As the congressional August recess begins, President Trump’s Space Force Initiative awaits urgently needed decisions.
At one end of the spectrum of outstanding issues is whether the U.S. House or U.S. Senate will prevail in even its name: The Space Force or The Space Corps.
For what it’s worth, I joined 43 other former senior Defense and National Security Officials in a May 20, 2019 open letter supporting the Space Force to counter China and Russia that "are developing, testing, and fielding space and counterspace weapon systems that threaten our ability to use space for national security and economic purposes, jeopardize U.S. and allied military forces, and put the U.S. homeland at risk.
America’s long-standing strategic advantage in space is eroding."
Thus, we need a Space Force to "develop military space culture and ethos; recruit, train, educate, promote, and retain scientists, engineers, and warriors with world-class space skills and talent; advocate for space requirements and resources; develop space doctrine and operational art; develop, field, and deliver advanced space capabilities; and steward resources to sustain America’s strategic advantage and preeminence in national security space activities."
Unstated but apparent from these comments is that the Air Force has failed to provide the nation with the strategy, technology and systems needed to confront today’s growing threat. And it is clear that just talks and studies won’t produce needed Space Force capabilities.
At the other end of the spectrum of today’s undecided issues are:
1) Who is to lead whatever the president’s initiative is to be called and 2) The charter and viability of the Space Development Agency (SDA) to develop needed space systems more rapidly than has previously been demonstrated by the Pentagon, particular Air Force, bureaucracy.
The future is uncertain, whatever Congress decides to call the president’s initiative (regrettably in my view, within the Air Force), for reasons traced in particular to Air Force reluctance and opposition.
This opposition is prominent in the public discourse, reflecting hostile positions taken by then Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson when the president first signaled his initiative.
Now as president of the University of Texas in El Paso, she continues her opposition.
At a recent Aspin Conference, she emphasized her continuing opposition to the SDA —claiming the Air Force already has the SDA mission, in spite of its lethargic acquisition record — especially in exploiting innovative technologies made evident by private sector advances.
This situation reminds me of the Air Force reluctance to employ "commercial-off-the -shelf" (COTS) technology to build at an accelerated pace the most innovative and cost-effective product of President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) — the Brilliant Pebbles space-based interceptor system.
Consequently, a separate Brilliant Pebbles Task Force working directly for the SDI Director was assigned that mission. Success was within reach when the Clinton administration gutted the SDI program, especially such advanced technology programs.
No administration has since reversed this course, until now. Meanwhile, others — especially China — have exploited key SDI-initiated technology we have ignored and now pose a growing threat of major concern.
There was no apparent reversal of this misdirection within the Air Force during Secretary Wilson’s watch. We are playing "catch up" in recognizing and responding to these threats— as has been noted for some cases by Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin.
Former Secretary Wilson has opposed Undersecretary Griffin since the get go — and also a key Air Force leader, who has advocated needed innovation to recognize the existential threat posed by foreign exploitation of rapidly advancing technologies.
Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast recognized this condition and sought to lead a revolution within the Air Force, as Commander of the Air Force Education and Training Command.
While personally speaking out on this emerging threat, including in two important the Electromagnetic Defense Task Force (EDTF) conferences that can help frame future programs needed to counter these threats.
These conferences involved a number of national security leaders who were and are actively involved in developing the strategy and systems to counter the nation’s threats —and who recognize our current and growing vulnerabilities to existential threats from Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and even terrorists who can exploit the means to deliver them.
They also made clear that we need a revolution of U.S. space capabilities to prevail against growing threats in an increasingly dangerous world. And the need for a Space Force is evident, at least to me.
The 2018 EDTF report, was published by Air University as Lemay Paper Number 2 and the report from the second EDTF conference should be published in the near future.
The second EDTF conference dealt in considerable specific detail with the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threat, and I believe General Kwast’s associated efforts can be very helpful in framing the nation’s response to President Trump’s March 26, 2019 Executive Order on Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses.
That’s the good news. But there is also bad news.
To demonstrate that "No good deed goes unpunished," General Kwast was recently prematurely relieved from his command — after only half of the usual tour for this important position responsible for educating and training future Air Force leaders.
Consider the message being sent to the next generation of aspiring Air Force leaders.
Frankly, I believe former Secretary Wilson contributed to this sad situation that I doubt would have been countenanced by Acting Air Force Secretary Matthew Donovan. He spoke out early in favor of President Trump’s separate Space Force initiative and recently spelled out his support in detail in an August 1, 2019 article, “Unleashing the Power of Space: The Case for a Separate Space Force.”
Acting USAF Secretary Donovan noted Gen. Billy Mitchell’s visionary role — court marshalled as an Army Air Corps general — for championing Air Power against the "powers that be" of his time; ultimately leading to today’s separate Air Force after that need was made clear by World War II.
Donovan’s article concluded, "I feel his impassioned plea to see past the limits of today’s policies and constrained thought, and strive confidently into the bright future of the United States Space Force."
Today, we cannot survive a "Pearl Harbor" attack that shuts down our electric power grid. We delay chartering a Space Force to help counter that all too real threat at our national peril.
President Trump should rectify this situation with an unmistakable message to the Pentagon and future Air and Space Force leaders.
As commander in chief, he should derail the planned early retirement of General Kwast and bring him into the White House to lead an effort to give the nation the future Space Force it so clearly needs to address this existential threat.
Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier and an acknowledged expert on strategic and space national security issues, was President Ronald Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director during the George H.W. Bush administration. Previously, he served as the Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Deputy Assistant USAF Secretary, Science Adviser to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory and a USAF Reserve Captain. In the private sector he was Chairman of Applied Research Associates, a high technology company; member of the technical staff of Jaycor, R&D Associates and Bell Telephone Laboratories; a Senior Associate of the National Institute for Public Policy; and Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Clemson and a PhD from New York University, all in Mechanical Engineering. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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