BIDLACK | May the Space Force be with you?

Author: Hal Bidlack - June 26, 2018 - Updated: June 25, 2018

Hal BidlackHal Bidlack

My dad was drafted into the US Army before Pearl Harbor, at roughly the same time as the Army leadership renamed and restructured what had been known as the Army Air Corps into the Army Air Forces. This new entity, still entirely owned and operated by the Army, was charged with air operations during World War II, and did so with distinction.

After the war ended, in large measure due to an Army Air Forces mission to drop atomic bombs on Japan, the national leadership, both military and civilian, accepted what had become very clear – air power was a new and vital military mission. They also recognized that the military structure that had served the nation through its previous military adventures no longer fit the needs of the 20th Century and beyond.

Thus, the Congress passed the needed legislation (for the younger readers, the Congress used to be an organization that, while often disagreeing, usually came together for the good of the nation, especially on national security issues) entitled the National Security Act of 1947. This new law was nothing short of a revolutionary change in our military structure. Gone were the outdated stand-alones – Department of War and the Department of the Navy — now replaced by new entities for each of the services, placed under the leadership of a new Secretary of Defense. The Act also created the National Security Council and the CIA, and more. It took years of thought and careful analysis to figure out how best to tear down and rebuild our military force structure.

The Act therefore marked the birth of the United States Air Force. And while there would continue to be squabbles among the services over responsibilities (are theater missiles actually rockets that should belong to the Air Force? Or are they just big guns that should belong to the Army?), the Act overall created a new and modern force structure, covering all military operations.

Then, things got a bit more complicated when humankind started operating in that region above the atmosphere called “space.”

Why the history lesson? Because our current occupant of the White House, President Donald Trump, announced recently that he had directed the creation of a new “Space Force” to be added to the Pentagon’s roster of services. There are several things worth mentioning about Mr. Trump’s edict.

First, he can’t do it. The creation of a new military service is not something the president can order. Rather, it is something that requires congressional actions. An example of that type of legislation might be … let me think … the National Security Act of 1947. I know Mr. Trump believes in his near deity-like powers, but as it turns out, he’s wrong. A president gets to order the military around, but creating, funding, and staffing a military service requires congressional action. I honestly don’t think he knew that, but I’m biased of course.

Secondly, it’s not entirely clear that a new service is a good idea. An excellent article in The Gazette in last Sunday’s edition (nice work, Tom Roeder!) covers these concerns in depth. There are many problems, such as where exactly is space? NASA gives astronaut wings to those who fly higher than 100 km up there, so should that be the dividing line between the old Air Force and the new Space Force’s responsibility? Seems a tad arbitrary. The line would be a difficult thing to firmly establish.

Lastly, Mr. Trump’s proposal is just kind of silly coming from an alleged Republican. The GOP is supposed to be the party of small government and limited spending (pretending that Mr. Trump didn’t explode the deficit helps, if you are a GOPer). And as part of this small gov plan, Mr. Trump proposes to create an entirely new and massive bureaucracy. Seriously, it would be very pricey and complicated.

The new Space Force would need room in the Pentagon (it won’t come to Colorado, folks; they would need to be next door to the other services). This new service would, presumably, take care of our satellite assets and, what, all the rockets? Would it have nuclear capability (ICBMs)? These are the types of questions that need to be thought out well before a service is created. It’s not at all clear that Mr. Trump and his team have given any real thought to these concerns.

I saw a joke on social media – so I’m not claiming authorship – that posited that we should also now create an under-the-water force for submarines, if we need a space force for things above the air. It seems clear that this White House is not that good at studying and thinking. A more cynical person might think this announcement was an attempt to distract from Mr. Trump’s recent very bad press, and not out of a deeply held and carefully considered belief. No, wait, I am that cynical.

We don’t need a Space Force, sir. Please go back and try again.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.