Congress Approves Trump’s Plan for a Space Force

December 12th, 2019 - by Theresa Hitchens / Breaking Defense

Congress Agrees to Create Trump’s Space Force as 2020 NDAA Vote Nears

Theresa Hitchens / Breaking Defense

REAGAN NATIONAL DEFENSE FORUM (December 7, 2019) — Secretary of Defense Mark Esper thanked Congress today for approving the Space Force in the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), with the bill expected to come to a vote next week.

“It was essential that this year’s NDAA fully authorize the creation of a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces,” Esper told the annual Reagan National Defense Forum. “And I want to personally thank Congress for doing that.”

The House, Senate and the White House have struck a deal that will establish a Space Force, Rep. Mike Rogers told a panel here today.

Under the deal, the Democrats in Congress okayed the force as a sixth branch of the military in exchange for acquiescence by the Republicans to providing 12 weeks of paid maternity leave for federal workers.

Rogers, one of the original authors of the House’s effort two years ago to create a new military structure for space, said that the Congress “will be signing out” the final NDAA text on Monday with voting to follow. According to insiders, the House vote is slated for this coming Wednesday.

“The hay’s not in the barn, but it’s real close to the barn door,” he said.

The organizational shape of the Space Force will be somewhere between the House and Senate versions of the NDAA, but more along the lines of the House, sources close to the Hill told Breaking D. That is, it will be underneath the Air Force, in a manner similar to that of the Marine Corps’s relationship to the Navy. And at least for the near-term, only Air Force personnel would be involved — as opposed to the Pentagon’s plan to begin right away to move Army and Navy personnel as well over to the new force.

“It is important the the Air Force get on the case for space,” Barbara Barrett, in one of her first public appearances since her appointment, told the forum. She said that work has been ongoing for sometime by a “war room” of senior officials to scope the initial force structure and costs. She declined to give details though, saying that the service needs to wait for the final NDAA language to be sure what is being asked of it.

Maj. Gen. Clinton E. Crosier, who is in charge of the Air Force planning process for the Space Force, told Breaking D yesterday during the West Coast Aerospace Forum in Santa Monica that while they haven’t been able to talk much about it, the service already has put together detailed alternate plans — based on possible outcomes from the NDAA — for how to stand up the Space Force “from day one.”

“Our primary planing directive has been: execute all necessary planning to preserve the opportunity to rapidly stand up if authorized. So we are doing a wide scope of planning trying to get more and more narrow as we get more clarity,” he said. “But we’re going to be ready to respond to whatever the language says.”

Barrett said the Space Force will need to focus on both how to protect current national security space assets and ensure that the overall architecture fulfills the future needs of the warfighters on the ground.

“We have to be able to defend what we have there that we count on,” she said. “We need to replace the things that are there that require external defense — put things in space that themselves can be defended. And then we need to be able to use space as an enabler for warfighters in other domains.”

But Kathleen Hicks, former principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for policy, said that the next crucial step is for the Space Force and Space Command to figure out what exactly is the mission the US is trying to accomplish in space. She bemoaned the fact that while the debate about the structure of the Space Force has been necessary, there has been little real, in depth thinking about the mission set — which must be determined before attention can be turned to what capabilities are required.

Hicks is not alone in her concerns. Similar questions were raised, for example, in a July study by the Aerospace Corporation called “What Place for Space: Competing Schools of Operational Thought in Space.” And indeed, a number of experts have said that critical to success for the new unified Space Command, led by Air Force Gen. Jay Raymond, and the new Space Force — which also is likely to be headed by Raymond at least at first — will be development of strategy, policy and doctrine.

Rogers, for his part, said that his primary concern over the next year as Congress exercises its oversight functions over the new force will be ensuring against “bureaucratic acquisition mission creep.” He stressed the the Space Force has to be a “lean, agile acquisition system.”

UPDATE BEGINS. Democratic Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Adam Smith, who led the NDAA negotiations, concurred that ensuring that the Space Force doesn’t bloat over time will be a key focus for the HASC.

“The biggest concern is maximize efficiency, minimize the amount of money spent,” Smith told reporters after the forum finished. “We don’t need to create a whole bunch more positions. It’s really a matter of realigning the priorities.”

“You’ll see the details when they come out,” Smith said, but stressed that “we worked in a bipartisan way to try to keep that stuff under control.” 

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