More Details on SASC’s Space Force Plans

More Details on SASC’s Space Force Plans

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) released the explanatory report for its FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) today.  It provides more details of what the committee has in mind for what it calls the U.S. Space Force and other reorganization plans for national security space activities.  The release comes the same day that the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) agreed on its version of the bill.  There are differences, starting with whether it is a Space Corps or a Space Force, but also similarities.  Final details will be worked out in conference if and when the bills pass each chamber.

One issue on which the House and Senate committees and the Trump Administration all agree is the need to create a new organization within the Air Force to focus on space activities.  The Administration’s proposal, sent to Congress on March 1, was deemed too costly and bureaucratic by both committees, however.  What emerged from SASC and HASC are more similar to each other than what the Pentagon submitted.

SASC Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) at a hearing on the Space Force, April 11, 2019. Screengrab.

SASC completed markup of its NDAA in May.  The bill was released to the public at that time, but the details and reasoning behind them are in today’s report.  HASC dealt with the issue through an amendment that was adopted by the committee in the wee hours this morning. Its explanatory report is not available yet so a comprehensive comparison is not possible.  The HASC version, however, is very similar to what it approved and the House passed in the FY2018 NDAA, the catalyst for what has transpired since then.

Like HASC, SASC wants an evolutionary approach that begins the reorganization within the Air Force, leaving the other services and organizations like the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) out of it at least for now.

SASC does, however, recommend that the Space Force adopt NRO’s acquisition model.  Acquisition reform is a major feature of the Senate bill.  It elevates the Principal Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force for Space to a higher level — the civilian equivalent of a four-star general — and renames the position Principal Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration (SAF/SP).  The SAF/SP would be the senior space acquisition official responsible for all Air Force space acquisition and separate from the rest of Air Force acquisition.

In addition, a Space Force Acquisition Council would be created, chaired by the SAF/SP and including the Under Secretary of the Air Force, the Commander of U.S. Space Command, the Commander of the U.S. Space Force, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy (a new position also created by the bill), and the Director of NRO (DNRO).  Including the DNRO is intended to “help to minimize the space acquisition seam that exists between the NRO and the Air Force.”

The SAF/SP would be in charge of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), the Space Rapid Capabilities Office, and the newly created Space Development Agency (SDA) in order to “reduce bureaucracy, improve oversight, and minimize interagency gaps.”

The bill redesignates the Commander of Air Force Space Command (AFSC) as Commander of the U.S. Space Force (USSF).  The bill also allows creation of a unified combatant command, the U.S. Space Command (USSPACEOM) and for the first year the Commander of USSPACECOM will also serve as Commander of USSF.  The Secretary of Defense has the option to separate the jobs thereafter.

Gen. Jay Raymond is currently AFSC commander. His nomination to remain in that job as well as become commander of USSPACECOM was approved by SASC yesterday.  If his nomination is confirmed and the SASC version of the bill becomes law, he would become the first Commander of USSF.  The Vice Commander of AFSC would be elevated from a 3-star to a 4-star position and become Vice Commander of USSF.

For the first year, the Commander of USSF would report to the Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) through the Air Force Chief of Staff, but thereafter would report directly to the SecAF.  That individual would be responsible for “doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, facilities, and policy, utilizing the existing structure of the Air Force for administrative support…”

The last phrase is important. A key element of SASC’s plan is to minimize the cost and bureaucracy of the Space Force and have it use existing Air Force resources as much as possible.  In fact, the report makes clear that the bill does “not authorize additional military billets or additional employment of civilian personnel.”

SASC committee staff told reporters today that the committee wants to focus on fixing three things: space acquisition, the space warfighting culture and ethos, and unity of command and unity of effort.

A major political difference between the bills is that the Senate calls it a Space Force while the House calls it a Space Corps.

The idea of a Space Corps predates President Trump’s interest in reorganizing the Pentagon’s space programs.  In fact, when the House passed a provision to establish a Space Corps on a bipartisan basis in the FY2018 NDAA, the Trump White House, the Pentagon and the Senate opposed it.

Then suddenly in March 2018, Trump said he wanted to create a “Space Force” and expanded on that in June when he directed DOD to come up with plans for an entirely new Department of the Space Force as a sixth military service.  Over the ensuing months that was scaled back to what the Pentagon formally proposed in March 2019, which is much closer to the House’s Space Corps concept.

HASC retained its Space Corps nomenclature in the amendment adopted this morning and calls the head of the Space Corps “Commandant” in parallel with the Marine Corps, which is part of the Department of the Navy.

Publicly, the term Space Force is associated with Trump, while Space Corps conveys the bipartisan flavor of the House version of the FY2018 NDAA.  SASC committee staff said today they are optimistic about reaching a compromise with the House, but demurred on the naming issue as something that will have to be resolved at higher levels.

All in all, it appears that if an NDAA is enacted this year, a Space Force or Space Corps will be included.  The question is whether the NDAA will make it through Congress this year.  The NDAA is one of the few pieces of legislation that has unfailingly been enacted for each of the past 58 years, but this morning’s decision by all but two HASC Republicans to vote against the bill in committee was a troubling sign.  That committee usually operates on a bipartisan basis.  One of the major sticking points is that Democrats want to hold the line at $733 billion in defense spending while Republicans want $750 billion, although other issues also are controversial.

In any case, the Senate is getting ready to take up the NDAA on the floor.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture on the bill today, a procedural step that could lead to Senate consideration of the bill next week.

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