For all these reasons, I argue, the US needs not fewer military services, but one more. At the same time, it could use fewer independent defense agencies, whose overlapping authorities and responsibilities complicate interagency management. A separate Space Force (Space Corps, Star Fleet, whatever) could incorporate the military satellites, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the USAF’s ballistic missiles, the Missile Defence Agency (MDA), and the stateside anti-ballistic missiles forces of the Army. (This would have the additional advantage of refocusing the ground force on terrestrial problems.) Today, Air Force Space Command has 22,000 troops and 9,000 civilians, and the other services’ space and missile defense organizations have several thousand more. While this would clearly make for the smallest American military service, the US Coast Guard has only 36,000 troops and 7,000 civilians. A service of roughly that size is more than feasible organizationally.
Someone will complain that this hiving off of space activities into a new service duplicates bureaucracy and infrastructure. First, don’t think that duplication is all bad. The classic example was actually ballistic missiles in the 1950s. As Burton Klein argued in Forbes in May 1958 (“A Radical Proposal for R. and D.”), in actuality “we need more competition, duplication, and 'confusion' in our military research and development programs.” At RAND back then, Armen Alchian and Frank Collbohm were arguing that multiple R&D approaches were better than one long bet, however well researched, just because the future was so uncertain. Their case was specifically ballistic missiles. (See pp. 255–310 in Agatha C. Hughes and Thomas P. Hughes, eds., Systems, Experts, and Computers: The Systems Approach in Management and Engineering, World War II and After, MIT Press, 2000). Back then, it wasn’t obvious whether a ballistic missile should belong to the Army, the Navy, or the Air Force. Offering all three services the mission led to intense competition to stand up better missile forces. While the Army’s force was reasonably traded away with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, all three succeeded to some degree, and with weapons that worked well.
Moreover, when done smartly, spinoffs don't duplicate, but clarify. Merging the NRO and the MDA into a new Space Force pulled from the Air Force would actually reduce by one the number of organizations reporting to the Secretary of Defense. As with General Goldfein’s request, space procurement would still be consolidated—in the Space Force. If the service is moved out of the Air Force Department, the Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space could fleet up as the Secretary for Space from day one. The membership of the Joint Chiefs would increase by one, but eight—Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, National Guard, Vice Chairman, Chairman, and now Space—hardly makes for an unworkable committee. It would also ensure that space had a seat at every table.
Would this be easy? Of course not. Standing up a new military organization is hard institutional work, but work worth the effort over time. A proposal for a Space Force proposes short-term turmoil, but eventually better morale, stability, and focus after separation from the Air Force. It’s the sort of bold-and-businesslike move that by which the Trump Administration could begin making its mark on the military. It’s one better than General Goldfein’s Aerospace Force. All we need to do to start is to pick the color of the uniforms.
James Hasik is a senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, where this first appeared.