Congress took formal steps on Thursday toward requiring the US military to establish a dedicated “Space Corps,” as concern mounts over the vulnerability of American space assets and their central role in modern war-fighting.
The move came with a stinging rebuke to the US Department of Defense from key members of the House Armed Services Committee, who asserted that Pentagon leadership doesn’t appear to grasp how delays and cost-overruns stemming from a “crippling” organizational structure are threatening America’s military readiness in space.
"We are convinced that the Department of Defense is unable to take the measures necessary to address these challenges effectively and decisively, or even recognize the nature and scale of its problems,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), who chairs the House Armed Services Subcommittee for Strategic Forces, and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), the subcommittee’s ranking member, in a joint statement. “Thus, Congress has to step in.”
On Thursday, the subcommittee formally introduced a proposal to add language to the National Defense Authorization Act that would require the creation of a separate military service by January 1, 2019 to be directly responsible for space programs — a role that is currently occupied primarily by the Air Force.
The new Space Corps would be led by its own chief of staff, joining the existing joint chiefs of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.
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Yet the Space Corps chief would answer to the civilian secretary of the Air Force and technically remain within the Air Force as a distinct service branch — similar to the way the Marine Corps technically functions within the Navy. Some senior Air Force officials have spoken out against the arrangement.
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said on Wednesday that she opposes the creation of a Space Corps.
"The Pentagon is complicated enough. We're trying to simplify. This will make it more complex, add more boxes to the organization chart and cost more money," she said during a visit to Capitol Hill. "If I had more money, I would put it into lethality, not bureaucracy."
Yet backers say the creation of a Space Corps would elevate the priority of space as a war-fighting environment, as countries like China and Russia develop weapons that could neutralize the advantage America now enjoys from its vast network of communications, targeting and navigation satellites.
That network includes the Global Positioning System, or GPS, which is currently operated by the Air Force.
Rogers said on Thursday that he was “outraged” by the pushback on the proposal from Air Force leadership.
"I've been shocked by the response from the Air Force leadership. Did they miss where the Chinese and the Russians have already reorganized space operations? The Chinese literally have a space force today," he remarked. "If she can't implement this proposal without creating six new deputy chiefs of staff, that's on her. Maybe we need a Space Corps secretary instead of an Air Force secretary leading space."
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Rogers and Cooper called the creation of a Space Corps “a first, but critical step towards fixing the National Security Space enterprise.”
“There is bipartisan acknowledgement that the strategic advantages we derive from our national security space systems are eroding,” Rogers and Cooper said in their statement. “The adversary will continue to build capabilities to hold our space assets at risk. For that reason, we must act now to fix national security space and put in place a foundation for defending space as a critical element of national security.”
In May, Gen. David Goldfein, the chief of staff of the Air Force, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that creating a separate and distinct Space Corps within the Air Force would mostly cause confusion.
“I don’t support it at this time,” the general said, in comments reported by SpaceNews. “Right now, to get focused on a large organizational change would actually slow us down…. Whether there’s a time in our future where we want to take a look at this again, I would say that we keep that dialog open, but right now I think it would actually move us backwards.”
The measure still has to be approved by the full committee, then passed by both houses of Congress and signed by President Donald Trump before it is implemented.
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