CSIS: Space Force May Cost Billions, But Little New Money Required

CSIS: Space Force May Cost Billions, But Little New Money Required

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released a paper today estimating the cost for the Space Force, a concept whose details are still being defined.  CSIS expert Todd Harrison priced out three variants of what a Space Force might incorporate.  His bottom line is that although the total annual budget could range from $11.3 billion to $21.5 billion, most of that is money that would be needed anyway for existing organizations that would be merged into the Space Force.  Only $0.30 billion – $0.55 billion in new money would be needed each year or $1.5-2.7 billion over 5 years.

Todd Harrison, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Credit: CSIS website.

Harrison is CSIS’s Director of Defense Budget Analysis and Director of its Aerospace Security Project.  He has an extensive career in analyzing the defense budget, having joined CSIS after several years as a senior fellow for defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

President Trump wants to create a Department of the Space Force as a sixth military department.  He also wants a unified combatant command, U.S. Space Command; a Space Operations Force to educate and train warfighters to support the U.S. Space Command; a Space Development Agency (SDA) to develop innovative technologies and accelerate the acquisition of new systems; and a new position of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space.

Sometimes all those collectively are referred to as “the Space Force,” while other times the term is used in reference only to the new military department.  What parts of each of the existing military services (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard) and perhaps other parts of the government (such as the National Reconnaissance Organization or the Missile Defense Agency) would be incorporated into the new Department is still being determined.

Thus, the cost estimate depends in large part on what is included.

In September, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson issued a cost estimate of $12.9 billion over 5 years.  That included creating the new department and the U.S. Space Command.

In an earlier analysis, Harrison sharply criticized that figure, asserting that it was a case of “malicious compliance” by the Air Force to stoke opposition to the idea.  Wilson, along with other high ranking DOD officials, was staunchly opposed to any reorganization until June when Trump directly ordered DOD to create a Space Force after which they all fell in line behind him, at least publicly.

Last week, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told reporters that he thinks it will cost $5 billion or less.  He is in charge of  developing a proposal to submit to Congress as part of the FY2020 budget request in February to create the Space Force by 2020.  That is the timeline set by Vice President Mike Pence. Pence chairs the White House National Space Council.

Shanahan was not specific about what he included in his calculation.  Although Congress must create and fund a new military department, Shanahan  insists DOD can establish the U.S. Space Command and the Space Development Agency without congressional action. He plans to have them in place in the next few months.  Therefore they presumably are not included in his $5 billion estimate.

Harrison outlined three options for what a Space Force might include and priced them out:

  • a Space Corps within the Department of the Air Force (which had been proposed by the House Armed Services Committee in the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but did not clear Congress) that includes only space-related organizations, personnel, programs, and bases now in the Air Force — a total workforce of 27,300 and annual budget of $11.3 billion;
  • a “Space Force-Lite” that includes everything in the Space Corps plus space-related organizations, personnel, programs, and bases in the other military services — a total workforce of 35,800 and annual budget of $13.4 billion; and
  • a “Space Force-Heavy” that includes everything in Space Force-Lite plus some missile defense activities and programs in the Army and Missile Defense Agency that could be considered space-related — a total workforce of 48,500 and annual budget of $21.5 billion.

By comparison, the Army, the largest of the existing services, has a workforce of 1,225,303 and FY2019 budget of $182.1 billion.  The Coast Guard is the smallest, with a workforce of 50,141 and FY2019 budget of $11.7 billion.

Most of the budget for the three Space Force options, however, is money that would be needed anyway to fund existing organizations.

This analysis finds that the total annual budget of the new service would range from $11.3 billion to $21.5 billion under the three options considered, more than 96 percent of which would be transferred from existing budget accounts within DoD. Of these totals, only $0.30 billion to $0.55 billion would be new funding (or $1.5 to $2.7 billion over five years). — Todd Harrison, CSIS

Trump’s proposal to create a sixth military department met with a cool reception on Capitol Hill.  Even the bipartisan HASC duo who fought for the Space Corps in the FY2018 NDAA objected to what they viewed as “gold plating” by the Administration.  With Democrats in control of the House next year, the prospects for Space Force appear even dimmer since Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), who is expected to become the chair of HASC, is opposed to it.

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