When the Army failed to recognize the significance of aerial combat in warfare, back in the 1940s, its air corps broke away and became the U.S. Air Force. More than 50 years later, the Air Force finds itself under similar criticism for giving short shrift to military operations in space.
Leading a preemptive campaign against critics is Maj. Gen. (s) Brian A. Arnold, director of space and nuclear deterrence at the office of the Air Force assistant secretary for acquisition. According to Arnold, the service wants to become a "fully integrated aerospace force." And those who accuse the service of being "aircraft-centric," he said in a recent interview, don't realize that "the resources we spend on space are enormous."
This fiscal year, the Defense Department will spend nearly $9 billion on space programs. The Air Force manages between 85 percent to 90 percent of those projects, which account for about 10 to 12 percent of the service's $70 billion annual budget.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, have questioned whether the Air Force is the best choice for managing U.S. military space assets, given that most of its dollars and programs have to do with air operations. One of the most outspoken critics, Sen. Robert Smith, R-N.H., told an industry conference last month that he does not see the Air Force as a "service dedicated to space power.
In the 2000 defense authorization bill, Congress ordered the creation of a 13-member commission to probe military space management and organization. That panel, chaired by former defense secretary and Republican congressman Donald Rumsfeld, will assess the potential costs and benefits of creating:
A separate military department and service dedicated to space.
A corps within the Air Force dedicated to space.
A position of assistant secretary of defense for space within the office of the secretary of defense.
A new budget mechanism for managing space funding within the Defense Department. Smith, a member of the Armed Services
Committee, was a key force behind the creanon of the commission and has been at the forefront of congressional efforts to fund space weapons programs. The senator also has included language in this year's defense bill directing the commission to address the organization of U.S. Space Command.
"America's future security and prosperity depend on our constant supremacy in space. This commission is a long-awaited step toward that goal," Smith said in a statement. "To achieve true dominance in space, we must combine expansive thinking with a sustained and substantial commitment of resources, and vest them in a dedicated, politically-powerful, independent advocate for space power."
Smith wants the commission to "address the organizational issues that have hampered this nation's maximum use of military space."
Arnold, meanwhile, believes that there is no justification for transferring the management of the military space program to any other agency or newly-created service. This notion only came about, he explained, because there is a perception that the Air Force is too focused on air programs and, when budgets are tight, it dips into the space accounts. Perceptions often become reality, said Arnold. And they are "very hard to overcome." He noted that, as far as space is concerned, the Air Force is "developing new systems, fielding them and gaining capabilities."
Space dollars compete with more than just aircraft dollars, said Arnold. They also are vulnerable to other non-Air Force defense programs, such as ships or land vehicles, he added. "It's not just the F-22 vs. space systems. The discussion should be taken to a higher level ... It's an overall [Defense Department] resource issue." The F-22 fighter plane is the Air Force's top acquisition priority today.
In a recently published "white paper," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael E. Ryan and Secretary F. …