Shanahan Offers Much Lower Cost Estimate for Space Force

Shanahan Offers Much Lower Cost Estimate for Space Force

Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan estimated today that the cost of creating a Space Force could be less than $5 billion.  That is a sharp reduction from the $12.9 billion figure put forward by Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson in September.  He also said he and DOD’s Space Governance Committee are “diligently” working on the Space Force proposal that will be sent to Congress in February to make sure it “can withstand the cost-scrutiny question.”

Patrick Shanahan, Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Shanahan spoke with reporters during a press gaggle today (November 15) on a variety of topics, but Space Force was clearly on everyone’s mind. President Trump wants to create a sixth military department, a Department of the Space Force.  Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the National Space Council, wants it in place by 2020.  Shanahan is the point person for making that happen.

The President cannot create a new military department on his own.  Congress must establish it in law and provided the requisite funding.  The proposal will be in the FY2020 budget request that should be sent to Congress on the first Monday of February 2019.

Some analysts think winning congressional approval will be more difficult now that Democrats will control the House.  Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) who is expected to become the new chair, is opposed to the idea.  The Space Force was facing an uphill battle in Congress already since many Republicans also are skeptical about the need for an entirely new department.  An earlier HASC proposal was to create a Space Corps within the Air Force, which would be less costly and disruptive.

Shanahan seemed optimistic today, however, pointing out that Smith wants to focus on cost and efficiency at DOD and “we’re really diligently putting together a proposal that can withstand the cost-scrutiny question.”  Asked directly if he thought approval was less likely now, he replied “I don’t think so.”

As for the cost, he said it “could be lower than five” billion.

It is not clear what that figure includes. The term “Space Force” is often used to refer not only to the Department of the Space Force, but also standing up a new unified combatant command, U.S. Space Command; a Space Operations Force to train “space warfighters” to support the Command; a Space Development Agency (SDA) to accelerate development and acquisition of new space systems; and a new Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space.

Wilson’s $12.9 billion estimate covered both creating the new department and the U.S. Space Command.

Shanahan, however, concluded that congressional action is not needed for either the U.S. Space Command or the SDA and is moving forward with those now.  He hopes to have U.S. Space Command in place, with the Commander confirmed by the Senate, by the first quarter of next year and SDA is “more imminent,” perhaps by the end of this year.  So those costs likely are not part of his FY2020 proposal.

He also talked about the process that would be involved in moving individuals from whatever service they are in now to the new Department and acknowledged it could take “over a year just to … move people” and that also will affect cost.

Wilson’s estimate was criticized as representing the highest possible cost perhaps in an effort to galvanize opposition since she and other top Pentagon officials initially opposed the idea.  However, she has defended the estimate and did so again today.  As reported by Defense News, she said at the DefenseOne summit that the cost estimate will be based on what elements are in the proposal and hers was for a “fully fledged standalone department and also a unified combatant command.”

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