Congressman Jim Cooper

Representing the 5th District of Tennessee

Cooper Statement on Space, Satellites and Security

Aug 10, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-05) issued the following statement after Vice President Pence's Aug. 9 speech at the Pentagon.

Origin of the “Space Force” Idea

I am embarrassed by the politicization, polarization, and even commercialization of the idea of strengthening U.S. military capabilities in space.

The Aug. 9, 2018, speech by Vice President Pence at the Pentagon—a speech that I was invited to attend but did not—looked like it was boosting national defense, but may have harmed it. The vice president mentioned four people by name in the speech, including me, to demonstrate the bipartisan nature of strengthening U.S. space capabilities, but the administration is handling the issue so clumsily that it risks becoming a laughingstock.

Even worse, the campaign arm of the Trump administration has suggested selling merchandise with the logo of the Space Force on it in order to help finance President Trump’s re-election campaign. This makes efforts to strengthen U.S. space capabilities look like a partisan joke, further strengthening the hands of America’s rivals.

Origins

Our satellites were safe until about 11 years ago, when China successfully attacked one of its own weather satellites. That test proved that China could destroy many satellites, as well as create a debris field that threatens everything in orbit. Nations like Russia have also taken aggressive actions in space. These nations aren’t our friends. An adversarial attack in space could cripple satellites before we knew what hit us. Without satellites, cell phones wouldn’t work, our banking systems would crash, planes could not fly, and electrical sockets would go dead. It would crush our economy and paralyze our military.

At the end of 2016, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) and I began pushing the idea of giving our military space professionals more support and flexibility so that they could better meet the national security challenges that America has been facing. Since most of these space professionals are in the Air Force, our natural conclusion was that the Air Force was not doing enough to help them and to ensure our readiness in space.

Mike and I are the chairman and ranking member of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, so it is our job to request the briefings and to lead the hearings of the subcommittee. Our jurisdiction includes nuclear weapons and military satellites. We knew that the Chinese and Russians had been taking steps for many years to militarize space, to threaten U.S. and world satellites that are largely defenseless, and to be able to disrupt every type of satellite activity on which the world’s business, entertainment, and defense structures completely depend. We also knew that the U.S. response was extremely slow, ridden with cost-overruns, and increasingly behind the technical curve, leaving us increasingly exposed to new threats.

After months of discussing these problems with top Air Force personnel, with the other services, and with outside experts, we decided that creation of a “Space Corps” would be appropriate within the Air Force. The Marine Corps has long held a similar position within the Department of the Navy. This proposal would have given the secretary of the Air Force and other Air Force leadership more authority to streamline the acquisition process for new satellites, to improve morale and expertise of space specialists in the Air Force, and to gradually start the process of evolving space from the Air Force over many years. We specifically directed that no new military bases, academies, uniforms or unnecessary overhead were required. We preferred that the Air Force reallocate existing resources to strengthen its space capabilities and increase its organizational focus to address rapidly emerging threats.

Since our proposal was launched, it has gone through two years of full committee markups and two years of floor passage of two National Defense Authorization Acts, with overwhelming—sometimes even unanimous--support. Each year, Senate conferees have tried to trim back our proposals with some success. In response, we urge our Senate colleagues to attend the secret Pentagon briefings that will help them understand the urgency of our security challenges. Space is already a war-fighting domain. Pretending that our satellites are safe today would be foolish. 

Despite Senate misgivings, the strong bipartisan nature of the House’s support for the idea has resulted in fundamental changes in the Air Force treatment of space, and in the writing of the latest Pentagon report on space which prompted the vice president’s speech.

Trump’s Intervention

President Trump has gone off-script on several occasions in 2018 to strongly support a “Space Force,” an entirely separate military service devoted to space. He has publicly and abruptly demanded that General Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, get the Pentagon to push the new service. The president has provided no detail to his thinking; only that it is the latest shiny object to capture his attention.

Vice President Pence’s recent speech is the formal kickoff of the process of creating a new service (the first since 1947), which he demanded should end with the creation of a Space Force by 2020. Vice President Pence’s speech was in response to a congressionally mandated report on Pentagon recommendations for strengthening America’s space capabilities.

The vice president’s remarks go beyond what the Pentagon had recommended in the report. Now there is talk of billions in new spending, new uniforms, and the vast overhead that goes with an entirely new service. Already, the idea of streamlining space acquisition and performance looks like it is getting bogged down in overhead and bureaucracy.

My Reaction

At first, I was optimistic that President Trump was supporting our hard-fought and timely congressional initiative to strengthen our capabilities to defend our vital space assets, thinking that his support might wear down some of the opposition to reform both in the Senate and in the Air Force. To use a country phrase, “why look a gift horse in the mouth?”

But the administration’s mishandling of the idea by allowing it to become a political fundraising tool, a jingoistic partisan rallying cry, an exaggerated caricature of a new service, and a rhetorical scourge of our brave men and women in uniform, just goes too far and will not help the cause.

America urgently needs better satellite capability and better defenses in space against real threats, but the administration’s stridently political approach undermines that goal. We need serious conversation, not e-mails from political campaigns to vote on a logo or a patch.