Pentagon leaders sought to convince skeptical senators of the need to stand up the Space Force during a hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday, arguing that the scope and pace of the threat from adversaries in space requires an ambitious new plan to stay ahead of the threat.
“Our $19 trillion economy, our American way of life, and our American way of war all depend on space,” Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said in his opening remarks to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
He said while the Pentagon’s efforts to date have kept the United States on top when it comes to space, that margin of dominance with adversaries China and Russia is shrinking.
Shanahan said both China and Russia have “weaponized space” with the “intent to hold American capabilities at risk.”
“Every member of this committee has access to the classified threat picture, but the bottom line is: the next major conflict may be won or lost in space,” he said.
He said with space technology set to explode over the coming years, the Pentagon’s “disaggregated” and “slow, bureaucratic approach” will not be enough to keep pace.
“Today, DOD has five Senate-confirmed officials who are responsible for more than 10 organizations developing bespoke space capabilities in a very federated fashion, failing to integrate across DOD and to capture the cost synergies of standards,” he said.
“The current approach has served its purpose. We are at an inflection point. Threats are increasing, and the importance of and opportunities in space are growing,” he added.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who testified alongside Shanahan, said China and Russia have taken “significant steps to challenge our traditional dominance in space.”
He said China and Russia have reorganized their armed forces and developed robust space capabilities, to include space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, that would allow them to more effectively target U.S. and allied forces.
“China and Russia are also capable of searching, tracking, and characterizing satellites in all earth orbits in support of space and counter-space operations. Their counter-space operations include jamming, cyber-operations, directed energy weapons, on-orbit capabilities, and ground-based anti-satellite missiles,” he said.
“Space is no longer a sanctuary,” Dunford said.
The congressionally-appointed U.S.-China Commission released a report on Thursday on the status of China’s pursuit of space power and implications for the U.S. It said:
Given China’s technological approach, along with strong political and funding support, U.S. policymakers should not expect China’s space program to remain significantly behind the United States’ indefinitely, especially as the CCP increasingly attempts to leverage military-civilian fusion to jumpstart innovation in its space industry with the goal of leapfrogging the United States.
The report also said China’s military plays an “important role in organizing and overseeing China’s space activities, meaning most of China’s ostensibly civilian space activities have dual-use applications” — or both civilian and military applications.
“China’s space policy in effect allows Beijing to continue developing military space capabilities while publicly claiming to oppose militarization of space,” it said.
Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-IN) stated in his opening remarks that future conflicts with Russia or China “will involve attacks from, in, and through space.”
“This would profoundly disrupt our society, which is heavily dependent on satellite communications, positioning, navigation and timing, and other vital space-based technology,” he said. “We must restore our margin of dominance in space over our adversaries.”
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who also testified, said the U.S. is the “best in the world in space,” but added “our adversaries know it, and they are seeking the ability to deny us” access in space.
Commander of Strategic Command Air Force Gen. John Hyten also testified that he feared U.S. superiority would not continue. “Our adversaries [are] actively building and deploying weapons in space,” he said.
Wilson said the Space Force could be fully operational between 2023 and 2024.
However, members of the Armed Services Committee on both sides of the aisle who attended the hearing expressed skepticism over the administration’s need for a Space Force, which they argued would just create more bureaucracy and silo the mission of space from the other services, who all perform space-related missions.
“I don’t understand how adding a box to an organizational chart … is going to give us a quantitive military edge,” said Sen. Angus King (I-ME). “I don’t think it’s broken … why are we going to fix it?”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) accused Pentagon leaders of wanting to create a new force to get more money from the government.
But defense leaders argued that the pace and magnitude of the threat necessitated a new force whose full-time mission would be space.
“We have adversaries … that can challenge us in space. We have to have a commander focused on it all the time,” Hyten said. “We have to somebody in the Pentagon that focuses their total attention on space all the time.”
He said previous Air Force chiefs of staff have “all cared about space, but it is a secondary issue” for them.
Defense leaders also argued that a new culture focused on war-fighting in space was necessary, from providing a service to combatant commanders to having a “war-fighting ethos.”
“One of the most important things in standing up a Space Force is to establish a war-fighting culture,” Wilson said.
The Space Force proposal garnered enthusiastic support from two Republican senators, however. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) declared the hearing the “most fascinating” two hours he has ever spent as a member of the committee.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) emerged as the most enthusiastic supporter of the Space Force.
“I totally appreciate why you need to have a Space Force. I get it,” she said. “When you look at technological advancements … I fully understand why you need to make this a priority.”
Shanahan told Breitbart News after the hearing that he thought it was a “good discussion.”
“Instead of responding, we’re acting ahead of the situation. It’s a good proposal. Like Chairman Dunford said, there’s a lot of things to make improvements on — that will happen over time. But the most important steps we need to take right now so we can take advantage of time,” he said.
“I think it’s more about focusing on the problem than it is about the structure,” he added.