This article was first published in the SN Military.Space newsletter. If you would like to get our news and insights for national security space professionals every Tuesday, sign up here for your free subscription.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson’s Space Force proposal dropped on the first day of the Air Force Association’s Air Space Cyber symposium, and it took the community by storm. An earlier critic of a separate service for space, she now says DoD should put forth a proposal to Congress to stand up a Space Force “the right way,” and not with “half-measures.”
On Monday we finally understood what she was talking about.
THE BACK STORY Last week, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan issued a memo requesting Wilson and Undersecretary for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin to recommend concepts for a Space Development Agency. But Wilson came back with a full-on proposal not just for the SDA but for the Department of the Space Force, laying out in detail how the force should be organized and what its missions should be.
For the first time we see a cost estimate: $13 billion over five years, and a force size of 13,000 personnel. Notably, Wilson articulates a strategic vision for the Space Force and explains what it would do, something that had been missing from the debate since Trump thrust the Space Force into the spotlight six months ago.
REACTION MIXED After the news broke, I heard from space insiders trying to read between the lines of Wilson’s proposal. One observed that the former congresswoman from New Mexico, regardless of whether one agrees with her ideas, is being politically astute.
“The Air Force seems to have gotten out front first here, but that does not mean they have won the ‘scrum,’” one observer said. ‘There is still much messy pushing and shoving to go.”
Another expert speculated that Wilson had purposely piled on so many layers and features into her proposal to make it less likely that Congress will want to embark on a politically fraught effort. “It sounds to me like it’s a poison pill,” the expert observed. “A classic case of saying you’re supporting something while actively working to undermine it.”
Another commenter: “She made it so big and ‘bold’ to ensure lots of opposition in Congress. .. She included as many non-Air Force things as she could that already have congressional patrons of their own, who would otherwise probably vote for a Space Force. The plan would be to grow votes for Space Force into votes against it.”
Not a subscriber? Let’s fix that.