Space Force — or Farce? Symbolism over substance

Estimated costs projected at $13 billion over the next five years

Space Force all the way! tweeted Donald Trump. Sounds thrilling, till you realize it’s all symbolism, symbolism, all the way down.

Every single proposed ‘reform’ that Vice President Mike Pence described in his speech was already underway, having been initiated in the Obama Administration. The lily-gilding that Donald Trump has added is all bling: New uniforms! A new Academy! A new logo! New songs and spiffy new flyovers for the Big Parade! All of that — plus pulling hundreds of skilled officers away from important duties in order to build another bloated bureaucracy — will cost billions without adding lethality or sagacity or an iota of deterrence.

What will it actually cost? The most recent estimate from the Air Force is that creating a sixth military branch could run up $13 billion just over the next five years. Much of this involves administrative overhead required to establish a new headquarters, staffing and new building construction. Military experts rightly fear that creating this new force would be an ongoing distraction — siphoning needed resources from other defense divisions. Significant political opposition exists on both sides of the aisle.

“Trump is selling the public one idea — a glitzy, pathbreaking new wing of government — and giving it instead a potentially kludgy reorganization of existing government functions,” writes David Graham in The Atlantic. Indeed, military leaders including the Air Force oppose the idea of adding a new service: “The Pentagon is complicated enough,” stated Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, continuing — “If I had more money, I would put it into lethality, not bureaucracy.”

But to many on the Trump bandwagon, symbolism is the only thing that matters. In the same vein, experienced Border Patrol agents say they require better surveillance technology, cameras and and some added fencing to plug gaps that were already shrinking, under Obama. So? “Build a big, beautiful wall!” declares Trump. Public handshakes with dictators matter more than any tangible outcomes, as we witnessed in Trump’s meeting with North Korea.

Elsewhere, I dissect the Republican symbolism obsession with a searing example, their continued mania to control even the Navy’s naming of warships so that Democrats are minimized and confederates get naming rights for all the aircraft carriers.

Oh, but now, without a single study showing any reason to spend billions on it, chants of “Space Force!” resound at every Donald Trump political rally. But can you name the actual benefits of creating a sixth force — citing any research that support missions and needs that can’t be handled by present commands?

No, you can’t.

It’s not that we don’t need better capabilities in space; we do! Read the chilling opening to August Cole’s novel Ghost Fleet to see why it’s essential that the United States and the West retain our ability to deploy reconnaissance and communications assets in orbit — the very things that saved us all, by calming down the uncertainty and panic of the Cold War at crucial times. But pragmatic reforms were already underway… all of the ones described by Mike Pence were initiated in the Obama Administration.

The future will be made by practical, fact-using folks. Not by symbolism-obsessed toddlers.

A likely side effect of creating a militaristic Space Force would be a reduction in the NASA budget — impacting our nation’s dedication to scientific research and training the next generation of researchers. An area that should be of substantial pride to our country — and importance to our nation’s technological future.

Hawaiian Senator Brian Schatz tweeted, “Although Space Force won’t happen, it’s dangerous to have a leader who cannot be talked out of crazy ideas.”

Indeed…. but who will tell the Emperor that he has no… space suits?

Author, scientist, public speaker. My books include The Transparent Society, The Postman, Earth, Existence, and Startide Rising.

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