Trump’s DOD Space Reorganization Moves Forward, But Headwinds Await – UPDATED

Trump’s DOD Space Reorganization Moves Forward, But Headwinds Await – UPDATED

President Trump’s effort to reorganize how DOD deals with space activities took some steps forward this week, but is also facing headwinds from skeptics in Congress and elsewhere.  The FY 2020 budget request includes funds for the three key elements — a U.S. Space Force (USSF) as a new service under the U.S. Air Force, a unified combatant U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM), and a Space Development Agency (SDA).  Key members of Congress expressed reservations about USSF today however, and USSPACECOM has hit a snag.  At the same time, SDA reportedly was officially established yesterday, but over the objections of outgoing Air Force Secretary (SecAF) Heather Wilson.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), chairing the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing, March 13, 2019. Screengrab.

At a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee today, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), who also chairs the full committee, noted that the Space Force first must be authorized by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), but “we’re going to have to fund it or not fund it in this committee right here.”  He made no commitment to doing so, and Ranking Member Dick Durbin (D-IL) made it clear that he is not yet convinced that it is the best use of tax dollars.

Invoking the memory of the late Sen. John McCain, Durbin said McCain worried about putting more people in the Pentagon than in the field and asked whether the Space Force would simply be more bureaucracy.  “Are we just dazzled by the notion of Space Force?” he asked.  Noting that the cost estimate is $2 billion over 5 years, he argued that McCain would say that would be better invested in capabilities and readiness.  “We ought to have a cold day of reckoning” before agreeing to a Space Force.

Meanwhile, at a conference elsewhere in Washington, D.C., Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), expressed his own concerns.  As reported by Defense One, Smith asserted that HASC will make changes to the Trump proposal because adding more generals will “not make us stronger in space.”

Creating a Space Force as a new military service requires congressional authorization, but the President has authority to create unified combatant commands.  He initiated the action to establish USSPACECOM in December. One wrinkle is that Congress directed that a U.S. Space Command be created as a subunit of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), rather than as its own unified combatant command, in the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Apparently Congress must repeal or change that provision before USSPACECOM can be established. HASC Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) referred to that today, prompting this tweet from Defense One reporter Katie Bo Williams.

Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force Chief of Staff, testifying to the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, March 13, 2019. Screengrab

At the Senate Appropriations hearing today, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein championed USSPACECOM.  Crediting the Trump Administration for identifying space as a warfighting domain, no longer a benign environment, he argued that from a warfighter’s perspective, the “most important action going forward that I hope we can do this year is stand up a combatant commander for space because it normalizes space warfighting for us and we as a department then know how to act.”

The third leg of the national security space reorganization is SDA to ensure the Space Force has cutting edge technologies.  Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan signed a memo on March 12, 2019 formally establishing the SDA.  The idea behind SDA is to create an entity that focuses on innovation, experimentation and forging technologies of the future across all the services to support the Space Force.  It initially will be part of the responsibilities of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Mike Griffin, but would move to the Space Force if Congress agrees to create it.  Not everyone agrees with the need for SDA, however.  Defense News reported that SecAF Wilson “slammed” the SDA in a February 28 memo because it would create more bureaucracy and replicate existing capabilities. could not independently confirm the existence of the memo by press time.

According to DOD’s FY2020 Defense Budget Overview (p. 5-5), the FY2020 budget request includes:

  • $72.4 million for the Space Force,
  • $149.8 million in new resources for SDA, and
  • $ 83.8 million for USSPACECOM

Note: Updated with a link to the memo creating the SDA.

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