House Panel Chairman Warns on Russia, China Space Threats

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), and Center for Strategic and International Studies analyst Todd Harrison speak Wednesday at a CSIS event in ?Washington, D.C. CSIS photo

It is “unacceptable” that the United States has allowed Russia and China to approach or match US capabilit?ies in space, and the situation is not likely to be remedied without major changes in the Air Force, a key House Armed Services Committee leader said Wednesday.

It was “jarring” to hear that both Russia and China have developed into peers with the US in space, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the Strategic Forces subcommittee, said Wednesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“That’s unacceptable that we’ve allowed that to happen,” he said.

Rogers appeared alongside the subcommittee’s ranking member Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), and both are supporting a measure to create a “Space Corps” service separate from the Air Force.

“The disappointing thing,” he said, “is that the more we looked at it, the more we became convinced that it can’t be fixed within the Air Force the way it’s structured now.”

Noting that much of the information his subcommittee deals with is classified, he said if more information were available, “there would be a hue and cry in the American public for us to fix this situation if they knew how bad things were and what we’ve allowed China and Russia to do.”

Rogers told the session that a new Space Corps could be established within three to five years.

“We have got to get our heads in the game, think of war fighting in a new domain, and be ready for whatever threat comes at us,” Cooper said.

“We could be deaf, dumb, and blind within seconds” without action, he said.

Rogers called on officials to “come out of denial” about the threat and called on the Air Force admit there is a problem and “work with us instead of fighting us.”

“The Air Force has spent the last year on Capitol Hill fighting Congress, trying to keep us from meddling in this issue,” he said.

Cooper struck a similar chord, saying he was “embarrassed” that it takes “the playthings of a couple of billionaires” to help the US make its launch capabilities more affordable.

“The Air Force has had amazing budgets for a long time, they do a lot of things, and then they end up being unenthusiastic about drones because they’re not piloted aircraft,” he said.

“Give me a break. I like leather jackets too, but that shouldn’t be the predominant characteristic,” he said, adding, that historians “will not be kind when they look back at this period.”

Rogers pointed to the long-delayed GPS OCX ground-control system as a “perfect example” of the problems in the Air Force.

“We’ve had that black hole for money for years, and it’s still not able to be executed,” he said. “Show me the person responsible for that. You can’t. “It’s all those committees. They’re all pointing at each other. “

Rogers conceded that he sees some “more aggressive activity” to deal with Chinese and Russian threats that he could not discuss publicly, “but we have to be a lot more innovative, and I mean fast.”

The Air Force and larger Defense Department has repeatedly opposed the creation of a separate service to handle space operations. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in July said that it is better to have a “properly integrated approach” and that it is premature to add an additional organization and more “administrative tail” as the Pentagon is looking to reduce overhead.