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The Air Force space budget is taking a hit as a result of the Pentagon reprogramming $1.5 billion from fiscal 2019 funds to pay for President Trump’s wall along the U. S-Mexico border. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan approved the transfer. The Pentagon announced on Friday that the reprogramming was needed to handle the “crisis along our southwest border” and a need to “deny drug smuggling activities.”
The $1.5 billion was pulled from multiple accounts — $681.5 million from two Overseas Contingency Operations funds appropriated for war efforts and $818.5 million from DoD’s fiscal year 2019 appropriations. Shanahan’s move has infuriated Democrats on the appropriations committees who see this action as an end run around Congress’ power of the purse.
Funds are being reprogrammed from personnel and procurement accounts, including $209.7 million from the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program (recently renamed National Security Space Launch) that funds satellite launches. DoD says the funds are available because of the cancellation of the Space Test Program (STP-4) mission. The transfer includes $44.9 million from the EELV Launch Capability accounts (funds paid directly to ULA to support Air Force requirements) and $164.8 million from the account designated for EELV launch services.
The STP-4 mission, originally scheduled for April 2021, was for the launch of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites vehicle that the agency was developing in partnership with Maxar’s SSL division. The Air Force last summer fought to get funding for the launch restored after Senate appropriators in July 2018 proposed a $300 million cut from the Air Force EELV budget because the launch money for STP-4 was “early to need.” As things turned out, the Air Force got the money for the launch but Maxar pulled out of the program in January and the mission was canceled, creating an easy pot of money for DoD to grab.