House Appropriators Detail Misgivings About Space Force, SDA

House Appropriators Detail Misgivings About Space Force, SDA

The House Appropriations Committee has released the draft report to accompany the FY2020 defense appropriations bill.  The report explains the actions the committee took in the companion bill, which was released and approved at subcommittee level last week.  The committee stopped short of rejecting the idea of a Space Force or a Space Development Agency (SDA), but has enough misgivings that it wants DOD to think about it a while longer yet.  Only reestablishment of a U.S. Space Command won the committee’s total endorsement. The full committee will mark up the bill tomorrow.

The committee’s lack of enthusiasm for Space Force was evident last week when the draft bill was made public. It provides only $15 million of the $72.4 million requested.  The appropriations committees do not have authority to decide whether or not to create a Space Force — the defense authorization committees (House and Senate Armed Services) have that responsibility — but if one is created, they are the only ones with money to fund it.

In the draft report, the committee says it “appreciates the intent of the proposal” to create a Space Force within the Air Force, along with an Under Secretary of Defense for Space and an Air Force Chief of Staff for space, but it “leaves many unanswered questions” and does not provide sufficient details and supporting analysis.  Its decision to provide only $15 million was made “without prejudice,” meaning it remains open to discussions.

While the Committee appreciates the intent of the proposal, the plan leaves many unanswered questions and lacks important details and supporting analysis to justify the proposed size, scope, cost, roles, and authorities for the new military service. Further, the Committee notes that it is fully within the Department’s current authority to make space a higher priority without creating a new military service and is not persuaded that the specific plan proposed justifies the additional overhead cost and disruption across the Department. Therefore, the Committee recommendation does not fully fund the request to establish the proposed Space Force. The Committee makes this decision without prejudice and includes funds for the Department to examine and refine alternative organizational options that will streamline the management and decision-making process and minimize overhead cost and bureaucracy.  — House Appropriations Committee

While that sounds discouraging, nevertheless the Space Force is now a line item within the Operations & Maintenance (O&M) account, separate from the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force, even if it is funded at less than the request.

DOD did not need congressional action to create SDA and it already exists as part of the office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.  But it still needs to get funding from congressional appropriators.  The House committee is “generally supportive” of the idea, but worried it might create a “parallel space program that will overlap and duplicate existing programs and missions in the Air Force.”

The Committee recognizes the need for rapid development and fielding of space assets to meet the current threat environment as outlined by the National Defense Strategy. However, while the Committee is generally supportive of the concept of the Space Development Agency, the Committee is concerned that this effort may create a parallel space program that will overlap and duplicate existing programs and missions in the Air Force. Therefore, the Committee recommendation includes a legislative provision requiring the Space Development Agency and the Air Force to work together to define a unified and integrated space architecture and to clarify roles and responsibilities. — House Appropriations Committee

Consequently the committee does not allow any of the money appropriated for SDA as well as half of the money appropriated for the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) system, to be spent until it receives a report explaining —

  • exactly what SDA will do for the next 3 years and how much it will cost;
  • how SDA will coordinate and cooperate with the Air Force to develop an integrated space architecture to guide SDA and Air Force investments;
  • the process by which the SDA and the Air Force will cooperate in demonstrating and prototyping new capabilities and transition to programs of record;
  • the proposed physical location of SDA and how many personnel are needed in the first 3 years (government and contractors); and
  • a plan to transition the SDA into the Air Force no later than FY2022 or into the Space Force.

DOD requested $149.8 million for SDA: $44.750 million in O&M and $105 million in Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E).  The committee approved $26.849 million in O&M, a cut of $17.901 million, and $55 million in RDT&E, a cut of $50 million.  Thus, it approved $81.8 million of the $149.8 million requested.

The committee did give its full support for reestablishing U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) as a unified combatant command. The request was $83.8 million: $70.6 million in O&M and about $13 million in RDT&E.  The committee fully funded those amounts.

Full committee markup is tomorrow at 10:30 am ET and will be webcast.

Note: this article was updated to include the funds requested for SDA and USSPACECOM in the RDT&E account as well as the O&M account.

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