DOD “Moving Out” on Space Force As Space Council Approves Six Recommendations to President

DOD “Moving Out” on Space Force As Space Council Approves Six Recommendations to President

Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told the White House National Space Council today that DOD is “moving out” on the Space Force.  Shortly thereafter, the Council unanimously approved six recommendations to the President offered by Shanahan to take the next steps forward. The Trump Administration’s goal is to create a sixth military service, the Department of the Space Force, by 2020.

Vice President Mike Pence chairs the Space Council, which held its fourth public meeting today at Ft. McNair in Washington, D.C.  The main focus was discussing progress to date and next steps to create the Space Force. About an hour earlier, Pence also was interviewed by Washington Post national political reporter Robert Costa about the Space Force as part of the Washington Post Live’s “Transformers: Space” event.

President Trump has been promoting the idea of a Space Force since March to more effectively counter threats to U.S. space assets by countries like Russia and China.

The idea is controversial and was opposed by top military and civilian DOD leaders until the last Space Council meeting in June where Trump specifically directed Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to “immediately begin the process” to establish it.  The Pentagon has fallen in line with the President since then.

The Space Force idea is an expansion of a concept pushed by the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) to create a Space Corps within the Air Force.  In the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), HASC could not convince its Senate counterpart to create a Space Corps. Instead, in section 1601 of the NDAA, Congress directed DOD to conduct a study.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the National Space Council meeting, Oct. 23, 2018. Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan is on the left.  Screengrab.

Shanahan was the point person for what is now called the Section 1601 report (or the Shanahan report), which was released by Pence at the Pentagon on August 9, 2018.  It reflected Trump’s desire to create a separate military department equal to the Air Force, not a division of responsibilities within the Air Force.  The Shanahan report also spelled out additional elements of the reorganization of national security space activities the Trump Administration plans: creating a unified combatant command, U.S. Space Command; creating a Space Operations Force to support the U.S. Space Command; creating a joint Space Development Agency to ensure the Space Force has cutting-edge warfighting capabilities; and creating a new civilian position at DOD, an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space, reporting to the Secretary of Defense, with responsibility and accountability for standing up and scaling up the U.S. Department of the Space Force.

Although those are individual steps, they are often collectively referred to as “the Space Force” concept.

Today, Shanahan said that creating the Space Force “is no easy task,” but “we are moving out” with development of a legislative proposal that will be submitted to Congress as part of the FY2020 budget process.  The Administration cannot create a new military department by itself.  It needs Congress to authorize and fund it.  He said the legislative proposal would “embody our guiding principles: speed and effectiveness” and include a budget estimate.

The six recommendations he proposed and the Space Council approved are as follows:

  • Forming a United States Space Command to control our space forces and develop the tactics, techniques, and procedures for military space operations.
  • Establishing the Space Force as a separate and distinct branch of the military whose mission will be to organize, train, and equip combat space forces.
  • Calling on Congress to authorize the establishment of a Space Force and provide funding for the United States Space Command.
  • Launching a joint review by the National Space Council and National Security Council of existing space operational authorities for meeting national security objectives, informed by DOD’s assessment of the authorities required.
  • Creating a Space Development Agency to ensure Americans in the Space Force have cutting-edge warfighting capabilities.
  • Creating collaborative mechanisms with the Intelligence Community to improve unity of efforts for the development of space capabilities and operations.

Pence said the recommendations will be formally presented to the President soon and he expects Trump to sign it quickly, joking that the President asks him about the Space Force every week.

In comments to reporters after the Council meeting, Shanahan said that although the Department of the Space Force requires congressional action, the Administration can utilize its existing authorities to create the Space Development Agency and the U.S. Space Command, although the Senate would have to confirm whoever is nominated to lead U.S. Space Command. He believes both could be in place in four to five months, although many questions remain about the Space Development Agency, such as how fast it will grow.

One message he wants to stress is that “we are mindful of not creating more cost.”

Asked about the $12.9 billion figure released by Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, he noted that “she was working really fast,” it was “parametrically generated,” and “for us it’s just a number.”  He expects three or four more iterations with the goal of making the cost as small as possible.

Three speakers addressed the Council in support of the Space Force: Doug Loverro, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy (in the Obama Administration); Mark Sirangelo, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of Colorado Boulder (formerly with Sierra Nevada Corporation); and Lt. Gen. James “Kevin” McLaughlin (Ret.), former deputy commander of U.S. Cyber Command and a staff member of the 2001 Rumsfeld Space Commission report, one of many earlier studies that addressed DOD’s organization for space.

Loverro said his perspective is based on 30 years of experience in uniform and as a civilian working with both political parties, stressing the importance of not allowing this to become a partisan issue.

The United States needs a Space Force, Loverro declared, a department “whose sole focus is U.S. leadership in and defense of the domain of space.”  The time to address the issue is now, while we are at peace, “not when the adversary has already gained the upper hand.”  He agreed that norms of behavior are needed in space, just as they exist for all the other military domains whether or not they are in law.  One problem is that “we don’t know what our space doctrine is” and the Space Force is just the organization to develop it.

McLaughlin lamented that “we missed a generational opportunity” by not implementing the Rumsfeld Space Commission recommendations.  The key this time will be maintaining presidential and congressional interest and keeping the issue bipartisan.

He, Loverro and Sirangelo all emphasized the need to help the public understand the importance of space in their daily lives.  Sirangelo mentioned the Day Without Space exercise where one postulates how lives would be affected if space capabilities did not exist.  The next generation, in particular, needs to comprehend that, he added.  Pence called it a “powerful” idea and promised to come back to it in terms of getting it into schools.

Pence’s own remarks at the Space Council meeting were similar to those he made in August.  Earlier in the day at the Washington Post event, however, he went into a little more detail while interviewed by Costa.

Asked if the Space Force meant putting weapons in space, he replied that it means protecting American interests in space including against antisatellite threats posed by Russia and China.  He agreed that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty bans weapons of mass destruction in space and “at this time, we don’t see any need to amend the treaty.”

The interchange continued.

Vice President Pence: But, you know, as time goes forward, the hope that we could continue to see outer space as a domain where peace will reign, it will require military presence.  But we’ll continue to aspire to President Kennedy’s vision of a “sea of peace” as opposed to a terrifying domain of war.

Robert Costa:  On that, do you think that nuclear weapons should be banned from space?

Pence:   Well, they are now.

Costa:  Should they always be banned from space?

Pence:  Well, look, I think that what we need to do is make sure that we provide for the common defense of the people of the United States of America.  And that’s the President’s determination here.  I think it’s in the interest of every nation to continue to ban the use of nuclear weapons in space.  But what we want to do is continue to advance the principle that peace comes through strength. And we truly do believe the best pathway toward advancing human exploration in space — which the President has already announced we’re going back to the moon and then, after that, to Mars — the way we develop more commercial enterprise in space, and we see the incredible innovation. …

Costa asked whether the Space Force is becoming a partisan issue because Trump is raising it on the campaign trail.  Pence said no, that it is more a matter of Americans “whatever their politics” feeling that the country lost its passion for space and are “excited” to see pioneering space activities again — not just the Space Force, but human exploration of the Moon and Mars.

As for the cost of the Space Force, Costa wondered how Pence thinks fiscal conservatives in Congress will react to the multibillion price tag.  Pence responded: “I would just ask my old colleagues in the Congress: What price freedom?  What is the price tag that you place on the security of the United States of America?”


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