A new acting Secretary of Defense has been announced in short order after James Mattis’ recent resignation was unceremoniously turned into a firing by President Trump. Mattis, who planned to leave in early to mid-2019, will now be forced out on January 1, after a falling-out over Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria. He will be replaced by the current deputy secretary, Patrick Shanahan.
…“It’s essential to have space capabilities to win wars…”
While the decision has been criticized due to Shanahan’s lack of military experience, the appointment may be part of a Trump tactic to gain traction for his much-scoffed-at Space Force, which is now expected to come into fruition in the guise of an Air Force department.
Patrick Shanahan and Space Force
Unlike most Pentagon leaders, Shanahan has little experience in the armed services hierarchy. Rather, his expertise is in private-sector aerospace, having worked at Boeing for much of his career, in both its commercial airline and military contract divisions. He is also a fellow for the Royal Aeronautical Society, Society of Manufacturing Engineers, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Associate. It seems reasonable to conclude that such a resumé would suggest a natural affinity for expanding U.S. interests in space, and indeed Shanahan was put in charge of making Trump’s Space Force dream a reality.Patrick Shanahan
“To use an aerospace term, we’re on final approach,” Shanahan told reporters about the project on December 13. “There were two primary options, we’re now down to one option.”
That one option now appears to be the establishment of “a United States Space Force as an armed force within the Department of the Air Force,” according to a draft legislative proposal reportedly obtained by Defense News on December 21. It may not be the glorious sixth military wing of Trump’s ambition, but the White House is reportedly behind the decision. Some speculate this is because it would be easier to get through Congress than an entirely new military branch – particularly one that has been so relentlessly mocked. According to Defense One, the White House asked the Pentagon in October to research whether military expansion into space would be “best served by the establishment … of a new independent military department or whether the new Space Force would be most effectively organized as a separate service within the Department of the Air Force.”
This isn’t a new idea; a previous attempt to create a space division of the Air Force was made in 2017.
An early version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2018 explicitly demanded that, “Not later than January 1, 2019, the Secretary of Defense shall establish in the executive part of the Department of the Air Force a Space Corps.” The act was passed by the House of Representatives although ultimately rejected by the Senate and replaced with a more toned-down version that simply required Department of Defense research into the area.
The two representatives behind the Space Corps proposal, Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Jim Cooper (D-TN), who happened to be the chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee, expressed disappointment at the change and the Air Force’s apparent resistance to implementing the policy. “It’s essential to have space capabilities to win wars. It wasn’t like that before. And we’ve allowed our capabilities to atrophy,” said Rogers at a Center for Strategic and International Studies conference in February. “They [Air Force] are so indoctrinated to the way they do things. With a space corps, we can start with a clean sheet.”
Cooper added, “Seldom has a great nation been so vulnerable. The Air Force should rise to the challenge and take this as seriously as we do.” The two congressmen may get their wishes soon enough, as Cooper continued: “There are people in DoD that agree with us … I’m particularly proud that Shanahan gets us. Even some people get it in the Air Force.”
“I have confidence in Deputy Secretary Shanahan,” added Rogers. “We are in regular contact with him.”
If Shanahan is indeed on board with the ideas of Rogers and Cooper, a look at their 2017 proposals may be useful in predicting the direction a future Space Force may take. According to the early version of NDAA 2018, the Corps would be run by a chief of staff appointed by the president with approval by the Senate. Over a six-year term, he or she would make milestone decisions regarding satellite research, make recommendations and advise the secretary of defense, join the joint chiefs of staff for the military, and other responsibilities related to commanding the Corps. The role of the corps would be to assist the Air Force in carrying out the following duties, as described in the bill:
(1) protecting the interests of the United States in space;
(2) deterring aggression in, from, and through space;
(3) providing combat-ready space forces that enable the commanders of the combatant commands to fight and win wars;
(4) organizing, training, and equipping space forces;
(5) conducting space operations of the Space Corps under the command of the Commander of the United States Space Command.
Although Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson initially opposed the idea, she announced in September 2018 that she was in “complete alignment” with the president. A leaked August memo obtained by Defense One suggests she would rather have control over a space department than give up the resources her branch already possesses. She predicts such a project would cost $13 billion in its first four years and estimates a total of 13,000 personnel.
Trump recently made the additional order for the Pentagon to form a U.S. Space Command to lead space operations. “It is urgent that we address space as a warfighting domain and this combatant command is a critical step in that direction,” Shanahan said, backing up the president. “U.S. Space Command will allow us to accelerate our space capabilities to defend our national interests and deter our adversaries.”
Whatever Congress makes of the new Space Force proposal, which Defense News reports is slated for inclusion in the 2020 budget, the president is full steam ahead on launching 21st century America into space – and with enthusiastic support by the acting Defense Secretary may just be the boost Trump’s ideas need to actually lift-off.