A Colorado Springs congressman's push to put military satellites under a separate space corps is raising eyebrows among some retired generals who worry that the attempt to streamline the Pentagon's efforts in orbit could have unintended consequences.
Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn last week said he's backing a House Armed Services Committee proposal that would elevate military space troops to the same status held by the Marine Corps. Lamborn said the move would raise the prominence of space work at the Pentagon and would cut red tape that hampers construction of satellites.
He's gotten some applause, including praise from a former head of Air Force Space Command who's endorsed the move.
But the proposal also has critics.
In addition to a few guffaws about Star Trek uniforms, some local retired brass worry that the change comes with too little study and could make things worse for the military and Colorado Springs.
"I believe Mr Lamborn is misinformed," said retired Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart. "It will add overhead, needless bureaucracy, and divert attention from broader war-fighting integration."
The idea for a separate armed service for space has been floated since at least 2001, when a congressionally chartered commission on military satellites considered, then dismissed the proposal.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ed Anderson advised that panel and said while a space force has attractive aspects, the idea needs long study rather than rapid implementation.
"Things have changed a lot, and it's time to look at it," Anderson said.
The proposal must clear a full House vote and gain acceptance in the Senate and the White House before it becomes law.
Creating a new service, with new leaders, new uniforms and a new organizational structure, isn't something to be taken lightly, Anderson said.
"The challenges are huge," he said.
A new space force also could put the Pikes Peak region at risk of losing its military space prominence, said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Jay Lindell, who heads military and aerospace efforts for Colorado's Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
"My personal position is, I think it needs to be studied," Lindell said. "There needs to be more thought put to this."
The challenges don't deter the former Air Force Space Command boss, retired Gen. Lance Lord, who says Lamborn and his House colleagues are on the right track.
Space takes money, and money flows to programs with powerful voices in the Pentagon and Congress, Lord said. Space corps could give the nation's satellite forces that voice, he said. "This is about resources above all," Lord said. "Can the nation afford to spend what it takes to be a space-faring country?"
The Air Force Space Command, which manages the military's constellation of satellites, is headquartered in Colorado Springs, and leaders there have redoubled efforts to get their troops ready for a war that could extend into orbit. The military depends on satellites for navigation, communications and intelligence. Without satellites, precision-guided bombs would miss their targets, drones couldn't fly and the Army could become lost in Middle Eastern deserts. Air Force leaders have told The Gazette that America's enemies have watched the growing reliance on satellites and have boosted their programs to target them.
In response, the Pentagon established the National Space Defense Center at Schriever Air Force Base, where the military and intelligence agencies are running a series of war games to iron out strategies. Space Command also has beefed up training for space troops, and the Pentagon plans a 20 percent increase in space spending next year.
Lamborn contends that putting space aside as a separate service would keep satellites in the spotlight even when budgets are tight.
During Pentagon belt-tightening since 2013, Space Command carved $1 billion from its budget as the Air Force sought to preserve plane programs such as the F-35 fighter by cutting elsewhere.
Lord said getting the space corps in place, and pulling Army and Navy satellite programs into it, would ease budget pressures.
"I think it would be a good thing," he said.
A space force also would free its leaders to take more risks, encouraging a new approach to problems in orbit, Lord said.
"I would want to see the space corps do some innovative and creative things," he said.
But Renuart said lawmakers should examine their mirrors rather than military organizational charts when thinking about ways to boost satellite programs.
"The key to solving the so-called shortfalls in space is not more headquarters, rather adequate resources and authorities, which Congress has failed to provide, repeatedly," said Renuart, who headed the U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs before he retired.
Lindell said he's worried that creating a space organization could move the center of military space activities away from Colorado Springs. The space corps proposal was pushed by a lawmaker from Alabama, which has long sought to grow the military space community in Huntsville and would certainly push to house any new space missions.
"This entails a whole separate service organization," Lindell said.
But, the generals said, the House space corps plan does at least highlight the need for a renewed focus on orbit. Emerging threats and new opportunities abound as technology changes, Anderson said.
And someday, that could make the space corps a reality.
"The need has certainly expanded," Anderson said.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240