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News   Reform

Defense Official Builds Case for Creating Space Force

Oct. 11, 2019 | BY David Vergun
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The U.S. military and the commercial sector rely heavily on space-enabled capabilities, and the Defense Department must protect those assets and maintain U.S. superiority in the space domain, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy said.

Man seated among three others on a panel gestures while speaking.
Space Panel
Francis Rose, left, host of the “Government Matters” television program, listens as Stephen L. Kitay, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, speaks as part of a panel at an AFCEA luncheon in Arlington, Va., Oct. 10, 2019. Michael Schlacter, acting chief of the Space Development Agency’s integration cell, and Paul Thomas, manager the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Blackjack program, also participate.
Photo By: David Vergun, DOD
VIRIN: 191010-D-UB488-001

Stephen L. Kitay spoke as part of a panel discussion at an AFCEA luncheon in Arlington, Va. AFCEA is a nonprofit organization that serves as a forum for advancing professional knowledge and relationships in communications, information technology, intelligence and security.

''U.S. interest in space is expanding, and the threats are correspondingly expanding,'' Kitay said, noting that China launched an anti-satellite weapon against one of its own satellites in 2007 to demonstrate that it can knock out satellites. In December, he noted, Russia boasted that it has a ground-based laser that can take out satellites. Cyber threats also figure into the equation. ''The threat is real and here,'' he said.

Rocket sits on launch pad.
Launch Prep
Space and Missile Systems Center’s Advanced Extreme High Frequency encapsulated satellite mates with an Atlas V launch vehicle as it rolls out in preparation for launch at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Aug 6, 2019.
Photo By: Van Ha, Air Force
VIRIN: 190806-F-DC888-004D

DOD is no longer viewing space as a support function, but as a warfighting domain -- a domain of potential crisis and conflict, he said. The department advocates for the creation of a sixth branch of the armed forces to meet that mission, he added. ''We believe we have a strategic imperative to create a Space Force,'' he said. The Space Force would unify space-related activities within DOD, he explained.

Kitay noted that the Air Force, which used to be part of the Army, became a separate service in 1947 because it had become clear that in addition to supporting ground forces, air power also is necessary to maintaining air superiority.

A rocket launches into the sky behind a tall black and white lighthouse.
Vertical Launch
United Launch Alliance's Delta IV GPS III Magellan rocket launches in the background of the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Aug. 22, 2019.
Photo By: James Rainier, Air Force
VIRIN: 190822-F-UT715-1005

In similar fashion, he said, the nation needs to maintain space superiority and protect freedom of operations in that domain. ''Future operations will likely start or extend into space,'' he added, ''and we have to be ready for that.'' A space-centric identity and culture would be another important aspect of creating a sixth military branch, Kitay said.

Funding legislation for creating a Space Force is pending in Congress. Kitay said additional money would go toward supporting the warfighter from the space domain, not toward adding more layers of bureaucracy.

Soldier sets up satellite dish.
Satellite Setup
Army Pfc. Jacob Murray, a satellite communication systems operator assigned to 258th Network Support Company, 100th Brigade Support Battalion, 75th Field Artillery Brigade, prepares the satellite transmission terminal during the battalion’s field training exercise at Fort Sill, Okla., Sept. 8, 2019.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Dustin D. Biven
VIRIN: 190908-A-ED017-1026

Much of the Space Force could be built from existing structure within the services and DOD, he said. For example, the Space Development Agency most likely would be merged into the new service at an appropriate time after the Space Force is stood up. Some space assets residing in each of the services and the department would not be incorporated into the Space Force, he said, citing the National Reconnaissance Office as an example.

U.S. Space Command, which activated in August, would remain as a combatant command, focused on warfighting aspects, he said.