James Says Space Corps Would Bring Upheaval, Not Solutions

Former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James speaks at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 6, 2017. Screenshot photo.

The creation of a Space Corps within the Air Force would lead to “enormous upheaval” without solving the key problems faced by the national security space enterprise today, former Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said Wednesday.

Neither the service nor the Department of Defense was “sitting on its hands” during her tenure (2014-2016), James told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. And while she admitted that the Air Force still has “a long way to go” in its efforts to adapt the space mission to current threats, she insisted the formation of a Space Corps would not help any of those efforts.

“I sometimes bristle just a little bit,” James said, when some suggest that “space is the red-headed stepchild of the Air Force.” In response to criticism that there is “not enough money being devoted to space” because the service prioritizes air dominance, James said. “I couldn’t come up with the data” to prove the assertion. The idea that the service steals from space accounts to pay for fighters and bombers amounts to “a perception problem,” she said.

During her time as Secretary, she said, “$5.5 billion was added” to USAF space accounts “to fund important advances” in programs like space situational awareness, battle management command and control, and defense against jamming. These increases were made “during a time when many other programs were being held constant or were being reduced,” she said.

The perception that the Air Force is not prioritizing space funding is likely to change, she said, now that space is a major force program. The change should produce “a neater, cleaner way to track the dollars” DOD already spends on space programs.

James also pointed to organizational changes made under her leadership. The service approved a new space enterprise vision, stood up an operational National Space Defense Center, and developed a “new training construct for our space warfighters,” she said. The designation of the Secretary of the Air Force as the Principal DOD Space Advisor (PDSA), James said, means that on military space decisions “many voices are heard, but there’s one advocate” for space to the Secretary of Defense.

Since she left office in January, reform has continued. James drew attention to the addition of a new three-star deputy chief of staff for space, the elevation of US Strategic Command’s component commander for space to a four-star position, and President Donald Trump’s re-establishment of the National Space Council to be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence.

Continuing these lines of effort is the best way to reform national security space, James said. “Organizational change, when it is of a large-scale magnitude, … creates enormous upheaval.” She allowed that, “sometimes, that upheaval is necessary and required.” Other times, she said, “the juice is not worth the squeeze.”