Trump’s Space Force Proposal Begins to Take Shape
Published: December 06, 2018
Specifics of an upcoming White House proposal to Congress are making their way into the press.
In August, the President Trump directed the Department of Defense (DoD) and Pentagon to begin looking at ways to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the Armed Forces. Now details of a draft proposal are beginning to filter out.
In a draft memorandum dated November 19 and recently seen by Politico, the White House outlines several of the details of the proposal to create the new military services branch.
- Leadership – To be headed by a civilian secretary, like the Air Force, Army and Navy, and either a four-star general or admiral, who would also serve as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
- Personnel – Troops will come from across the military branches, including the National Guard and Reserves, which perform a broad range of military tasks, including cyber operations, intelligence and acquisition – including a new Space Development Agency, currently under development, to handle acquisition all space technologies and weapons. Plans are already underway, as previously directed by Congress, to establish a U.S. Space Command, which will assume all space-related activities currently performed by the U.S. Strategic Command and would train joint space forces until the Space Force is established.
- Priorities – Protecting the U.S.'s interests in space and the peaceful use of space for all responsible actors; deterring aggression and defending the nation, our allies and our interests from hostile acts in and from space; and projecting power in, from and to space in support of the nation's interests.
- Operational Authorities – The National Space Council and National Security Council are tasked with accelerating a review of proposed space combat operations and authorities in preparation for the new organization.
- Scope – The mission scope would remain contained to defense – existing civilian agencies with a space-related mission would remain independent, agencies like NASA and NOAA. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) would also remain independent. However, the draft proposal directs the Secretary of Defense and Director of National Intelligence to identify new ways to cooperate and collaborate on space operations.
- Plans – The White House and Pentagon are expected to send a full legislative proposal to Congress shortly and the fiscal 2020 budget will include the Pentagon’s proposed budget. The cost of standing up a Space Force has been widely debated, with 5-year estimates ranging from $1.5 billion to $2.7 billion on the low end to $13 billion on the high end.
While plans for the new Space Force have been building, the White House and Pentagon have also been looking at alternatives to an outright new branch if political opposition gets in the way. According to a Defense One report, options include a space corps within the Air Force, similar to how the Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy. That option passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last year but died in the Senate. However, Roll Call notes that some lawmakers in the Senate and House are looking at moving forward with some form of focused space capability, even if incrementally.
The implications for the federal contracting market are widespread, considering that roughly $5.5 billion in yearly contract spending flows through the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) – which would become the new Space Development Agency (SDA) in the Space Force. Further, space investments readily identifiable in the fiscal year (FY) 2019 defense budget account for nearly $2.7 billion in Procurement and $2.8 billion in Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) budget dollars.
In a sense, once the premise is established for the need for greater defensive and offensive capabilities in the space domain then the organization of such capabilities becomes a matter of semantics and competing preferences, expensive as these may be. And while some may decry the politics involved and required to move forward it seems that some debate on the merits of various paths is healthy, provided priorities stay focused on the mission. No small challenge.