Barrett Endorses Space Force as Senate Appropriators Approve Funding

Barrett Endorses Space Force as Senate Appropriators Approve Funding

Not surprisingly, President Trump’s nominee to be the next Secretary of the Air Force strongly supported efforts to create a Space Force as part of the Air Force at her confirmation hearing today. Barbara Barrett called it a “key imperative” and vowed to make it an agency focused on capability in space, not bureaucracy.  At the same time, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version of the FY2020 defense appropriations bill, providing the requested funding for the Space Force.

Barbara McConnell Barrett, nominee to be Secretary of the Air Force, testifies to the Senate Armed Services Committee September 12, 2019. Screengrab.

President Trump announced his intent to nominate Barrett via Twitter in May, but her official nomination was sent to the Senate only this week.

Creating a Space Force as a sixth military service is a high priority of the Trump Administration.

Barrett, 68, testified before a largely friendly Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) today and no opposition to her nomination was apparent.  Most of the hearing addressed non-space issues, but SASC Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) posed questions about Space Force, space launch, and international rules of the road for space.

In her opening statement, Barrett spoke about the importance of space not only to the military, but all Americans, and the need to protect U.S. space assets.

Most Americans use space before their first cup of coffee in the morning. Space controls our electricity, water, financial transactions and of course, navigation, information, and communication. While space is ubiquitous, it is also invisible, and therefore often underappreciated. American national power depends upon space and our potential adversaries know it. We must be prepared to defend critical space assets, increase the resilience of our space enterprise, and be prepared to fight and win should deterrence fail. — Barbara Barrett

Establishing a Space Force is “overdue” and will be a “key imperative” if she is confirmed.

Kaine said SASC has done a lot of work on Space Force in its version of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and he expects it to “likely survive relatively intact” from conference. Barrett replied “we look forward to seeing the outcome” of the conference and implementing Space Force as an agency that is “focused on capability in space, not on building structural bureaucracy, but instead building the capability for the warfighter and for the American public.”

Kaine pressed her on whether she agrees on the need to work with other countries to establish a set of international rules that can be enforced to protect investments in space.  She agreed “completely” because “we are vulnerable to the actions of others” and the Air Force would want to be “a big part of that.”

Inhofe’s concern was about losing ground to China, especially in space launch, and the need to proceed with the National Security Space Launch procurement expeditiously as SASC’s version of the FY2020 NDAA requires.  “We don’t get to space without effective space launch,” Barrett replied, agreeing that space launch is a top priority.

Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) introduced Barrett, a “fellow Arizonan and my personal friend,” and enthused about her qualifications for the job. McSally is the first American woman combat pilot (flying the A-10) and the first woman to command an Air Force Fighter Squadron (the 354th).  She said Barrett, a private pilot, was instrumental in the “paradigm shift” of expanding air combat roles for women as a member of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services. As for space, Barrett has served as chair of the Aerospace Corporation’s Board of Trustees and on the boards of RAND, the National Air and Space Museum, Sally Ride Science and the Space Foundation.

SASC is an authorization committee and has jurisdiction over creating the Space Force. That is taking place as part of deliberations over the NDAA.

Separately, Congress must approve funding for it.  That is under the jurisdiction of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

As the SASC nomination hearing was underway, the Senate Appropriations Committee was marking up the FY2020 Defense Appropriations bill.  It was approved, but on a party line vote (16-15).  Democrats opposed the measure because it does not prevent the use of defense funding to build the border wall.

Full details of the bill have not been released yet, but a committee summary states that the requested level of funding was provided for the Space Force. The request was $72.4 million. The House approved only $15 million because the House Appropriations Committee was not convinced the Administration’s proposal justified the cost and disruption involved, but added the action was taken “without prejudice.” That suggests it is open to further discussion.

According to the Senate committee’s summary, the bill also took the following actions on space activities:

  • added $108 million for Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (formerly Space Sensor Layer);
  • fully funded the $1.2 billion National Security Space Launch request and included a general provision to protect the Air Force launch development and launch service procurement schedules;
  • created a new line for Electro-Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) Weather for procurement of a weather sensor; and
  • recommended an additional $235.3 million for upgrades of test and evaluation infrastructure to support technologies critical for implementing the 2018 National Defense Strategy including hypersonics, space, directed energy, and cyber.

The Senate committee is just beginning to mark up its FY2020 appropriations bills and the schedule is uncertain.  The next step will be for the Senate to pass the bill. Then it will have to reach a compromise with the House, so there is much work still to do.


Note: McSally said Barrett had been CEO of the Aerospace Corp., but she was chair of its Board of Trustees.  This article has been updated with the correct information.

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