As we approach the general election in a few weeks, space enthusiasts and professionals are now seeing some commentary on space policy, not much, but some. I thought it appropriate to give my translation/interpretation of what I read in the hopes it might help others while reading these things.
First, the tone of the op-ed was measured. By that I mean it gave definite answers to some things but was restrained from saying too much. That may be frustrating to some enthusiasts who want to see things detailed with timelines and money commitments, but that would be a bad thing for them as a campaign and really…bad for those of us committed to American spacepower. It is wise to be measured so as to not box oneself or the nation into a project that may end up being strategically unfruitful. It may be fun but given the expense, it has to be balanced with other priorities. If another nation was saying that they were going to Mars and developing space weapons and we had said that we were going to an asteroid instead, some might believe that the balance was out of whack given the national security implications of space programs (all sectors). So it is wise to be measured in these things. Once you are elected…different story. You will have full access to the classified and unclassified information sources on the geostrategic situation and budgets and can make much better plans. I would suggest that we shouldn’t be upset by answers like that.
Second, this comment stood out to me…”Today, it has been largely reduced to a logistics agency concentrating on space station resupply and politically correct environmental monitoring.” This is interesting as it shows a more correct view of how NASA has been under the last 7.5 years, less so thanks to Congress (both parties). Remember that unlike what one blogger stated below the article, Obama did not say that he was opening up the solar system. He could care less. He wanted NASA to be an R&D agency like DARPA and for the private sector to do the space thing. Things changed, and now all of a sudden the Obama folks are the champions of space development and settlement. Nice try guys but its smoke and mirrors. You had eight years and numerous policy shifts but nothing about that was ever seriously considered. So in a sense, NASA has been a logistics agency focusing on buying and managing contracts for cargo and resupply and eventually the “commercial crew” services contract. On the environmental side, much of the work that NASA has done on climate surveys really should be under NOAA and should be based on science and not some agenda other than gathering knowledge. Interesting choice of words. “These are the fundamental underpinnings of a Trump civilian space program.”
Third, was their statement “Despite its importance in our economic and security calculations, space policy is uncoordinated within the federal government. A Trump administration would end the lack of proper coordination by reinstituting a national space policy council headed by the vice president.” My view on this is mixed. I think their point is not that there aren’t groups and places that coordinate space policy (there are) but that the people currently doing it are the wrong or at least less effective ways to do things. So they propose re-instating the National Space Council. It could also (not certain-speculative) that this is a jab at the NSC and the Principal DoD Space Advisor (Air Force) and OSD Space Policy (to name a few). Here is my thoughts….while there are persons charged with coordinating the interagency on space issues. They are few and far between as compared with the staffs outside the White House in the DoD, NASA, etc. The staffs of the Space Council and NSC were merged and consolidated years go because many in charge at the time believed that the same people in the NSC were essentially the same people in the Space Council so..why duplicate effort? What happens though…is that the NSC staff has tons of other issues to do in addition to space and so ends up delegating out tasks to other offices like OSD Policy and PDSA. This doesn’t help much for a centralized shaping of a space agenda but work can get done that way. It will be interesting to see how they propose organizing a space council and what if any new features from older councils it may have. I personally believe given the growth in the commercial space sector and the national security threats, its important to have a focused team on this issue than just one or two guys on a staff to monitor it. Its too important to America to be just one of many.
Fourth, their ideas seem to focus on efficiencies of effort and that’s been a cry of many in the last several years. Particularly in space launch. “It makes little sense for numerous launch vehicles to be developed at taxpayer cost, all with essentially the same technology and payload capacity. Coordinated policy would end such duplication of effort and quickly determine where there are private sector solutions that do not necessarily require government investment.” This statement has a lot of background to it and one interpretation could be that they are saying that why are we using all that money for SLS when we could use Delta IV Heavy, Falcon Heavy, etc. for our purposes instead of duplicating effort on heavy lift. Just one plausible background, in between the lines view of this quote. If this is what they meant, it will be interesting to see how they balance out the wishes of key Senators and Congressmen such as Alabama, California, Mississippi and other key launch testing areas.
Finally, their national security quote was interesting. They view the threat from space attack as “existential”. This is a good way of looking at it. They also seem to have a view that its a direct impact not only on military operations but on the homeland, which as you know is what I have shown to be the case in my writings and my book. They say, “While the American government’s space program has suffered from under-investment, both China and Russia continue to move briskly forward with military-focused initiatives. Each continues to develop weapons explicitly designed, as the Pentagon has noted, to “deny, degrade, deceive, disrupt, or destroy” America’s eyes and ears in space. To maintain our strategic advantage in space and defend our troops and homeland, we must re-invigorate our space program.” This is a true statement. Some may say, Hey! That cant be right…the US is the biggest spender on space efforts in the world…they cant say its underinvested! yes they can. They can, because its not so much the amount of money spent overall, its how its spent. Given General Hyten’s and Mr. Loverro’s comments on not going down that path of offensive based deterrence or active defenses, while other nations are pushing to “destroy”, the view of the threat picture is different from the Obama Administration by a country mile. This is a good thing as given the reliance upon space and its interdependencies in our critical infrastructure and way of life, our posture needs to be improved. Also, given the concerns of Congress and the Senate on these issues, the timing might be ripe for that change in space defense posture.
In conclusion, while its not the formal white paper of the Romney Campaign of 2012, it still give some good insight into what a Trump Administration thinks of spacepower and strategy. As more comes out, I am sure they will have some interesting backstory.