Long-Term Space Program Spending Falls Short
Photo: Air Force
The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget request calls for a major boost in military space program funding. But spending plans indicate that investments could dip in subsequent years, according to one expert.
Senior officials have been touting efforts to beef up U.S. space capabilities and establish a new space force for the Defense Department. But the Pentagon’s five-year budget blueprint shows a “surprising” trend, said Mike Tierney, a budget analyst and consultant for Velos, a Maryland-based defense, aerospace and intelligence consulting firm.
In the 2020 request, major force program, or MFP-12, initiatives received a 22.8 percent increase over 2019 requested levels. The $9.9 billion requested is 21 percent more than the $8.3 billion that Congress appropriated for 2019, according to Tierney’s data charts.
“These increases are really only getting the space portfolio back to the level that it had been prior to sequestration” which was triggered in 2013, he noted. “Space was not spared from that at all, and we are now kind of on the upswing from the valley.”
However, despite the growing emphasis on space as a warfighting domain, Tierney’s analysis of Pentagon spending plans shows that funding would decline after 2020.
Relative to the 2020 request, projections for 2021 anticipate a 6.2 percent reduction — down to $9.3 billion — for the MFP-12 programs that Velos tracks.
Spending would also be lower in 2022 and 2023, with projected reductions of 4.1 percent and 1.6 percent below 2020 requested levels, respectively.
Projections for 2024 show an 11.8 percent increase — up to $11.1 billion — over 2020 levels, but that is primarily due to a growth in spending on the next-generation overhead persistent infrared satellite program, he said.
“This dip in FY ‘21-FY ‘23 is surprising,” Tierney said. “However, I would be surprised if the FY ‘21 request, when ultimately submitted next year, does not at least match this year’s request. A year-over-year decrease narrative would be misaligned to broader Department of Defense policy priorities on space investments.”
For its next budget submission, “the department is likely to pull funding to the left in the [future years defense program] — that is, move funding projected in this request as FY ‘22/FY ‘23 money into the FY ‘21 column — in order to sustain overall portfolio funding levels,” he explained.
The Pentagon is more likely to adjust funding in order to sustain an overall positive trajectory than to submit a 2021 budget request with a 6 percent decrease in spending for MFP-12 space programs, he said. “But I’ve been surprised before.”