House Appropriators Warn Space Force Budget Not Credible

House Appropriators Warn Space Force Budget Not Credible

The House Appropriations Committee is warning the U.S. Space Force against starting more programs than it can afford. In a draft of its report on the FY2023 defense appropriations bill, which it will mark up tomorrow, the committee criticized the newest military service for submitting a five-year budget projection that is not credible given its “ambitious” plans.

In a strongly worded section entitled “Space Force Program Affordability and Executability,” the committee reiterated its position that budget requests be based on “rigorous technical analysis matched with executable plans.” They say the FY2023 request, which includes future year projections through FY2027, does not meet that standard.

The FY2023 request for Space Force is $24.6 billion, a 36 percent increase over FY2022.

The Space Force is still establishing itself as a separate service within the Department of the Air Force following its creation on December 20, 2019.

The committee acknowledged that some of the increase is due to the transfer of the Space Development Agency (SDA) into the Space Force from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, and separating a new Space Force personnel account from Air Force personnel. Even then, however, the request is about 20 percent more than last year.

But their concern is future “out-year” projections that show the budget increasing only one more year, FY2024, and then declining through FY2027, dropping even lower than FY2023 despite “ambitious plans for new architectures, programs, and mission areas.”

The Committee cautions the Space Force against starting more programs than it can afford. The lack of a credible five-year budget raises fundamental questions about whether any serious analysis or long-term planning has been done to assess the realism and affordability of the entire portfolio of programs—not just individual programs—or to set priorities among programs, including deciding not to start programs if they are not affordable within projected budgets.

The committee objects that the request “fails to clearly communicate” what Congress is being asked to sign up for.

The Committee reiterates its expectation that the Space Force’s plans and programs must be based on rigorous technical analysis matched with executable plans resourced by realistic budgets. The current plan does not meet this expectation particularly with respect to aligning priorities within realistic budgets.

The committee asks for a briefing by October 1, 2022 “including supporting analysis, an assessment of risks, and risk management plans” on the “project cost, affordability, and executability” of the Space Force’s portfolio of programs.

The committee is recommending $370 million less than the request, with the largest reduction from the Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) budget. But it can be difficult to trace the programmatic implications of those changes as the Department of the Air Force continues to separate the Air Force and Space Force budgets and programs move from one account to another, not to mention the transfer of SDA into Space Force.

For example, $390.6 million is “cut” from Space Force’s Resilient Missile Warning and Missile Tracking Integrated Ground Segment, but $200 million of that is moved to the procurement account for SDA launches and the rest is moved to two other Resilient Missile Warning and Missile Tracking budget lines.

Similarly, a first glance shows $2.64 billion reduced from Next Generation Overhead Persistant InfraRed, or NextGen OPIR, but that is because they are splitting it into two line items, one for polar orbit and one for geostationary orbit systems. The only actual cut to that program is $27 million from a space modernization initiative because of inadequate justification.

The best indicator of where the appropriators have concerns is in the report language and those two programs do make the list even though their funding remains mostly intact.

NextGen OPIR is a follow-on to the type of satellites the United States has fielded historically to warn of and track missile launches — a few large satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO) above the equator where they keep constant watch on large parts of the globe and in polar orbits that cover latitudes that cannot be observed from GEO. The existing system is the Space-Based Infared System or SBIRS.

But the plan now is to move to large constellations of small satellites in low and medium orbits. Instead of a few exquisite but vulnerable spacecraft dubbed “big juicy targets” by Gen. John Hyten years ago, the new architecture will have lots of small satellites that are more difficult to attack and more easily replaced. That is the Resilient Missile Warning-Missile Tracking Initiative.

The committee supports this new architecture, but says it lacks sufficient information on everything from life-cycle costs to supply chain risks to the ability to scale up command and control capabilities to handle so many satellites and so on. It asks for a life-cycle cost estimate from DOD’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office by January 30, 2023 and quarterly briefings on both missile warning systems.

The committee will mark up the bill tomorrow morning. [UPDATE: The committee did mark up the bill on June 22 without any changes to the Space Force section.]

When it might move to the floor for consideration is unclear.

The House Armed Services Committee is marking up the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act at the same time tomorrow. The NDAA sets policy and recommends funding levels, although appropriators are not bound by those funding recommendations.

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