BUDGET 2021: Pentagon Rolls Out First Space Force Budget
The newest member of the armed services, the Space Force, received its first budget from the Trump administration as a “separate but co-equal” branch of the U.S. military, asking for $15.4 billion in fiscal year 2021.
The increase over the $14.5 billion enacted in fiscal year 2020 comes with one caveat: some $800 million in the military personnel account remains for the time being in the Air Force. Civilian billets, however, are included under the Space Force budget with $11.4 million in pay and a one percent raise proposed for 2021.
The Space Force’s first budget request was a “key step in the effort to aggressively develop the necessary space capabilities, warfighting doctrine and expertise required to outpace the future threats,” Maj. Gen. John M. Pletcher, deputy assistant secretary for budget in the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for financial management and comptroller, told reporters.
The Pentagon for the 2021 budget proposal tried to come up with “apples-to-apples” comparisons of its new separate budget and what the Air Force received in 2020, Pletcher said. It reflected a boost of $900 million in spending, the fourth straight year of increases, he added.
The breakdown of the remaining budget items includes: $2.5 billion in operations and maintenance, a slight decrease from the $2.5 billion enacted in 2020; $10.3 billion for research development, test and evaluation, an increase of $500 million over 2020; and $2.4 billion in procurement, the same as 2020.
Matt Vallone, a budget analyst with the global consulting firm Avascent, said the way the Defense Department is slowly rolling out the establishment of the Space Force is healthy. "That is probably a good way of going forward.”
The RDT&E budget is by far the largest slice of the Space Force’s budget pie as it embarks on several new initiatives to transform its architecture into something more survivable.
The next-generation overhead persistent infrared satellite system, designed to track nuclear missiles, is in the Space Force RDT&E budget at $2.3 billion, a large increase over the $1.4 billion enacted in 2020.
It will replace the current space-based infrared systems “to provide missile warning a battlespace awareness that is resilient and survivable against emerging threats,” Pletcher said. However, the legacy SBIRS program is slated to receive $105 million in 2021 to serve as a bridge to the new program, he added.
Much of what the Air Force — and now the Space Force — and its intelligence agency counterpart the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) — develops and procures in the space realm is classified, it should be noted. Pletcher could not provide many more details of the R&D budget because much of it is top secret.
As for procurement, the Space Force is proposing the purchase of two Lockheed Martin-built GPS III Follow-On satellites. It also seeks to contract for three launch vehicles for a total of $1 billion, which includes NRO missions.
Other line items include some $108 million for two new facilities under the military construction budget and a modest $77 million in overseas contingency operations money, which funds “counterspace operations, Space-Based Infrared System and satellite communications,” according to budget documents.
Pletcher said other service’s space capabilities — as well as the newly established Space Development Agency, which is under the office of the secretary of defense — will be integrated in future years.
Pletcher emphasized that the Air Force will continue to pay a lot of the Space Force’s bills in a category he called “Blue for Space.” That includes everything from facility upkeep to waste management, he added.
Vallone said a slow integration is preferable. “It gives them some time and space to get up and running before they get bogged down with everything.”
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