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Acting Pentagon chief defends space force amid skepticism

Posted at 1:21 PM, Apr 09, 2019

COLORADO SPRINGS – On Tuesday, the acting Pentagon chief called his argument for a Space Force a “low cost, low bureaucracy” way to stay ahead of China, Russia and other nations seeking to eliminate American military advantages in space.

For years, the Pentagon and Congress have discussed the possibility of establishing a military service for space, but some key lawmakers remain skeptical of the need and wary of the cost.

The debate enters a new phase this week with the Senate Armed Services Committee holding its first hearing Thursday on the administration’s proposal to phase in a Space Force over five years and establish a space warfighting command this year.

Patrick Shanahan, whose own future as the acting secretary of defense may be tied to the success of his push for a Space Force,  is trying to persuade lawmakers that it is urgently needed to preserve U.S. dominance in space.

In a speech at a space symposium crowded with industry officials, Shanahan pointed out China and Russia threats, suggesting the U.S. has little choice but to match their efforts to weaponized space.

“Because of their actions, space is no longer a sanctuary,” Shanahan said. “It is now a warfighting domain. This is not a future or theoretical threat. This is today’s threat.”

His speech kicked off what his staff has dubbed “space week,” a series of space-related events, including Shanahan’s Senate testimony Thursday with Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Shanahan also taped an interview Monday with Fox News from the Colorado Springs luxury resort that is hosting a week-long space symposium. While in Colorado Springs, Shanahan also met with Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the U.S. Strategic Command leader whose responsibilities include overseeing military space operations.

On top of establishing a Space Force, initially setting up just a headquarters in 2020 would cost $72 million.

The administration is proposing to re-establish U.S. Space Command, which would manage all military space forces. The military had a Space Command for many years, but it was eliminated in 2002 when U.S. Northern Command was set up as a response to the 9/11 attacks.

Although many in Congress favor the administration’s proposal, doubts persist, particularly about the Space Force, which requires congressional approval and would be the first new military service since the Air Force was established in 1947.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)