President Donald Trump’s plans for a separate Space Force could tumble back to Earth thanks to vociferous opposition from a Colorado congressman.
Aurora’s Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman was initially warm to the idea of a new force to house satellite and missile defense troops, but he cooled quickly after Vice President Mike Pence outlined sweeping plans this month that includes a new Pentagon department.
“To create a entirely new department, it’s ridiculous,” Coffman told The Gazette last week.
While Coffman is only one of the 435 votes in the House, he holds outsized power on the House Armed Services Committee. As chairman of the powerful Military Personnel Subcommittee, Coffman carries near-veto power over Pentagon legislation and could knock Space Force out of orbit.
Trump can’t just order Space Force to beam itself into existence without new laws from Congress.
And Coffman’s fight against Space Force has a partisan bent that’s likely to make other Republicans reconsider their support.
“It seems like a very liberal approach to a problem where the approach is more government,” Coffman said.
Coffman’s complaint stems from the separate “Department of Space Force” that Trump is demanding. Creating a space service with that kind of footprint will bring a new galaxy of civilian leaders to Washington, with a secretary, undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, deputy assistant secretaries, and the rest of the usual Byzantine organizational chart common in Pentagon departments overseeing space.
Coffman said that approach will vacuum up cash, starving the military’s actual space needs in favor of a big bureaucracy.
“Does that mean we will have a Space Academy?” he asked.
Coffman carries serious credibility in military debates thanks to his military service. He enlisted in the Army out of high school and served in the Army Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve as an officer. He deployed to the 1991 Persian Gulf War and went back to Iraq in 2005.
Coffman wants the Space Force to look like the Marine Corps, which falls under the Navy Department.
He said the Marines have less overhead and more rifles thanks to the organizational design that leaves the civilian leadership under the Navy.
He’d build a Space Corps under the Air Force, giving space troops a more prominent seat at Pentagon tables without a big bureaucratic change.
Coffman isn’t alone in his point of view. When the idea for a space service emerged in the House last year, Pentagon brass lined up in opposition, saying it would waste money at light speed. One key opponent was Defense Secretary James Mattis, who has since changed his opinion under orders from Trump.
Coffman is worried that Trump’s personal intervention in the Space Force fight will make it tough to get straight answers from the Pentagon as Congress begins to debate the
“The fact that the commander in chief has spoke which means the Pentagon will have to fall in line,” he said. “It will be difficult to get an independent assessment from them on alternatives to creating a new Space Force.”
Another issue for Trump is that the House has finished up the bulk of its military work for the year, putting an election ahead of the Space Force debate. With insiders predicting a rise in Democratic power in the chamber, Trump will need every Republican vote to keep his Space Force dream aloft.
Lawmaker Celebrates Military Money
While Coffman frets about the military’s future, Colorado Springs Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn is celebrating its present.
Lamborn sent a happy email last week after a state study showed the Pentagon’s growing economic might in Colorado, with $36 billion in spending statewide and a whopping $18 billion of that landing in El Paso County.
“As this report proves, there can be no doubt that communities across Colorado gain a tremendous amount of benefits from the state’s robust defense sector,” Lamborn write. “Thanks to the appeal of our community and the welcoming, patriotic nature of our residents, we have been able to attract many different units, missions, and defense-related companies — in fact, Colorado Springs is one of the most-requested duty stations in the military.”
Lamborn’s 5th Congressional District has the largest military footprint in the country, with five Pikes Peak region bases housing 40,000 active-duty troops and adding another 60,000 civilian jobs.