WASHINGTON – When leaders gathered at the White House to mark the first anniversary of the Space Force, it should have been a party. Instead, after Vice President Mike Pence, the new military arm ended up in a different PR swamp announced that members of the service & # 39; guardians & # 39; would be called.
The announcement immediately echoed through social media, with celebrities and mainstream news outlets making fun of what appeared to be yet another example of the Trump administration plundering pop culture for a military organization that – at least to some – is always more of a joke than a joke. serious policy effort.
"Can we sue this dork?" tweeted James Gunn, who directed the two "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies that are part of the blockbuster Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Mark Hamill, the actor best known as Luke Skywalker in the "Star Wars" movies, responded to Gunn.
So they take the 'Guardians' from your movies, they use the 'Force' from our movies … then they have the guts to just steal their logo from 'Star Trek'? Let's file a joint lawsuit and this insidious really get bastards! "
New York Magazine had one story that started: “Mr. Biden, I implore you abolish space power. "
Perhaps easier said than done for opponents of the Space Force.
President-elect Joe Biden, for his part, has given no indication that he will attempt to overthrow the creation of the Space Force, said Todd Harrison, an aerospace and budget expert at the Center for International and Strategic Studies.
"It's fair to say that if the Space Force didn't exist right now, the Biden administration probably wouldn't create it," he said. "But now that it exists, I think they are going to work on it and try to continue implementing it."
That leaves the new administration with a problem: To much of the public, the Space Force is seen as a Trump vanity project rather than a long-debated military organization needed to get the Defense Department Russian and Chinese. can withstand threats.
Trump has reinforced that perception in his own public statements, telling troops at a conference call last Thanksgiving that "no one even thought about the Space Force" before him.
"I looked at it, and I said – I said, 'We're going to have to come up – we're going to have to do something,'" Trump said on November 26. what China was doing and Russia was doing and others are thinking about it. "
So how does & # 39; Trump's Space Force & # 39; & # 39; America’s Space Force & # 39 ;?
Do it or don't – there is no attempt
The Space Force, as it now exists, is essentially a rebranding of the Air Force's old space agencies – specifically, the now-defunct Air Force Space Command. The service currently monitors about $ 15 billion in annual spending, commands dozens of military satellites, and tracks more than 24,000 objects in space.
While Trump has often taken credit for establishing the Space Force, the debate over a separate space service branch arose in 2017 and was led by a two-tiered duo of lawmakers: Reps. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., And Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., Who headed the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.
Lawmakers criticized the Air Force for overlooking the importance of space, and argued the concept of a "Space Corps."
The main opponents were Republican lawmakers – usually in the Senate – who supported the Air Force's position that removing space operations from the service could affect the performance of current missions, such as running the country's GPS constellation and detecting it. of the launch of ballistic missiles.
But when Trump ordered the creation of a space force in June 2018, both Air Force officials and Republican lawmakers lined up. In December 2019, Congress created the Space Force through the annual National Defense Authorization Act.
It would take another act of Congress to do away with the Space Force of US law, as well as a massive bureaucratic effort to get the military space organizations back to how they were set up before the Space Force was created, Brian Weeden said. director of program planning. for the Secure World Foundation and a former aerospace officer for the Air Force.
All of that requires political capital that the Biden government will have to spend elsewhere, said Weeden, who initially opposed setting up a space agency. “It's just not worth it,” he said. “At this point we have spent thousands and thousands of hours and years of effort to create this new bureaucracy in the hope that it will address these challenges. At this point, we have no choice but to go through that. To go back now and spend even more time undoing all of these things would be worse. "
Trump has touted the Space Force as a landmark achievement of his presidency. But his involvement in getting up from the service is controversial.
"President Trump's rhetoric has created a false perception in the public," Weeden said. "You have people who imagine we'll have marines on Mars and hunters in space and all kinds of crazy stuff. That's not the case."
Some of those misconceptions were self-inflicted by the Space Force itself, like a July ad featuring a female guardian wearing a spacesuit talking about space exploration.
However, the president has also tried to link the Space Force with the Trump brand – going so far as to sell unofficial Space Force hats on his reelection website.
An article from July in Time magazine described how the president was given the authority to choose the seal of the Space Force. Days later, he tweeted the seal without notifying the Department of Defense, reportedly sparking a conference call between defense officials and Paramount Pictures executives concerned about the seal's similarity to the & # 39; Star Trek & # 39; – logo.
Trump also suggested to military officials that his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, could help design uniforms for the new service, Time reported. That plot point was later parodied on the Netflix comedy series from 2020 "Space Force", in which Steve Carrell portrays a bumbling Air Force general who is called upon to lead the new space service.
“One of the biggest things we have to overcome is that there is a Netflix series that makes fun of the Space Force,” said Mandy Smithberger, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project for Government Oversight. "If the public has thought about it, the Space Force's reputation – in the public imagination – is one of incompetence."
