Joe Biden pressured to scrap Space Force

The left is already gunning for one of President Trump’s proudest and highest-profile achievements by lobbying presumed President-elect Joseph R. Biden to dismantle the Pentagon’s new Space Force and roll back plans for U.S. military domination of the final frontier.

Dozens of liberal groups this week sent a memo to Mr. Biden’s Pentagon transition team and laid out a host of proposed changes to the military.

The document, first reported by Politico and later released publicly, represents something of a liberal wish list for the next four years and underscores the kind of pressure Mr. Biden and his national security team will face from the left flank of the Democratic Party.

The memo singles out the Space Force, a point of personal pride for Mr. Trump and the U.S. military’s first new branch since the Air Force’s founding in 1947. Liberal groups say the Space Force is not needed, its budget is too large and its core mission is too focused on warfare rather than international partnership.

“The proposed Space Force will create an unnecessary bureaucracy that will cost taxpayers over $16 billion in fiscal year 2021 alone, and tens of billions more in the coming years, while focusing U.S. efforts on militarization rather than cooperation in space, increasing the risks to U.S. military and civilian space assets,” the memo reads in part.

The document was signed by Greenpeace, Code Pink, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Win Without War, Physicians for Social Responsibility and other organizations.

The Space Force was just one component in a detailed wish list rolling back what has been a marked increase in the defense budget during Mr. Trump’s term in office.

Liberal groups have also endorsed major cuts to missile defense programs, elimination of the Defense Department’s Overseas Contingency Operations fund, limits on Pentagon hiring of lobbyists, a halt to the purchase of new aircraft carriers and other plans.

Many of those ideas have little chance of coming to fruition. Even some leading Democrats on Capitol Hill have essentially ruled out Defense Department budget cuts. In addition, cutting programs such as missile defense at a time of increased military competition with China and potential threats from nations such as North Korea is almost surely a political nonstarter.

But killing the Space Force could be satisfying to liberals for a more simple reason: its direct ties to Mr. Trump.

Many on the left have long lamented what they view as the current president’s effort to undermine former President Barack Obama’s legacy by targeting major accomplishments such as the Paris climate accord, Obamacare and the Iran nuclear deal.

Unwinding the Space Force would partially even the score by erasing one of Mr. Trump’s most notable feats that otherwise would be destined to stand the test of time. Its elimination would forever remove a huge part of the 45th president’s historical stamp on the American military.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly touted the Space Force on the campaign trail. He held an Oval Office ceremony this spring to unveil the service’s official flag.

Uphill battle

By trying to erase Mr. Trump’s handiwork, liberal groups are running head-first into a massive Defense Department infrastructure that is embracing and rapidly institutionalizing the new service. The Space Force was formally created in December as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

“Space is the world’s newest war-fighting domain,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the time. “Amid grave threats to our national security, American superiority in space is absolutely vital. We’re leading, but we’re not leading by enough, and very shortly we’ll be leading by a lot.”

In the 11 months since, the Space Force has quickly found its footing inside the Defense Department.

Just this week, top Pentagon officials reiterated the need for the U.S. and its allies to stay steps ahead of rivals such as China and Russia that increasingly see space as a battlefield that the want to dominate.

“It’s not an exclusively American mission. It’s the world’s mission to encourage and ensure the future a free and open access to space, so that elements of space are not put off limits to others,” Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett said this week during a speech to the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “I would simply say we are building the United States Space Force to protect the free and benevolent use of that ultimate frontier, the ultimate high ground: space.”

In January, Gen. John W. Raymond was sworn in as the service’s first chief of space operations, giving the Space Force firm leadership and representation inside the Pentagon.

In September, the Space Force deployed 20 service members to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, marking the first foreign assignment for the branch.

In her speech this week, Ms. Barrett said the U.S. Air Force Academy recently launched a space operations degree program, underscoring how the military’s educational arms have been brought on board.

On Capitol Hill, it seems virtually certain that Space Force funding will ramp up dramatically from the $40 million set aside for its first official year. The White House budget proposal released in February called for $15.4 billion for the Space Force in fiscal year 2021, and the Republican-led Senate Appropriations Committee proposed a similar figure in its spending plan released this month.

The Senate budget proposal calls for $10.4 billion for research and development, $2.2 billion for procurement and $2.6 billion for operations and maintenance of the service. Smaller pools of money elsewhere in the budget also will flow to the Space Force, leading to the $16 billion figure cited in the liberals’ memo.

Some specialists note that influential Democrats have signed on to the Trump administration’s brainchild, making its demise logistically difficult and politically unlikely.

“Support for Space Force has been both bipartisan and bicameral and is unlikely to be eroded by the demands of this group of progressives,” said Sarah Mineiro, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a former staff member of the House Armed Service Committee who worked on Space Force legislation.

“Surely the Biden administration will have more pressing legislative priorities than this in the context of COVID, the economy and domestic priorities,” she told Space News this week.