Yesterday, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, addressed attendees at the Government Affairs Breakfast at the 33rd Space Symposium. The Space Symposium is one of the preeminent space and satellite conferences, held annually in Colorado. During his speech at the SES Government Solutions sponsored breakfast event, Chairman Rogers discussed the current state of the military’s space operations, and proposed what could be significant changes to both the space domain, and the military itself.
Chairman Rogers began his remarks by describing his views on the many challenges currently facing the Department of Defense (DoD) in space – a very common refrain that has been discussed at almost every space and satellite event in the past few years. Namely, space is no longer a benign and uncontested environment for the military and its assets. An increase in congestion and the emergence of sophisticated jamming and kinetic attack capabilities among our adversaries is forcing the US military to put more consideration and effort into protecting its spacecraft and the capabilities they deliver.
With this dramatic sea change in the space domain, and the emergence of space as a recognized warfighting domain, Chairman Rogers focused on what he views are challenges and concerns facing the United States national security space enterprise.
What we’re doing wrong in space
Chairman Rogers was quick to point out just how convoluted the national security space enterprise is within the whole of US Government. He posited that it’s difficult to determine who, exactly, is in charge, and responsible for space decisions within the military – breeding confusion and a lack of accountability.
This confusion was illustrated well by the Congressman when he said, “[The] space organization and decision making is terribly fragmented. For instance, when we asked the [DoD] for an organizational chart – a simple organizational chart so we could understand who was involved with making decisions in the national security space enterprise…the answer was ‘we don’t have one…but here’s a list of the 60 offices that are involved in this process.’”
With 60 disparate offices and organizations involved in making space decisions, it’s easy to see why Chairman Rogers is concerned about just how focused and organized the U.S. military is when it comes to space. As the Congressman said, “Everyone’s in charge. And that means no one’s in charge.”
But this often confusing organization construct was just one of multiple challenges that Chairman Rogers discussed. There was also the issue of priorities and funding. According to Chairman Rogers, “Space is not being given the priority it should be given. The Air Force has 90 percent of the budget for military space, but the Air Force has 12 core functions that it has to budget for – space is just one of them. And who here thinks National Security of space is the number one priority?”
Ultimately, the Congressman discussed how the military – and the government as a whole – illustrates what is most important by how it spends its money and distributes its budgets, and space simply isn’t seeing the investment that other domains are receiving. Looking back at budgets over the past few years – following sequestration – the Congressman noted that, “Space never recovers. Over a ten year period, Air Force national security space investments are down 23 percent, while Air Force investments are up 30 percent.”
The lack of investment isn’t just illustrated in budget dollars. A lack of focus and prioritization on space has also impacted the military’s space workforce. According to Chairman Rogers, “We are not prioritizing and developing men and women in the national security space community…How can we have the world’s best national security space program if we don’t grow and retain the best men and women…and give them the budget and authority they need?”
With the challenges and problems on the table, the Congressman then shifted to discuss what he feels could be the solution.
A new “space force?”
If the Congressman’s vision becomes a reality, the DoD could soon be comprised of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard…and Space Force. That’s right, in the Congressman’s vision for the DoD, the space domain is spun out from the Air Force and given its own organization within the DoD so that space can get the focus it needs and deserves.
As Chairman Rogers detailed, “My vision for the future is a separate space force within the Department of Defense, just like the Air Force – which had to be separated from the Army in order to be prioritized and become a world class military service. Simply put, space must be a priority. And it can’t be one if we get up each morning – out of bed – thinking about fighters and bombers…”
By creating a separate space force within the DoD, the Congressman believes that they will, “reduce bureaucracy, clarify roles and responsibilities, and have a person leading [the] effort that wakes up every day and thinks about how we can have the best military space program in the world and actually has the authority to make it happen and be accountable for it.”
This isn’t a change that can be made quickly and without significant consideration and planning. This is a change that will need to be agreed upon, studied and implemented carefully and in a disciplined, deliberate way. If the DoD does decide to create a separate space force, it’s not going to happen in the immediate future, which means that other changes are going to have to be proposed and implemented to make space a priority until then.
This is why Chairman Rogers proposed that, “[space] funding needs to be protected from the services so that the space accounts are not raided by air or other service missions.” He also discussed an increased focus on developing talented space personnel when he said, “We need a clearly identified cadre of space professionals that are trained, promoted and sustained…”
Although we’ve often heard space decision makers and leaders across the military discussing a need to redefine and change how the military acquires, manages and utilizes satellite capabilities and space assets, this is one of the most aggressive and significant changes that we’ve heard proposed before. Despite the scope of the proposed changes to the nation’s national security space enterprise, the Congressman appears impassioned that this aggressive change is both important and necessary. As he, himself, said:
“It’s very hard for the government bureaucracy to fix itself, but that’s exactly why congressional oversight exists. It’s the job of the Armed Services Committee to recognize when the bureaucracy is broken and to see that it’s fixed. It’s going to be a collaborative process, but we’re going to change the system before it’s too late. We need to align accountability with authority, reduce bureaucracy and de-conflict with other missions. We also need to prioritize space investments and the people charged with the warfighting domain in space.”
To learn about the role that the commercial satellite industry can play in reshaping and reprioritizing the space domain, click on the following resources:
- Rogers calls for separate “Space Corps” within the Air Force (Space News)
- For Rep. Rogers, fighting through a war in space starts with fixing acquisition (Space News)
- White Paper: Satellite Evolution Sparks a Service Revolution
- High Throughput Satellites for U.S. Government Applications
- White Paper On O3b “Fiber Like” Satellite Communications for U.S. Government Applications