Harrison, of the Center for International and Strategic Studies, said Biden could take a more hands-off approach with the Space Force, allowing it to normalize itself over time and give service officials a chance to lead the conversation.
“Just by not getting involved in a big way can help depoliticize it,” he said.
"But I personally think that may not be enough," he added. “The way the Space Force was presented to the general public was not healthy. It has not helped inform people about what the military is doing in space. It has left more people confused about what the Space Force is doing and what NASA is doing. "
If the Space Force is to convince the general public, it needs to make some changes, experts agreed.
First, the Space Force must clarify exactly what the service will and will not do in space. "The Space Force, for example, will not have people on the moon. The Space Force is talking about satellites in orbit or in cislunar space that can gain a better awareness of activities in cislunar space," said Weeden.
Beyond that, the Space Force should be leading a wider public discussion about how far the US military should be willing to deter attacks on its space assets, he added.
Service officials were clear about the threat to the United States as opponents focus on testing technologies intended to disrupt or destroy US satellites. Most recent, in DecemberRussia conducted its second anti-satellite missile test with direct takeoff of 2020.
However, the amount of money the Space Force plans to invest in its offensive counterspace capabilities is less clear, given the classification of those programs.
"Overclassification is a huge problem. We cannot communicate what we have. We can't communicate the problem, '' Weeden said. "We can't hold back if we can't talk about things like this. But despite multiple (four-star general) statements that (declassification) is a top priority, I haven't seen anything change."
Harrison and Weeden agreed that the service should restore the firewall between civil and military space, as the line between NASA and the Space Force has been blurred by Trump and some of his top politicians.
“If you read the actual policy documents carefully, that (distinction) becomes clear. It's just that no one ever reads, except wonks like me. Most people really see what Trump is saying, ”said Weeden. "In essence, most of what's going on is good. The change must mainly take place in public rhetoric and discussion of what we're doing."
Harrison pointed to the December announcement that NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins will transfer to the Space Force while in orbit of the International Space Station. While many military personnel have worked as astronauts, they do so in a civilian capacity.
& # 39; That really confuses the message, & # 39; said Harrison.
Officials such as General John "Jay" Raymond, the head of space operations, are trying to right the purpose of the Space Force and the importance of the military's operations in space, Weeden said.
"I think there is a realization among nations that access to space is no longer a given," Raymond said in a statement. November 25 news item from the Ministry of Defense. "We have to make sure we stay ahead of this growing threat."
Yet “no one can argue with Trump. So when they make clarifications, the sotto is voice or through channels that are less clear-cut than Trump's original comments, '' Weeden said.
In order to give Space Force a communications strategy that prioritizes its own needs, Harrison said the agency should defend its own public affairs and legislative liaison offices rather than conduct those activities through the Air Force, as it currently does.
"They have to learn from the Marine Corps there that they are part of the Air Force Department, but that they are not led by the Air Force," Harrison said. "They should have the ability to develop their own independent messages as a military service. That would help a lot with their public image."
Never give up. Never surrender.
The transition of personnel, equipment and funding to the Space Force is still a work in progress, but some major changes are planned for this year.
Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman, the best recruited adviser to the service, told Military.com the service is working to consolidate long-awaited cultural touchstones, such as the Space Force song, the uniform and the rankings.
"It's about listening to everyone," he said in an interview. "We feel we can create a service story that both respects military traditions and speaks to the things we want them to talk to: the essence of our service, the future of our service."
By the end of 2021, the size of the Space Force will triple from about 2,400 active members to about 6,400 people, Raymond said in December. Some of those personnel, he said, could be the first space operators to transfer from the Army or Navy to the Space Force.
The Space Force also plans to establish a new space acquisitions organization called Space Systems Command in 2021. SSC will be home to the Space and Missile Systems Center, the Space Rapid Capabilities Office, and the Space Development Agency – and possibly, other Army and Navy space agencies as well.
That's something Harrison said he'll be keeping an eye on this year.
"They need to make sure they don't leave organizations or programs behind in those other services that are bound to build space systems," he said. The Space Force must also “continue to transfer all budget accounts, including the Air Force (military) accounts. Because if you have no control over your own budget, you are not a real service. "
To keep development of several new space systems on track – such as the Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared constellation of missile warning satellites – Harrison said the Space Force's budget is likely to continue to grow, although perhaps not as fast as it was under the Trump administration.
However, the Biden government also needs to continue to push space forces to minimize bureaucratic overhead and avoid duplication with other services, Smithberger of the Project for Government Oversight said.
"The amount of money going into the Space Force has to be low and slow as they prove they can be responsible stewards," she said. "I think if we send a lot of money to that service, we unnecessarily increase the program risk."
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