Shanahan: Space Force Decision Made, But Not Ready To Reveal It

Shanahan: Space Force Decision Made, But Not Ready To Reveal It

Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told reporters today that a decision on whether the Space Force should be a separate military department or part of the Air Force has been made, but he is not ready to reveal the answer.  He also continued to hint that a U.S. Space Command announcement might be made by the end of this year and offered a progress report on other aspects of the Trump Administration’s plan to restructure how DOD manages and executes space activities. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee reiterated his opposition to a Space Force.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.

Shanahan and Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin had a brief exchange with media at a conference today.  According to a DOD transcript,  Shanahan characterized the Space Force discussions as “on the final approach.”

He is in charge of developing DOD’s response to President Trump’s direction to establish a Space Force as a sixth military department and to a congressional requirement to recommend a new organizational and management structure for national security space activities.  Vice President Mike Pence released Shanahan’s “Section 1601 report” in August.  In addition to the Space Force, it calls for a Space Development Agency to develop new, innovative space technologies faster, a unified combatant U.S. Space Command, and a Space Operations Force to support it.

DOD’s position is that creating a new military department requires congressional action, but the other steps can be undertaken within DOD’s existing authorities.

The proposal to Congress will be presented as part of the President’s FY2020 budget request, due on the first Monday of February. That means DOD needs to finalize it soon to give time for input from others in the Administration.

Shanahan said there were “two primary options” on how to reorganize DOD and “now we’re down to one option. … I’m not in a position to disclose what that one option is.”  He has been working through the issues with a group of other top DOD officials and “probably tomorrow” it will be shared with others in DOD.  He will not say which option was selected “until we fully coordinate.”

The two options are an entirely new sixth military department that would be “separate but equal” to the others as President Trump is demanding, or a Space Corps within the Air Force similar to the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington)

The incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), are both skeptical about the need for a separate military department for space.  HASC recommended a Space Corps within the Air Force in the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the House approved it, but the Senate did not.  Trump’s proposal of a Space Force as a separate military department is a considerably more complex undertaking.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma)

Inhofe told The Hill today that Space Force is not on his list of priorities for next year “because I don’t think we need it,” but stopped short of saying it would not happen.  Smith also has been open about his skepticism, especially because he worries about the cost and creating more bureaucracy.

Asked about Smith’s concerns, Shanahan said he shares the same view about bureaucracy and the goal is to “go big on capability” and minimize overhead.  “The most important thing is demonstrating that we deliver capability more quickly.”

Regarding U.S. Space Command, he said he hoped to see a decision “by the end of the year,” as he has said in the past.  A U.S. Space Command existed as a separate unified combatant command from 1985-2002, but was eliminated in a reorganization of combatant commands after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  Many of its functions were transferred to U. S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM).  The FY2019 NDAA directed that a U.S. Space Command be created within USSTRATCOM, but the idea has evolved into recreating a separate unified command.

The idea of a Space Development Agency (SDA) is to create a single agency to develop cutting-edge space technologies for all the services to reduce duplication and get new systems to warfighters more quickly than today.  Shanahan said they are still working out issues like “Where is the synergy? Where is the time acceleration” and “Where is the cost benefit?”  He wants to be able to explain the “quantifiable outputs and deliverables” that will result.

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