WASHINGTON — Congress’ strongest supporters of a new Space Corps have not given up the fight, slamming the U.S. Air Force for wasted time as Russia and China pose a growing threat to America’s vital satellites.

“We could be deaf, dumb and blind within seconds,” House Armed Services Strategic Forces ranking member Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., said Wednesday at a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum on space. “Seldom has a great nation been so vulnerable.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, and the Corps’ biggest champion on Capitol Hill, said a space-focused service could be built in three to five years. By year’s end, Rogers, R-Ala., expects an independent report, required by the 2018 defense policy law, about how that process might look.

Rogers and Cooper argue it’s necessary for the military to have a dedicated space force because the Air Force let space capability atrophy in favor of more traditional air needs.

Rogers on Wednesday accused the Air Force of not taking space seriously enough to send a speaker to the CSIS event.

“Over the years, the Air Force has used space programs as a money pot to reach into and subsidize air-dominance programs when they feel like Congress hasn’t given them enough for tankers, fighter jets, whatever,” Rogers said. “Congress has not given any of the services enough, but that doesn’t mean you starve to death one of your subordinate missions.”

White House, Pentagon and Air Force leaders pushed back on a failed proposal from the House Armed Services Committee to create a Space Corps, arguing it would add unneeded bureaucracy. The provision faced opposition in the Senate, and the 2018 defense policy law forbids the creation of such an organization.

The law did give Air Force Space Command authority over space acquisitions, resource management, requirements, war fighting and personnel development — viewed as a start for the potential creation of a Space Corps in the future. And it requires an independent organization develop a road map to start a separate military department to encompass “national security space.”

U.S. military officials have acknowledged that America’s adversaries have caught up to it in space, but classified reports paint a even more troubling picture, the lawmakers said. Rogers called the over-classification of such information “disturbing.”

“There would be a hew and cry in the American public to fix this situation if they knew how bad things were and what we’ve allowed Russia and China to do,” Rogers said.

The commercial sector’s ability to quickly field new capabilities in space, versus the military’s decade-long acquisition schedules, prove the case for a segregated Space Corps, with its own acquisition system, they said. Rogers said he would be open to more agile acquisition authorities for the Air Force.

“I’d be happy to, I would have liked to have had them pose that a year ago instead of fighting us,” Rogers said of the Air Force.

Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.

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