President Trump is considering firing U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson after the midterm elections due to her perceived slow-rolling of his order to create a separate Space Force, according to a report from Foreign Policy.
In an article posted online Thursday afternoon, Foreign Policy reported that Trump and Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan are “angered ... with what is seen as a campaign to undermine the Space Force effort” by Wilson. Citing three unnamed sources, Foreign Policy reported that Trump has not made a final decision on firing Wilson, but that potential replacements, including Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., are being considered.
When asked to comment by Air Force Times, the service referred any questions to the White House.
In a statement, Shanahan said he “greatly appreciate[s] Secretary Wilson’s leadership, commitment, and vision.”
“We are partnered on implementing the National Defense Strategy and winning,” Shanahan said. “We’re focused on the future of the department. There is no groupthink in the Pentagon as we deal with complex real-world decisions as making large scale institutional change is difficult and demanding.”
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White called the report “nonsense.”
“The Department of Defense leadership team is focused on defending our great nation and working together to be worthy of the blood, treasure and faith entrusted to us by the American people,” she said.
Wilson was previously a critic of proposals to create a sixth separate branch of the military to handle space operations, and told Congress that taking space operations out of the Air Force would jeopardize its efforts to integrate space with other war-fighting operations.
But at the Defense News Conference last month, Wilson said she was in “complete alignment” with Trump’s order to create a Space Force.
“If we’re going to do this, let’s propose to do it right,” Wilson said. “Let’s have this debate, support the president’s proposal and put it forward — and make sure that we don’t do this with half measures.”
The Defense Department called the
Foreign Policy reported that Trump became angry at Wilson this summer, when the White House deemed the Air Force’s first draft of a plan to stand up a Space Force inadequate and rejected it.
In a Sept. 14 memo signed by Wilson, the Air Force estimated that creating a Space Force would cost $13 billion over five years. Some experts, such as Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that estimate was grossly inflated. Harrison suggested the Air Force’s estimate may be an effort to “sabotage the idea by making it seem much broader and more expensive than it really would be.”
But skeptical lawmakers, including such Republicans as Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, felt the projected price tag reinforced their concern that creating a new Space Force would be an expensive, unnecessary boondoggle.
Foreign Policy reported that Wilson and Shanahan have frequently butted heads, and quoted a source as saying he “hates her guts.”
But she is well-known to have a strong relationship with Vice President Mike Pence, who made a surprise appearance with her last month at the Air Force Association’s Air Space Cyber conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
Defense News reporter Valerie Insinna contributed to this story.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.