Air Force leaders enthused as Space Force legislation heads to House floor
LOS ANGELES — A bipartisan deal struck between congressional leaders and the White House would allow the Defense Department to establish a U.S. Space Force as a separate military branch. The compromise language in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 will be introduced Dec. 9 and a House vote is scheduled for Dec. 11, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), told attendees at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley.
Under a deal first reported Dec. 6 by the Wall Street Journal, the White House agreed to grant 12 weeks of paid parental leave to all federal workers in exchange for the Space Force authorization, which has been a high priority for the Trump administration.
“Space Force has been agreed upon for a couple of months as far as the structure,” Rogers said Dec. 7 at the Reagan forum.
Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, speaking on a panel alongside Rogers, said the Air Force will be ready to start organizing the new branch as soon as legislation is signed. The Space Force would be an independent branch but nested inside the Department of the Air Force, the same way the Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy.
A DoD source told SpaceNews that the proposed language would authorize a civilian leader for the Space Force who would report to Barrett and also would create a Senate-confirmable post to oversee Space Force acquisitions.
“We are going to see what the NDAA includes. There is a war room that has started to meet to work this out,” Barrett said. “The whole team is very much devoted to the idea that this is a serious business and we have to get this done … We are going to get this as close to right from the beginning.”
The DoD source said Barrett has been closely monitoring the Air Force’s preparations to stand up a Space Force even though service leaders were not involved in the final negotiations between lawmakers and the White House. According to the source, Barrett is enthusiastic about the prospect of leading a space service and has spoken about it as a historic event and an extraordinary moment for the nation. A new military service has not been created since 1947 when the Air Force was spun off from the Army.
At the Reagan forum, Barrett said: “America has more to lose if there is malicious behavior in space. Where we are is ahead but that lead is shrinking. It is time for us to move forward with the Space Force.”
Rogers, a central player who has advocated for a space service for years, long before Trump embraced the issue, said he was relieved to hear that a compromise had been reached.
“I’ve been glowing for the last day,” he said.
“We have allowed China and Russia to become our peers, not our near peers and that’s unacceptable,” Rogers said. “We have been doing some things short of the Space Force. I feel good but I will feel a lot better in about three or four years.”
Since the administration began its push to create a space service, many lawmakers raised objections due to the cost, estimated to be anywhere from $500 million to $2 billion a year. But Rogers insisted that the Air Force should not do it on the cheap. “We want the secretary to create the best Space Force the world has ever seen,” he said. “If she needs more, tell us and that’s our problem.”
Rogers said he hopes the Space Force will not be loaded with bureaucracy and will serve as a model for the other services. “Space Force can be done leanly,” he said. “We can then replicate that in the other services.”
Barrett agreed. “There are ways to do this badly. What we need is capability. We need assets in space not a vast bureaucracy,” she said. “We don’t need duplicate acquisition programs. We need to inspire people. People want to be associated with the Space Force. It’s a renewed excitement. We need to be moving quickly in acquisitions, we need efficient systems to get that done.”
Size, cost to remain contentious issues
Jamie Morin, vice president of the Aerospace Corp. and a former Pentagon budget official, said Congress will insist on the Space Force being “light and lean” but the flip side is that space advocates want to make sure the new branch is not too tiny that it’s overpowered by the other much larger services.
“Folks want a lean force but also believe the Space Force has to elevate the voice of the space community. There is tension between those two priorities,” Morin told SpaceNews Dec. 6 at the RAND Corp. in Los Angeles, where he led a panel discussion with senior Air Force leaders.
The vice commander of Air Force Space Command Lt. Gen. David Thompson said the Space Force “has to be effective inside the national security environment from day one.” That will be a challenge because it will be the smallest branch, he said. “It’s going to be a lightweight in a ring full of sumo wrestlers,” he added. “We have to create enough mass in the organization. We can’t worship efficiency if it means it’s going to create a struggle for this organization to integrate with the rest of the national security organizations.”
Maj. Gen. Clinton Crosier, a strategist on the Air Staff, has been in charge of planning the transition and laying out options for how the Space Force should be structured. Speaking at the RAND conference, Crosier said that regardless of what size and resources Congress authorizes, for the Space Force to be successful it has to focus on creating a culture that focuses entirely on space.
“The central point is that we need a cadre of people who grow up and spend their whole careers learning and thinking: ‘how we dogfight in space,’” said Crosier. “Our adversaries have things on orbit that are looking at ways to do harm to our systems.”
The main focus has to be on “what are the things we need to do to create a culture, an ethos, a structure of people that spend every day thinking about space?” Crosier said.
To keep costs from ballooning, the Air Force will try to minimize overhead and share resources, he said. “We don’t need to duplicate and replicate all the infrastructure of the Air Force like personnel processes and base operating functions. Let’s focus on where we’re different.”
Crosier said the Air Force and RAND worked on a study on what makes a military service truly independent. “We looked at 35 militaries around the globe,” he said. “In all cases we found there are three things common in every case: The abilty to control their own doctrine, resources and personnel.”
Crosier said he supports language in the House version of the NDAA that authorizes the Space Force to develop alternate acquisition processes to ensure programs move fast and are not bogged down by Pentagon red tape.
The commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, Lt. Gen. John Thompson, said the start of a new service is an opportune time to question business as usual. “Now is the time to consider alternative models to acquisition,” he said. “Under a new Space Force model, we look forward to experimenting to get after things like non traditional innovation.”
Thompson told SpaceNews he does not expect the transition to a Space Force to disrupt programs at SMC.
“We’re really excited about some sort of Space Force legislation that enables us to get going,” Thompson said.