Illustration of President Trump wearing Darth Vader helmet, resembling the film Space Balls.

Donald Trump is moving beyond self-parody into the realm of classic parody — he says he wants to create a “Space Force.”

Anyone remember the movie Spaceballs?

He just casually announced the creation of a new branch of the military, off the cuff on live TV, as you do.

Last year, Congress asked for a study and potential road map for such a thing, but we won’t have any details until the end of this year. At which point we might get an early idea at what such a thing would cost, and think about whether it makes any sense at all.

Trying to put taxpayers on the hook before anybody has any clue about the point and cost of a “Space Force” is typical Trump. He wants to make sure he gets credit for something that wasn’t even originally his idea.

But since it’s out there, let’s throw some numbers around — and then talk about a better use for the money.

The Air Force already has a space division

First off, there are some obvious cost savings to be had by not reinventing the wheel.

Trump’s own Defense Secretary told Congress: “I oppose the creation of a new military service and additional organizational layers at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint warfighting functions.”

Nevertheless, Trump said the Space Force would be “separate but equal” to the Air Force. That’s a dumb thing to say on a number of levels, including the splitting of resources. Also because he doesn’t get much say in how it’s funded; that’s up to Congress. Also because it’s a callback to segregation.

Anyway: The point is the Air Force already has this covered with Space Command. Its mission is to “provide resilient, defendable and affordable space and cyberspace capabilities for the Air Force, Joint Force, and the Nation.” That’s better than Trump’s vague instructions to “have American dominance in space,” because it’s been around a lot longer than Trump has been thinking about the issue.

If Trump wants to expand the military’s space resources, that’s where to put them. It’s not something new and shiny, but new is needlessly expensive. (Worth nothing: NASA is not the place to do any of this because it’s had a distinctly civilian mission since being created.)

Current space spending

Earlier this year, the Department of Defense requested $12.5 billion in funding specifically for national security in space. Almost all of that is for the Air Force, although the other branches of the military have tiny space programs of their own.

That’s obviously small potatoes to Trump, not even on his radar. Obviously he wants more for his “Space Force” than that. If “separate but equal” means the same funding as the other branches, we’re looking at a ballpark figure of $160 billion per year.

He also mentioned returning to the moon — that cost an inflation-adjusted $165 billion the first time around and would probably cost more today because we haven’t been building the infrastructure for it.

So over a decade we’re looking at $1.8 trillion or so.

Student loan debt: $1.5 trillion

What if — just spitballing here, even if I don’t get to do it on live TV from a presidential podium — we focused on improving the lives of Americans on Earth before we think about Martian-Americans?

I’m not a military expert, but I think the state of the economy and Americans’ ability to afford things is a graver national security threat than aliens or the Russian space force. With the kind of money Trump is talking about throwing around, we could completely wipe out the current federal student loan debt.

That would stimulate the economy in ways Trump has only dreamed of, giving Americans far more flexibility to buy homes, start businesses, create and take on new jobs. And that’s something that’s never been done before, so Trump could take all the credit for it.

I’m not saying wiping out student loan debt is a great idea. But I am saying it’s just as good as the idea of a Space Force.

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Article last modified on July 9, 2018. Published by, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: Trump Wants a Space Force. What About a Student Loan Force? - AMP.

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Article last modified on July 9, 2018. Published by, LLC .