Congress Still Working to Authorize Space Force Creation
By Kaitlyn Johnson
Associate Director and Associate Fellow of the Aerospace Security Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Laser guns, light sabers and Battlestar Galactica. This is what many late-night comedians imagined when President Trump first mentioned establishing a U.S. Space Force back in March 2018.
However, the comics couldn’t have been further from the truth. At its core, the establishment of a U.S. Space Force represents a bureaucratic reorganization of mostly already existing offices and positions within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).
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What the popular media and late-night comedians are missing is context. The idea of a separate military service focused on space has been debated for almost two decades. A reorganization of America’s national security space enterprise was suggested in 2001, with what became commonly known as the Rumsfeld Commission.
The Commission’s findings suggested a separation of military space activities: “In the midterm a Space Corps within the Air Force may be appropriate…in the longer term [the need for a space service] may be met by a military department for space.” A separate service for space would be responsible to organize, train and equip U.S. military space forces.
Space Force and the US Congress
Suupporters of the U.S. Space Force agree that consolidating the space functions of the Air Force, Navy and Army will:
- Centralize decision-making authorities for national security space
- Allow for better training and experience for space professionals
- Develop specific strategy and doctrine to better protect and defend U.S. space systems
- Minimize inter-service conflicts that have delayed space system developments for decades.
These factors and others drove both the House of Representatives and the Senate to propose a separate military service for space in the annual authorization bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020.
FY20 NDAA Bills Focus on Reorganizing Military Space in the Air Force Department
Both the House and the Senate’s proposed language for the FY20 NDAA focuses on reorganizing military space within the Department of the Air Force. The House proposes a corps structure, similar to how the Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy. Notably, and unlike the Senate NDAA language, the House proposal includes clear instructions to establish a new service dedicated to the military space mission.
The Senate proposes changing the name of Air Force Space Command, an existing office within the Air Force that manages a majority of DoD space missions, to U.S. Space Force.
The Senate would also create a new position within the Air Force to coordinate acquisition initiatives among the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), the Space Rapid Capabilities Office (Space RCO) and the new Space Development Agency (SDA).
House and Senate Are Concerned about the Budget Implications of Establishing a New Service
A few areas of consensus between the two proposals are likely to be included in the final language. For example, both the House and Senate are concerned about the budget implications of establishing a new service. Therefore, it is likely that few, if any, new civilian positions will be authorized with this iteration of the NDAA.
If established, the Space Force will likely be able to reorganize to create new positions later on. But at the outset, the Senate and House may not authorize direct funding for new civilian positions. Similarly, both proposals authorize the head of the new organization to sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
For more details on the similarities and differences between the two NDAA markups and the original legislative proposal from the Trump administration, see “Space Force or Space Corps?” by the author.
Space Force: Where Do We Stand Now?
Currently, the NDAA is going through conference committee negotiations, during which selected members of the House and Senate meet to hash out the differences between the two proposals. Of course, the future of the Space Force is not the only controversial concern in this year’s NDAA deliberations.
In fact, compared to the debate waging on the Trump administration’s funding for the border wall and the impeachment proceedings, the Space Force is pretty low-hanging fruit in terms of congressional cooperation and consensus.
Supporters of the Space Force are concerned that the future of the new military service might be in peril if it is tied up with these highly charged political dealings. However, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Washington) is optimistic that there will be some form of Space Force in the final bill.
DoD Tasked with Developing 90-Day Plan for Developing the Space Force
The Defense Department has been tasked with developing a 90-day plan to establish the Space Force once it is authorized by the FY20 NDAA. In fact, a Space Force Planning Task Force within the DoD has been working on these issues for months. The Air Force has promised that a provisional headquarters will indeed be operational within 90 days of congressional authorization.
The DoD documents suggest that about 200 personnel from the Air Force, Navy and Army would be included in the initial cadre of Space Force professionals. Recently, the White House has also directed the DoD to begin working on a public affairs campaign for the future service. This includes creating the rank structure, insignia and uniforms for the Space Force.
It is clear that the Trump administration wishes to keep the planning moving along in the hopes that Congress passes language to establish a military service for space. Time will tell if the preemptive work has been done in vain, but many congressional observers are optimistic that an agreement will soon emerge from NDAA conference proceedings.
About the Author
Kaitlyn Johnson is an associate director and associate fellow within the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Ms. Johnson manages the team’s strategic planning and research agenda, as well as specializing in topics such as space security, military space systems, commercial space policy, and U.S. air dominance. She holds an M.A. from American University in U.S. foreign policy and national security studies, with a concentration in defense and space security, and a B.S. from the Georgia Institute of Technology in international affairs.