NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine thinks the U.S. needs a Space Force to protect the nation's energy grid from the "existential threat" posed by our adversaries. But while the threat may be real, that doesn't mean a whole new branch of the military is the solution.
In a recent interview with the Washington Examiner, Bridenstine notes that the energy grid and Wall Street are both heavily dependent on Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. "Every banking transaction requires a timing signal from GPS," he tells the Examiner. "In other words, if there is no GPS, there is no banking in the United States. Everything shuts down." This, he adds, is "an existential threat."
Who might be capable of such a disruption? The administration points to Russia and China. Laying out the White House's plans for a Space Force earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence cited the security threats posed by both countries' space capabilities.
"We are dependent as a nation…on space to the point where our potential adversaries have called it the 'American Achilles heel,'" Bridenstine tells the Examiner.
But while the electric grid and Wall Street may be vulnerable to a space-based attack, creating an entirely new branch of the military isn't the right response. For one thing, the Pentagon already puts considerable resources into space operations. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, we have 159 military satellites in orbit. China and Russia have just 75 and 35, respectively.
Indeed, the U.S. already has a kind of Space Force: the Air Force Space Command. And as Reason's Christian Britschgi recently noted, the Air Force currently spends about $8.5 billion a year on its space operations.
That's not all. Without the Space Force, the Pentagon wastes about $125 billion a year on administrative inefficiencies. Adding to the alphabet soup of space agencies will probably just make that worse.
And though it's important to protect America's assets in space, adding another military branch will be an invitation to military creep. As Britschgi wrote:
Without a single branch dedicated to militarizing space, the current branches have to make trade offs between how much they prioritize space over other land, sea, and air operations. That's ultimately a good thing, as it constrains the time and energy the government can put toward expanding the reach of an already overpowered, oversized military. A new Space Force, by contrast, would have every incentive to hype any potential space-related threats in the pursuit of more funding, more influence, and more power.
American taxpayers are already on the hook for a military that costs $700 billion a year. Let's try lowering that figure instead of adding to it.
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