JUST IN: Biden Administration Urged to Boost Space Force S&T Funding
President Joe Biden’s administration should infuse the burgeoning Space Force — which recently celebrated its first birthday — with a substantial increase in science-and-technology funding, one expert said Jan. 27.
“Space had been starved for core S&T research-and-development dollars and it never recovered post sequestration,” said Peter Garretson, senior fellow in defense studies at the American Foreign Policy Council. “Even today the largest core S&T funding of the Space Force is only about a quarter of a billion dollars.”
Just to “tread water,” the S&T budget of the new service — which is nestled under the Department of the Air Force — needs to be quadrupled, he said during an online panel discussion hosted by Politico.
The Space Force should receive $500 million to $800 million more for these efforts across the future years defense program, he added.
However, with future budgets projected to remain flat or decline in coming years, the U.S. military will face fiscal contraints.
Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., noted that “there are continuing cries to raid the defense budget to pay for other needs."
Cooper is chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee which oversees U.S. military space programs as part of its portfolio.
However, because of the economic fallout from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many economists believe there is a need for massive government stimulus funding. That could benefit the space sector, Cooper noted.
“There’s an opportunity now to build on infrastructure needs of our nation, and space is the infrastructure of infrastructure. You really can't do anything without a capable space network,” he said.
Meanwhile, the panelists noted the importance of acquisition reform within the Space Force. Service leaders have said they intend for the organization to be agile in onboarding emerging technology.
For example, the service’s forthcoming Space Systems Command is intended to serve as an umbrella organization for acquisition, said Victoria Samson, director of the Secure World Foundation’s Washington Office. The Secure World Foundation is a nonprofit that works with governments, industry, international organizations and civil society to promote ideas and actions that contribute to "secure, sustainable and peaceful" uses of space, according to the organization's website.
“How that evolves is going to be really important,” she said of Space Systems Command. “There's over 60 entities that have a say in space acquisition, [and the] Space Force added a couple more. So we're going to see how that actually pans out.”
Cooper said there is a need to simplify acquisition for the service.
Acquisition issues have been a perennial problem in the Pentagon, but “with the fresh start and the new look and the new culture that's being established in the Space Force, we have the best possible opportunity to clean things up," he said.
However, Cooper noted that the Air Force and Space Force are late in submitting a congressionally mandated space acquisition report to lawmakers.
“I plan on holding hearings on that to see if we can get them to comply with the law,” he said. “It's a top priority. And not just the speed of acquisition, but the capability of the asset that is being acquired.”
Garretson noted there are reasons for both optimism and pessimism when it comes to acquisition reform.
“On one hand, you have basically taken an organization with an existing culture, grafted it over, asked it to do something new, but the incentives to do something new are comparatively weak compared to the structural incentives, vetoes, and the many people that get to put their hands in it,” he said.
On the other hand, initiatives such as Space Pitch Day, AFWERX, the Defense Innovation Unit and other programs aimed at helping the Pentagon work with the commercial sector are paying dividends, he said.