department officials said they could improve their ability to counter cyberattacks against satellites and other equipment with a Space Force.

Lieutenant General David D. Thompson, vice commander of the Air Force Space Command, said cybersecurity teams for protecting space-based hardware have a “special understanding”  of the systems.

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