Rogers Says Air Force Cannot Fix Space, so Congress Must

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, speaks during the subcommittee's markup of the Fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act on June 22, 2017. Screenshot photo.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) forcefully reasserted his intention to create a separate military Space Corps Thursday during the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee markup hearing for the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. Rogers used his platform as chair of the committee to rebuke senior Air Force leaders, who had criticized the subcommittee’s plans when the markup was released Wednesday.

Noting that he is “willing to work with” Air Force leaders to develop the best plan to reorganize space operations, Rogers nonetheless said he was “shocked by the response from the Air Force leadership,” and he threatened to “take this mission totally away from the Air Force” if its leaders remained staunchly opposed to his reform efforts.

At the end of the hearing, the subcommittee’s mark was approved by voice vote and now proceeds to the full House Armed Services Committee, which will hold its markup for the entire 2018 NDAA on June 28. No amendments were offered by subcommittee members relating to the space organization provisions of the bill.

At issue is the sprawling nature of the Department of Defense’s space bureaucracy, which slows down decision-making on National Security Space programs. Congress and the Air Force have disagreed on how best to solve the problem. The Air Force wants to focus on speeding up the space acquisition process, and it recently created a new deputy chief of staff, or A-11, position at the Pentagon to give space operations a stronger voice within the service. But Rogers doesn’t think those changes go far enough. “The Department cannot fix itself on this issue,” Rogers said. “Congress has to step in.” It is seeking to do so by legislating the creation of “a new Space Corps, within the Department of the Air Force, under its Secretary, but separate from the Air Force itself,” Rogers summarized.

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein have said that Roger’s plan would only complicate space organization more and would disrupt the service’s efforts to complete its new concept of operations for military space.

On Thursday, Rogers admitted that his proposed reforms “won’t be easy and will be disruptive in the short term,” but he said the trouble would be worth it because China and Russia have already reorganized their space forces and “we must act now if we wish to maintain the advantages the US military obtains” from its space operations.

Rogers also dismissed the new A-11 position as simply one more addition to an organization already overcrowded with “people that can say no to space projects.” He said he did not trust the Air Force leadership to prioritize space operations in relation to traditional air power. If left to itself, Rogers said, “the Air Force would continue to force space to compete with F-35s, and we know who’s going to win that competition.”

Rogers said that the Air Force now opposing his reform efforts is “the same Air Force that got us into this situation where the Russians and the Chinese are near-peers to us in space.” He vowed not to let the problem persist. “We will not allow the status quo to continue.”

The subcommittee also adopted an amendment to the mark, put forward by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), stating that “the US government should fly reusable rockets when it’s safe and makes sense to do so.” SpaceX has successfully launched recycled booster rockets, and Gen. Jay Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command, has said he believes it is only a matter of time until the Air Force makes use of recycled boosters in National Security Space missions.