JUST IN: Budget Deal Could ‘Throttle Back’ Space Force as it Enters New Phase
A potentially reduced budget could result in cutbacks and limitations for the Space Force as it starts to move from its establishment phase to providing capabilities to the services, a senior service leader said June 12.
The recent debt ceiling agreement struck between the Biden administration and Congress would cap Space Force budget increases to 3.3 percent over the next year, according to budget documents. That does not keep up with inflation and would effectively result in a funding cut.
Gen. David Thompson, Space Force vice chief of operations, said the cuts will hurt, especially as the service seeks to provide capabilities to other parts of the military.
“The department may need to look at its priorities for various investments. Or we will have to throttle the growth that we've seen and the delivery of capabilities,” Thompson said during a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies webinar.
“It will simply be incumbent on us to make sure that our leaders inside the Department of Defense in the White House and Congress understand the risks we'll take if, in fact, we cannot continue that,” he added.
Kevin Chilton, explorer chair at the Mitchell Institute said space is a “growth industry, not only from the hardware perspective required to do that, but from the manpower perspective required.”
The problem is that the current budget deal does not keep up with the rate of inflation and will reduce the Space Force’s buying power over the next two crucial years, he said.
Thompson said both houses of Congress and the Defense Department have recognized the need to resource more space missions to become increasingly secure and independent.
“The department may need to look at its priorities for various investments or we will have to throw out all the growth that we have seen and the delivery of capabilities,” Thompson said.
The Space Force’s fiscal year 2024 budget request is $30 billion, which is $3.9 billion more than Congress gave the service in the 2023 budget. The Space Force is seeking to increase its spend on growth areas ranging from research and development to modernization.
The budget issue comes at a critical time as the Space Force transitions from its “establishment phase,” Thompson said.
“I would say we are very much clearly in the next chapter of the Space Force,” he said.
The first phase did “a whole lot in terms of the blueprint for the force [and] making sure the force was resourced, getting some of the foundational functions and roles and responsibilities in place,” he said.
Now the Space Force wants to build on that foundation and deliver on capabilities “and the promises that we've made as part of the establishment,” he said.
One priority item the Space Force wants to boost in its next phase is situational awareness in the area near the moon, also known as the cislunar region.
“As the human race continues to expand out into the solar system, and first the moon and beyond, we believe our responsibility is to understand what's happening in a domain,” Thompson said. “We've done a couple of things right now. It's absolutely vital that everything that's happening applies to near Earth, I'll say, up and around geosynchronous orbit below, but rapidly expanding out into the lunar space.”
By partnering with NASA, various universities and institutions, the Space Force aims to expand farther into lunar space.
“We’re talking with NASA about how to navigate around the moon, and we have a responsibility there. How do we communicate, and how do we make sure that we can, and they can, effectively?” Thompson said.
In addition, the Air Force Research Laboratory has advanced into its final stages of developing a sensor that would be flown into cislunar space before 2030, Thompson said.