Pentagon Faces 'Intimidating' Process to Create Space Force

By Mandy Mayfield

Photo: iStock

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Creating the new Space Force that President Donald Trump has proposed is an "intimidating" challenge, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said Sept. 19.


In June, Trump called for the creation of a new space-focused military branch that would be "separate but equal" to the other services. Shanahan, who is leading the charge to establish the new organization, said the Defense Department is still struggling to determine the best way to go about it.


“We are really wrestling with the ‘how,'" Shanahan said at the Air Force Association's Air, Space and Cyber conference in National Harbor, Maryland.


Shanahan suggested there is disagreement between different components of the Pentagon bureaucracy about the road ahead.


"We come at these [issues] with the Space Force from a lot of different directions,” he noted.  “There is no group think. ... It's not like we all come together and say, ‘You know this has been really straightforward, we are just going to pop in the old playbook here and write this proposal.'”


The Defense Department is under pressure to create the new service in a “very short period of time" with little historical precedent, he said.


“It’s been since 1947 that an exercise like this has been undertaken," he said referring to the creation of the Air Force as a separate branch from the Army. "The playbook is out of date."


The Trump administration plans to submit the legislative proposal for the Space Force to Congress in February, Shanahan said. Lawmakers must authorize the creation of a new military branch.


In August, Vice President Mike Pence outlined the administration’s vision for moving forward, which would include standing up a new combatant command for space operations and a Space Development Agency to help speed the acquisition of new capabilities. 


Although it is still unclear how much the proposed Space Force would ultimately cost, the Air Force recently estimated that the price tag could be about $13 billion over the next five years, according to a Sept. 14 memo from Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson that was leaked to media outlets.


During a meeting with reporters at the AFA conference Sept. 19, Wilson said the cost could be even higher.


"With the respect to the cost information, that was developed by the Air Force cost and analysis folks that do our planning to look at what would be required for a separate service," she said. "All of those numbers are additive [to what the Pentagon is already spending on space]. ... They were descried to me as being conservative. So it is a conservative number.” 


However, Shanahan said the new department's headquarters will be “lean.”


“Its headquarters will be lean with every possible resource devoted to enhancing our capabilities,” he said. "Along the way, we will do no harm to existing missions … and remain laser-focused on our warfighters and the capabilities they need to win.”


The role of the Space and Missile Systems Center — which is currently tasked with developing, acquiring, fielding and sustaining military space systems — will not change, Shanahan said.


Despite the challenges involved in the bureaucratic shakeup, Shanahan ended his remarks on an optimistic note.


“Together we’re working to create a Space Force, which as you might imagine is a complicated process," he said. "But while there's plenty of debate about the 'how,' we are united by the 'why' —protecting our economy and deterring our adversaries."


Topics: Defense Department, Space

Comments (0)

Retype the CAPTCHA code from the image
Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Please enter the text displayed in the image.