White House, Pentagon Detail Massive Shakeup of Space Enterprise
Credit: Defense Dept.
The Defense Department will soon take four major steps toward fulfilling President Donald Trump’s vision for beefing up U.S. space capabilities, with the goal of setting up a new independent branch of the armed forces by 2020, Vice President Mike Pence announced Aug. 9.
In June, Trump ordered the Pentagon to immediately begin the work necessary to set up a “separate but equal” Space Force to oversee the critical warfighting domain.
In an Aug. 9 speech at the Pentagon, Pence said that adversaries such as China and Russia are developing new counter-space capabilities including jammers, missiles and lasers that could threaten critical systems that the U.S. military and intelligence community rely on to carry out their missions.
“The time has come to establish the United States Space Force,” Pence said.
The vice president noted that establishing a new military branch will require congressional approval. The Trump administration plans to request funding to set up the organization in its fiscal year 2020 budget request, slated for release in February. It will also push lawmakers to provide statutory authorities for the Space Force in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. White House officials are already in talks with key lawmakers on the issue, Pence said.
In the meantime, a Defense Department report that was released to coincide with Pence’s speech outlined four immediate actions that will be taken to enhance U.S. military space capabilities and warfighting posture.
The most relevant for industry is the creation of a Space Development Agency to help develop and field new capabilities “at speed and scale,” according to the “Final Report on Organizational and Management Structure for the National Security Space Components of the Department of Defense.” The report was mandated by Congress.
The Pentagon will identify opportunities to move from “dependence on a few independent assets to a proliferated architecture enabled by lower-cost commercial space technology and access,” the report said.
The Space Development Agency will focus on experimentation, prototyping and accelerated fielding. The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office offer models for how the new organization will function as it seeks to rapidly acquire new capabilities, the report said.
“Resources will shift from service space acquisition organizations to the Space Development Agency as soon as practicable,” it added.
The priorities for the agency will be industrial base expansion as well as: breakthroughs designed to “obsolesce” U.S. competitors; technology maturation and systems engineering; lean engineering, manufacturing and support; a streamlined development and acquisition process; and increased acquisition cooperation with the National Reconnaissance Office.
“We must do our part to make bold breakthroughs, strengthen America’s industrial base and deliver the cutting-edge warfighting capabilities faster than our adversaries could ever imagine. And that’s exactly what Americans will do,” Pence said.
The Defense Department envisions a future space architecture that will include a family of systems.
“These systems must be engineered for simplified growth, ease of integration and test, and continuous modernization,” the report said. “This will rely heavily on engineering re-use, modularity and spiraled functionality. Based on the evolution of capability, the Space Development Agency will deploy a production system that has increasing volume, standardization and speed.”
The commercial space industry will play a major role in the initiative, it noted.
The report did not indicate when the Space Development Agency will be up and running.
The other immediate steps to be taken include the establishment of a new combatant command — United States Space Command — that will enable a unified structure led by a four-star officer for command and control of U.S. military space operations. It will ensure force integration across the military and develop warfighting doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures for space operations.
Pence compared the move to the earlier establishment of Special Operations Command to unify the services’ special operator components. The new outfit is expected to be created by the end of the year.
Additionally, a cadre of experts from across the military services will form a Space Operations Force that will be managed as one community. They will “provide the human capital needed to develop, field and integrate space capabilities into multi-domain warfighting,” the report said.
Another part of the wide-ranging organizational shakeup will include the creation of a new civilian position — assistant secretary of defense for space — to manage the process of standing up and scaling up the new Department of the Space Force.
“Creating a new branch of the military is not a simple process,” Pence said.
The official will report to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and oversee the growth and expansion of the new branch until a fully independent secretary of the space force is in place, he said.
Key lawmakers voiced support for the plan.
“We are glad the Pentagon is finally taking these steps in enhancing our space strength,” House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and Ranking Member Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., said in a bipartisan statement.
“This new report … will be helpful in speeding up acquisitions of more advanced systems, as well as giving our space professionals more clout,” they added. “We … look forward to the establishment of a much-needed independent Space Force, as called for by President Trump.”
Todd Harrison, director of the aerospace security project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he believes the Pentagon has the authority to take the initial steps outlined in the report without congressional authorization.
“They can at least start the process and then go back and get the authorization before the ink is really dry because it’s going to take at least a year to stand up a lot of these things,” he said.
It’s unclear how much support the creation of an independent Space Force will have in Congress, he said, while noting that the Rogers-Cooper bipartisan statement was noteworthy.
“In the House there’s definitely support because they’ve already passed something like this in the past,” but it’s less clear how much backing it would have in the Senate, he added.
The results of the midterm elections could affect the future of the Space Force initiative, he noted. “There’s the potential that if Democrats take control of one chamber that this could come to be viewed as Trump’s Space Force, and then generate opposition because of that.”
Mattis and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson have previously expressed opposition to the creation of an independent Space Force, arguing that it would add unnecessary bureaucracy to the space enterprise.
In his remarks, Pence seemed to issue a warning to the Defense Department not to slow-roll or impede Trump’s push for a new military branch.
“Your commander in chief is going to continue to work tirelessly toward this goal and we expect you all to do the same,” Pence said.
“To all the men and women of this department, this is the moment, now is the time to act quickly using all the tools at your disposal to lead our nation forward with President Trump’s vision,” he added. “The only thing we can’t afford is inaction.”