DoD Buzz reports on some of the fall-out of the DNI-directed Obering panel as it affects the NRO. Besides the options of 1) maintaining the status quo and 2) rewriting the NRO charter to give it all USAF and intel community space, there is a third option.
The third option will be for the NRO to operate all U.S. military and intel space and ISR assets. If the story is true, this third option would be organizationally revolutionary. Basically, we’d be talking about a Space Corps or something approaching a U.S. Space Force.
That by itself makes it unlikely to happen.
First, revolutionary changes rarely happen without a compelling entering argument, which seems to be conspicuously absent in this case. In fact, one could argue the NRO has not been a high-performing organization as of late, especially with regard to the FIA program. Maybe the nation would even be better off with the USAF taking over for the NRO?
Next, while divesting itself of the space mission would make sense for the Air Force in that it would be better able to focus on the air domain, I don’t think the USAF is organizationally or culturally ready for that moment.
Finally, there is the Congressional aspect. The Air Force has lots of friends and the NRO not so many. So again, unless the USAF was “all in” regarding a space takeover, it seems unlikely to happen.
Of course the stories may be mangled. However, I don’t think Bruce Carlson went to the NRO to fold the flag or shrink its mission. He’s been known to question the status quo, to include asking just why the Air Force has uniformed personnel doing space things that might seem better fitted to contractors or civilians.