WASHINGTON: A prominent lawmaker overseeing the Space Force’s budget is tired of hearing about the service’s new uniforms and wants its leadership to focus more on developing state-of-the-art satellites and missiles.
Rep. Jim Cooper, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Armed Forces Subcommittee, admonished the service to “step up its game” during Thursday’s Politico Defense Forum.
“I wish we’d read more about new killer satellite systems in the papers than about killer uniforms or big, bold headquarters,” said Cooper, a Democrat from Tennessee. “We have to make sure that our technology is state of the art. In fact, we have to be a few decades ahead of our competitors. “
Cooper said he believes the Space Force has the budget to be successful but is still moving too sluggishly. Meanwhile, Russia and China continue to make “extraordinary” advances in space technology while spending “pennies on the dollar” compared to the US, he said.
The Space Force wasn’t the only military space agency that Cooper criticized. The Congressman also had harsh words for Derek Tournear, the Director of the Space Development Agency, who also spoke during the Politico event.
The SDA, a Department of Defense organization that will move to control of the Space Force in 2022, is mandated to leverage existing commercial technology and field constellations from hundreds of small satellites. These technologies are designed to enhance the Space Force’s communications and missile tracking capabilities.
Tournear said he would like the SDA to be a “fast follower” who can take advantage of technological advances in the commercial space world and deploy new skills every two years.
“We are very successful as an independent agency,” he said. “And I believe we will continue to be successful – even if we fall under the Space Force – as long as we have enough authority and autonomy to have the ability to acquire systems quickly.”
But Cooper pushed aside Tournear’s vision of a successful SDA, saying the Space Force had to think bigger.
“Offering new technology to our war fighters every two years may sound good, but I suspect it sounds slow [SpaceX founder] Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos or small companies like Relativity Space that are now 3D printing their own rockets, something our Air Force and others have never been able to imagine [Defense Department space organizations],” he said.
Cooper was an early proponent of creating a separate military service for space. In 2017, he and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., Proposed that a “Space Corps” be formed under the Department of the Air Force.
The hope was that a new service would be better able to cover a larger share of the defense budget and develop and launch advanced space technologies faster if it were not burdened by the increased bureaucracy and overhead of the Air Force. This idea was eventually repackaged by former President Donald Trump, who called for a “space force” and signed a bill to establish the new service in December 2019.
At a separate space conference in St. Louis this week, a chorus of military officials highlighted the need to work more closely – and faster – with the commercial industry to bring new technology to market as quickly as possible.
Cooper said it wasn’t enough so far.
“We have to be harder, faster, braver. And I really don’t see it the way I would like to see it, ”he said.