Pence Calls for new U.S. Department of the Space Force by 2020

Pence Calls for new U.S. Department of the Space Force by 2020

Vice President Pence announced today that the Trump Administration wants to stand up a sixth military department, a U.S. Department of the Space Force, by 2020. The Administration will request the needed funding and statutory authority from Congress in its FY2020 budget request, which should be sent to Congress in February 2019. The Administration’s goal is for Congress to include the new authority in the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Last year, Congress required DOD to submit a report to Congress on August 1, 2018 on a “recommended organizational and management structure for the national security components” of DOD, but DOD delayed its release until today.  Unofficially it is called the “Shanahan Report” after Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan who was responsible for getting it done.

Today’s report is entitled “Final Report on Organizational and Management Structure for the National Security Space Components of the Department of Defense” and it cost $219,000.

Pence summarized the four steps he said were laid out in the report that will lead to a new Department of the Space Force, separate but equal from the Department of the Air Force, as President Trump demanded.

  • Create a unified combatant command for space — United States Space Command — led by a four-star flag officer.
  • Create a Space Operations Force, an elite corps of “space warfighters” to support the U.S. Space Command.
  • Create a joint Space Development Agency to ensure the Space Force has cutting-edge warfighting capabilities. It will focus on innovation, experimentation and forging the technologies of the future, breaking free of existing inefficient and duplicative bureaucracy.
  • Create 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.

The report itself says that establishing the Space Force will be “multi-dimensional and phased.”  The steps listed in the report are the first phase.  That is to be followed by congressional action to “combine these components into the sixth branch of the Armed Forces.”

The Space Development Agency will be modeled after renowned General Bernard Schriever’s development of the intercontinental ballistic missile and Admiral Hyman Rickover’s development of the Navy’s nuclear enterprise.  They are among the examples of when “strong technical competence and leadership, concentration of resources, and abeyance of bureaucracy produced exceptional results.” The report lists three actions DOD will take to achieve the same results for space.

To achieve a similar breakthrough, the Department will:
 Identify opportunities to move from dependence on a few independent assets to a proliferated architecture enabled by lower-cost commercial space technology and access,
 Shift from an acquisition organization and mindset to a development organization focused on experimentation, prototyping, and accelerated fielding, and
 Change from a matrixed and overlapping structure to a concentrated and decoupled structure to generate speed.

Resources will shift from existing service space acquisition organizations to the Space Development Agency “as soon as practicable.” The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) currently executes 85 percent of DOD’s military space procurement budget and recently completed a SMC 2.0 assessment of how to improve itself.  “SMC 2.0 is the start” of that shift, the report asserts.

The Space Operations Force will be similar to Special Operations Forces in that personnel will be drawn from all the services, but “managed as one community.”  It will “provide the human capital needed to develop, field, and integrate space capabilities into multi-domain warfighting.” It will be developed and overseen by U.S. Space Command with civilian oversight by the Office of the Secretary of Defense.  Personnel will remain with their current services “until the establishment of the Space Force.”

U.S. Space Command “will be responsible for preparing for and deterring conflict in space and leading U.S. forces in that fight if it should happen.”  DOD will recommend that the President revise the current Unified Command Plan by the end of this year to create the new command. At first, the commander of Air Force Space Command (currently Gen. John “Jay” Raymond) will also serve as commander of U.S. Space Command, but in the future U.S. Space Command will have its own four-star flag officer.

The United States had a U.S. Space Command as one of its 10 combatant commands from 1985-2002. It was abolished as part of the reorganization of U.S. unified combatant commands following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  At the time, the number of unified combatant commands was capped at 10 and with creation of a new U.S. Northern Command, one had to be deactivated.  U.S. Space Command was the one.  Many of its responsibilities were transferred to U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM).  The FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) already requires DOD to create a U.S. Space Command as a subunit of USSTRATCOM, but the intent of this report appears to be a separate entity from USSTRATCOM.

Vice President Mike Pence speaking at the Pentagon about the Space Force, August 9, 2018. Screengrab.

Pence repeated throughout his speech that “now is the time” to create a Space Force.  He specifically referred to creation of a Department of the U.S. Space Force that will “organize, train, and equip the United States Space Force.”  The report uses only the phrase “Space Force,” not a Department, although it does refer to the Space Force as a sixth military service.  Some military services are part of other departments, however.  The Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy and the Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) has been leading the charge over the past several years to create a new organizational structure in DOD for space activities. The House-passed version of the FY2018 NDAA required DOD to establish a Space Corps within the Air Force.  The Senate did not agree. Nor did the Pentagon or the White House for that matter.  Much has changed since then.

At that time, however, the compromise was the requirement for the report that was released today.  In the FY2019 NDAA, the issue was not addressed while Congress awaited this report.  Today’s proposal to create a Department of the Space Force is a significant step beyond what the House advocated.  The FY2019 bill already has cleared Congress so action will have to wait for the new 116th Congress that will convene in January.

The report also does not mention the new Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space position that Pence said would be responsible and accountable for growing the Space Force out of these initial actions.  Instead the report calls for a “governance structure” headed by the Deputy Secretary of Defense to “immediately implement” the actions in the report within the purview of DOD.

Congress is a necessary partner in creating a Space Force.  It must provide statutory authority and funding.  The Administration will make its proposal in its FY2020 budget request, which should be submitted to Congress in February 2019.

With the mid-term elections coming in November, there is no way to know which party will be in control of the House and Senate and whether they will support the proposal or not.  Today was a major step, but by no means the final step, in the Space Force debate.

Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to the report issued today as responding to congressional direction to DOD to contract with an independent organization to produce an interim report by August 1 and a final report by December 31 on establishing a military department for national security space.  That language is section 1601 (d) of the FY2018 NDAA.  This report instead responds to section 1601 (c), a requirement for DOD to produce a report on organization and management structure for the national security components of DOD.

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