WASHINGTON — President Trump has become "fixated" on the idea of a new military branch for space and appears to be ignoring legitimate arguments for why the plan should not move forward at this time, the Wall Street Journal editorial board cautioned in its July 4 editorial titled, "Houston, We Have a Space Force."
"This plan is not ready for the launchpad, even if Mr. Trump is right about the threat," the board wrote.
The Journal's take on the Space Force underscores just how politicized this issue has become since the president on June 18 at a White House space policy event ordered Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to "immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces." The Pentagon has strongly opposed the idea after the leaders of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee floated legislation in 2016 to create a Space Corps. After Trump's announcement, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the Pentagon would follow the president's guidance. [Military Space: Spacecraft, Weapons and Tech]
The formation of a new military service under any circumstance requires congressional authorization but the WSJ board does not see that as a major impediment. "Members of both parties seem willing, albeit after a fight over whose district will host the space cadets."
The president should "proceed with caution," the editorial warns. The issue is not that space doesn't deserve attention, but that the military is weighed down by a bloated bureaucracy and overhead costs and can ill afford to take on the additional expense of a Space Force.
The board credits the Air Force — which now oversees 90 percent of military space activities — for taking on inefficiency. "Secretary Heather Wilson has made fixing some of the dysfunction a priority by streamlining duplicative procurement." A wholly separate space forcewould "replicate these problems on a larger scale," the Journal's editorial said. "Branches of the military form their own cultures but also their own civilian workforces and back-end offices to manage operations. Service chiefs compete for dollars from Congress, and budget fights can be more about preserving power centers than national security." A Space Force will bring added personnel costs because the Air Force will try to avoid surrendering its personnel and dollars to a new branch.
Trump and congressional proponents of a separate Space Force are correct to identify space as a military domain that has to be better defended as foreign powers like Russia and China pose challenges, the editorial noted. But it urged the president to rethink this idea as the military already is financially strained by rising personnel costs and still recovering from a readiness crisis.
The president, meanwhile, continues to bring up the Space Force at military events and political rallies, where every mention draws applause and cheers from crowds.
"You've probably been hearing we may add a little thing called 'Space Force,'" Trump said to a cheering crowd July 3 during the Salute to Service dinner at The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. "We're thinking very seriously about it because space is becoming very important militarily, as well as other reasons."
At a July 4 military appreciation event at the White House, Trump delivered a similar line: "We have the Air Force — and by the way, I might add, we very well may soon have the Space Force. You've been hearing about that. Applause) Everyone is very excited about that."
This story was provided by SpaceNews, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.