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This article was published on August 10, 2018

It’s a dumb idea to make Trump’s Space Force its own military branch

It’s a dumb idea to make Trump’s Space Force its own military branch
Tristan Greene
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Tristan Greene

Editor, Neural by TNW

Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him

Vice President Mike Pence today unveiled the Trump administration’s plans to form a sixth military branch called Space Force. It’s a stupid idea.

As a major science nerd, Star Wars fanatic, and lover of the cosmos the thought of Trump’s Space Force causes my inner child to leap for joy and make weird laser sounds. But I’m not a child. I’m a grown up and a military veteran. And the US armed forces shouldn’t be anyone’s fantasy factory.

Before we go any further, I’d like to make it perfectly clear that, were this bad idea to become a reality, my criticism of the program is in no way meant to disrespect the brave people who’ve served or will serve in the military. This isn’t about our nation’s warriors, it’s about politics.

We don’t need a Space Force, plain and simple. Here’s four reasons why:

First, we’ve already got one

The United States Air Force Space Command, established over 35 years ago, is headquartered in Colorado. More than 20,000 military personnel perform missions for Space Command, ranging from deploying and monitoring satellites to guarding against ballistic missiles. It seems silly to form an entirely new branch, just to cover the same duties. This isn’t the same thing as when the US Army spun out the Air Force. That was to fill a total void in our country’s defense capabilities.

In fairness, Pence today said that Space Force wouldn’t be built from scratch, but would instead draw upon existing infrastructure. So the question is, will the Air Force just detach Space Command and supplement it with troops and officers from the other branches, or does the Federal government plan to make the existing branches foot the bill by contributing resources from their own budgets?

A better idea would be to sharpen the Air Force’s focus and put Space Force’s budget into Space Command. Especially since, reportedly, that budget isn’t going to be very high.

It’ll cost way more than $8 billion

Pence also said today that President Trump wanted to budget $8 billion dollars for Space Force over the next five years. That’s $1.6 billion a year. What kind of bargain bin Space Force are we going for here? An aircraft carrier group in the US Navy’s fleet costs almost a billion dollars a year to operate. And the construction of the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald Ford, cost nearly $13 billion.

The Air Force, along with its Space Command, had a budget of nearly $170 billion last year. I’m not sure how much of that specifically went to its space endeavors, but I’d be willing to make a game show guess it was more than $1.6 billion. By comparison, NASA got almost $20 billion in 2017, and it doesn’t have to concern itself with national defense. My point: $8 billion is chump change for a military effort.

So what, exactly, is it that Space Force is supposed to do for pennies on the dollar compared to the Navy and Air Force budget, that those branches don’t already do? Its mission can’t involve a lot of space craft with a budget so small. It doesn’t seem like a robust military branch, but a cheap publicity stunt.

But people die in the military every single day — even when they aren’t at war. The military, including any future Space Force, isn’t a joke.

Space Force started out as a joke

Unfortunately for my narrative here, Space Force actually began as a joke. Trump was talking to Marines at Miramar (you know, the Marine Corps base where expert pilots from the Navy and Corps train to be Top Guns) about defense spending when he went off script to talk about space, quoting himself somehow:

I said, ‘maybe we need a new force, we’ll call it the Space Force,’ and I was not really serious. Then I said, ‘what a great idea,’ maybe we’ll have to do that.

I’m starting to think it’s not about space or the military, but about invigorating voters. As reported by The Verge, the Trump/Pence PAC just sent emails out asking people to vote on Space Force’s logo — ahead of merchandising. And, based on the Twitter reactions I’ve seen, the public seems to like the Mars badge the most. It looks like Space Force and Trump’s plans to go to Mars are tied together — which only makes sense politically.

Don’t get me wrong I believe we need to send a manned mission to Mars. But I can’t think of a conceivable reason why the military needs to be worried about going to other planets when we’re currently fighting the longest war in our nation’s history right here on Earth. NASA and the private sector seem to have Mars under control.

But maybe the Trump administration has top secret information on aliens that makes a “Starship Troopers” scenario likely. In that case, I’m overwhelmingly positive we’ll need to spend far more than $8 billion.

The Pentagon thinks it’s a bad idea

I’m not the only one who thinks Space Command doesn’t need to be its own branch, the brass seems to agree. Former Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James recently told listeners at the Brookings Institution she believe Space Force wasn’t a good idea because:

It is a virtual certainty that it will be a huge undertaking that will consume a lot of time, effort, thinking. I do not believe we should have a separate space force. The myriad of details which people joke about, the academies, the uniforms and what not, those may seem trivial but they are details that need to be worked out.

According to a CNBC report, James said she’d spoken with members of the Pentagon’s leadership who told her that they thought it was a bad idea. She said, “none of them are in favor of a space force but they are stuck. The president has said it and it will be interesting to see how they now deal with it.”

Hopefully the adults in the Pentagon, who’ve yet to commit to creating an entirely new branch, will find a way to stow Trump’s outlandishly irresponsible scheme. It’ll waste billions of dollars reinventing the wheel — a wheel the US Air Force already has.

And, having served in numerous capacities alongside warriors in the US Air Force, I’m quite confident in the capabilities of our current fighters to defend us from threats both here on Earth and above the clouds, and their ability to adapt as the mission requires.

And they deserve that same confidence from their Commander In Chief.