President Donald Trump says he supports the idea of creating a Space Force as a co-equal branch of the military in order to project U.S. dominance beyond the reaches of Earth's gravity.
"When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space," Trump said at a Monday meeting of his National Space Council. "I'm hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces."
The idea of a Space Force admittedly sounds pretty badass. However, it is also likely unnecessary, unwise, and runs counter to the recommendation of Trump's own Defense chief.
When a bipartisan group of lawmakers tried to include language creating a new "Space Corps" in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis strongly opposed the idea, writing in a letter, "I oppose the creation of a new military service and additional organizational layers at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint warfighting functions."
This "Space Corps" was a notably less ambitious proposal than what Trump seems to be describing. It called for the new Corps to have its own seat on the Military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, but still report to the Department of the Air Force, similar to the Marine Corps' relationship with the Navy.
In contrast, Trump said today that his Space Force would be a co-equal branch, saying, "we are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force, separate but equal."
Whatever form it takes, the creation of a new branch of the military will only invite more waste in a Department of Defense bureaucracy that continues to siphon off billions of taxpayer dollars while rarely being held accountable for how it spends its massive budget.
As recently as February 2018, an audit of the Defense Logistics Agency obtained by Politico found that the agency—which functions as the military's supply arm—failed to account for as much as $800 million. In December 2016, it was revealed that the Defense Department buried an internal study finding $125 billion in administrative waste. (Then there's the money frittered away by the Defense Department on smaller scale boondoggles, like the $43 million compressed natural gas station we built in Afghanistan.)
Mattis argued that the Pentagon's priority should be focusing on getting its own shop in order before it goes about creating whole new branches.
Indeed, the idea of militarizing space with a brand-new Space Force departs from some positive noises the Trump administration has made about letting the private sector take the lead in space development.
In February, the Administration floated the idea of converting the International Space Station into a semi-private facility and zeroing out NASA funding for the station by 2025. The space agency has already saved big bucks partnering with private companies to resupply the station. Other private enterprises are getting ever closer to launching manned space flights.
The Trump Administration would do well to let these peaceful, private initiatives develop, as opposed to crowding them out by launching the government's most bloated bureaucracy into space.
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