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Colorado Springs congressman pushes separate 'space corps' for satellite troops

July 1, 2017 Updated: July 2, 2017 at 7:32 am
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Pulling the nation's military satellites into a separate space service could shred Pentagon red tape and bring another four-starred military headquarters to Colorado Springs, Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn told the Gazette. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Pulling the nation's military satellites into a separate space service could shred Pentagon red tape and bring another four-starred military headquarters to Colorado Springs, Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn told the Gazette.

The space corps plan was a late-night addition to the House Armed Services Committee's 2018 spending plan and goes against the wishes of Pentagon brass who want to keep space missions under the Air Force umbrella. Lamborn contends that the Air Force and the Pentagon are paying too little attention to rising dangers in orbit.

"We need to organize space in such a way that it has more prominence," Lamborn said Friday in a phone interview from Washington.

Lamborn admits he's seldom opposed Air Force leaders who have criticized the space force plan. But he said growing American dependence on military satellites combined with growing enemy capability to shoot those satellites out of orbit justify his decision.

Before the Pentagon starts changing its stationery, the space corps idea must face a full House vote and consideration in the Senate, where several lawmakers already have expressed skepticism.

The idea for a standalone space branch of the military has been gaining steam since April, when Alabama U.S. Rep. Mike Rodgers pushed the idea at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.

In committee hearings on the 2018 defense budget, Rogers swayed colleagues.

"The intent is to ensure a senior military official can focus on and is responsible for training and equipping for operations in space and, likewise, for any future war fighting in this critical domain," the committee said in a news release.

The military's efforts in space now mainly fall under Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs. Until 2002, on-orbit plans fell under U.S. Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, which was one of the nation's major combat commands.

U.S. Space Command, which oversaw space efforts of every service branch, was folded in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the headquarters was converted into U.S. Northern Command, which is charged with protecting the continent from attack.

Space work was transferred to U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, Neb., which also oversees America's stockpile of nuclear arms.

Lamborn said it would "make all the sense in the world" to bring back U.S. Space Command and put satellite troops into a space corps that he envisions would have its headquarters in the Pikes Peak region. The space corps would nominally fall under the Air Force, with a similar relationship to that between the Marines and the Navy.

"It will still be under the Air Force," he said.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and the service's top officer, Gen David Goldfein, came to Colorado Springs in May to emphasize her commitment to the service's space commitments.

Wilson asked Congress for a 20 percent boost to space spending, including a 27 percent hike in research money. She and Goldfein said they were confident that the nation's military space efforts could prosper under the current leadership scheme.

Wilson said creating a new service branch would also pile more bureaucracy atop space efforts.

Last week, Wilson told reporters "the Pentagon is complicated enough" and again dismissed the space corps plan.

The creation of a space corps could also cost money. It remains unclear how much, but even with a proposed $70 billion boost in defense spending in the House plan, some lawmakers might balk at pouring cash into a new service branch.

But Lamborn said getting space its own service branch could speed construction of new satellites and foster a comprehensive strategy for defending American satellites if war spreads to space.

"We need to cut through the bureaucracy and red tape," he said.

The House plan would pour money into space defense planning work already underway at Schriever Air Force Base.

Lamborn said the budget would allocate $105 million for Schriever's National Space Defense Center, where Air Force planners are working alongside their intelligence agency counterparts on a series of space-themed war games. That's a $70 million boost for the center.

The House proposal includes other money for the Pikes Peak region, with $90 million planned for construction projects at five Pikes Peak region bases.

The budget also adds $30 million to the Air Force budget to address perfluorinated compound contamination of drinking water that's been blamed on the service's use of a toxic firefighting foam

The foam has been blamed for the contamination of drinking water from the Widefield Aquifer, south of Colorado Springs.

Lamborn's biggest concerns, though, are closer to the stars.

Pentagon leaders have worried for years about the growing anti-satellite capabilities shown by American rivals including China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

Military leaders admit an attack on American satellites would hamstring forces in combat who rely on the signals from space for navigation, communication and intelligence.

But it's unclear whether the Senate and the White House are ready for a space service.

"That's the million dollar question," Lamborn said.

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

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