Republicans are growing concerned that the Biden administration is writing off the importance of the Space Force, which they see as a key tool in a new space race against China.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden's press secretary Jen Psaki mocked a question from a reporter about Biden's plans for the Space Force, comparing it to a question about the color scheme of Air Force One.
"I am happy to check with our Space Force point of contact," Psaki said. "I'm not sure who that is."
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R., Ill.) said the Space Force is no laughing matter. China surpassed the United States in annual satellite launches in 2020. The communist regime plans to not only increase launches in 2021 but to develop its own space station. Republicans sees the Space Force as a critical tool to safeguard national security against an increasingly aggressive China.
"People laugh at the Space Force, but it puts the fear of God in China," Kinzinger said.
Before Psaki's comment, Biden said very little about the Space Force on the campaign trail and said nothing during his administration about the newest military branch. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Hyten said last week that he had not yet heard from Biden about his plans for the Space Force. The Obama-Biden White House sidestepped Congress to put American space programs on the back burner, culminating in American astronauts relying on Russian rockets to reach orbit.
The Trump administration pursued an ambitious agenda to reverse decades of decline. The establishment of the Space Force has already paid dividends for national security, supporters say. The branch helped American troops avoid casualties when Iran launched a missile strike against U.S. forces in Iraq. House Space Force Caucus chair Rep. Michael Waltz (R., Fla.) expressed concern about the "lack of support for space exploration" within the Biden administration. Republicans are fighting to prevent Democrats from rolling back the clock on America's gains in space.
"We're in a bit of a defensive mode on the progress we’ve made in the past four years," Waltz said. "What we’re seeing now is Obama’s third term."
The White House did not return a request for comment.
For retired Air Force lieutenant general Steven Kwast, the stakes of inaction in space could not be higher.
"If Biden does not give America a vision for the power of space to resolve our political, economic, and military problems, then we will perish at the hands of China, which has a vision," Kwast told the Washington Free Beacon. "We will either secure our values of respecting people, or we will be forced to abide by the Chinese Communist Party’s definition of what we should believe."
China sees its space program as a means to topple the United States in economic and intelligence competition. The country has developed a constellation of its own satellites, which offer GPS and communications services nearly on par with American technology. The United States' economy is likewise increasingly dependent on space. An attack on U.S. satellites could disrupt critical infrastructure on an unprecedented scale, prompting concern over a potential "Pearl Harbor in space."
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.) said the future of national defense could depend on the success of the Space Force. Cramer, also the co-chair of the Senate's Space Force Caucus, said the branch serves a key role in protecting the American "way of life."
"More than ever, our way of life and our national security are dependent on space. Our adversaries understand that and have steadily built weapons to exploit it. America’s answer to this growing threat is Space Force," Cramer said. "While it's our newest military branch, it’s quickly becoming one of the most important, and making sure it continues to grow and becomes capable of responding to emerging threats ought to be of the utmost importance to Congress."
Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a defense think tank, said the fate of the service branch remains in the hands of the White House.
"The creation of the Space Force was driven from the White House. That raises the potential that it will be the orphan child at this point," Goure said. "There’s a real danger that at best it will languish, at worst it will deteriorate."