SASC Approves Establishment of U.S. Space Force

SASC Approves Establishment of U.S. Space Force

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved the establishment of a U.S. Space Force (USSF) as a new military service within the Air Force in its version of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), released today.  SASC has been much less enthusiastic than the House in the past, so its endorsement is an important marker.  SASC also agreed to reestablish a U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) as a unified combatant command.

SASC said the USSF “will focus on cultivating a space warfighting ethos, unify command of space operations and activities, and improve acquisition policies for space programs and systems.”

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) first proposed creating a Space Corps within the Air Force in the FY2018 NDAA.  The concept is analogous to the Marine Corps, which is part of the Department of the Navy.  It passed the House, but the Senate did not agree then or the next year.  As they continued to debate what was needed, in early 2018 President Trump proposed a Space Force as a separate military department.  After almost a year of debate within the Administration, he issued Space Policy Directive-4 that called initially for a Space Force quite similar to HASC’s Space Corps, with the idea that sometime in the future a separate department might be needed.

The Pentagon submitted a request to Congress in March to create a Space Force as part of the Air Force, to reestablish USSPACECOM (which existed from 1985-2002), and create a Space Development Agency (SDA) within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering to develop new space technologies more quickly, leveraging work in the commercial sector.

The Space Force is controversial for a number of reasons, not the least of which is concern that it will grow into a costly bureaucracy. What SASC approved was not entirely the same as the proposal in part to stem that outcome.

In an executive summary of the NDAA released by SASC today, the committee said that it supports establishment of a Space Force “while deliberately avoiding additional bureaucracy and cost.”  It requires that Space Force staffing come from existing Air Force personnel, not additional military or civilian personnel.

Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, Commander, Air Force Space Command. Credit: USAF.

The Commander of Air Force Space Command (AFSC) will be redesignated as Commander, USSF.  For the first year, that position will report to the Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) through the Air Force Chief of Staff, after which it will report directly to the SecAF.  Also for the first year, the Commander, USSF will be invited to sessions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when space-related topics are discussed, after which that position will become a permanent member of the Joint Chiefs.

Gen. John “Jay” Raymond is currently Commander of AFSC.

Also for one year, the USSF Commander will also serve as Commander of USSPACECOM, after which the two positions will be separated.  Trump has already nominated Raymond to be Commander of USSPACECOM in addition to commanding AFSC, but that does not include him becoming USSF Commander.

SASC also would:

  • create an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (currently there is a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, Stephen Kitay, under the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy), and
  • redesignate the Principal Assistant to the SecAF for Space (currently John Stopher) as the Principal Assistant to the SecAF for Space Acquisition and Integration who will oversee all space acquisition activities including a to-be-established Space Acquisition Council.  (This apparently would be in addition to the existing position of Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology & Logistics currently held by Will Roper).

The committee’s executive summary did not address what it decided about the SDA.

The Trump proposal also called for creation of a civilian Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space plus a 4-star general position to be Chief of Staff for USSF who would also be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The language in the SASC executive summary states that after one year, the Commander (not Chief of Staff) of the USSF will report directly to the Secretary of the Air Force, which implies that SASC did not agree to create a civilian Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space.  The Commander of USSF will be a 4-star general and, after one year, a member of the Joint Chiefs, so SASC apparently did agree with that part of the proposal

In short, the reorganization of the Air Force to accommodate the new U.S. Space Force involves creating a number of new military and civilian positions.  There are differences between the Trump proposal and SASC’s solution and it does not appear that any positions are disappearing, so this is additive. One of complaints about how national security space activities are managed that led to the HASC proposal to create a Space Corps in the first place was that there are too many people with fingers in the pie.  A 2016 GAO report identified 60 “stakeholder organizations” in DOD, the Executive Office of the President, the Intelligence Community and civilian agencies and “no one seems to be in charge of space acqusitions.”  It remains unclear whether Space Force, USSPACEOM, and SDA will consolidate or eliminate any of those.

In other space-related actions, SASC prohibited changes to the National Security Space Launch program Phase 2 procurement “to ensure agile and effective space launch support to the warfighter”; and authorized $108 million to support a space-based sensor layer for missile defense.

The SASC proposal still must pass the Senate, but the bill overall was approved by the committee by a 25-2 vote indicating strong bipartisan support.  HASC will markup its version of the bill the first two weeks of June.

Only HASC and SASC can authorize creation of a new military service like USSF, but funding for it must come from the appropriations committees.  The House Appropriations Committee approved its FY2020 defense appropriations bill earlier this week and provided only $15 million of the $72.4 million requested for USSF and limited its use to studying and refining the proposal. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not acted yet.

This article has been updated.

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