U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson testifies March 7 before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Credit: U.S. Air Force Photo by Wayne Clark

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SN Military.Space Sandra Erwin

It has been a turbulent few days in the Air Force since Secretary Heather Wilson announced on Friday she will be stepping down to become president of the University of Texas El Paso. But that has not slowed down the Space Force Planning Task Force that faces a March 22 deadline to deliver a report to Acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

Leading the task force is John Stopher, principal assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force for space. “The team is aggressively working through all of the important details that have to be completed so the plan can be delivered to the Secretary by March 22,” Stopher told SpaceNews. 

Shanahan in a Feb. 21 memo directed the Air Force to begin the “detailed planning necessary to establish a U.S. Space Force when the legislation proposed by the President is enacted.” Air Force Maj. Gen. Clint Crosier is the director of the task force and reports directly to Stopher.

The report due March 22 should map out the “initial work plan that lays out key phases of transition from pre-establishment to full operational capability,” Wilson said in a Feb. 22 memo. If Congress authorizes the new branch for fiscal year 2020, the Air Force will need to specify the staff that would have to be in place by October 1 to form the Space Force headquarters.

FIVE-YEAR TRANSITION According to a DoD source, the transition plan is broken into five phases over five years. However, it does not address key issues such as the size and organizational structure of the Space Force.

Wilson would continue to be involved in the Space Force planning until her expected departure May 31. Media reports have suggested she resigned over disagreements with the administration — and specifically with Shanahan — over the space reorganization. But officials told SpaceNews that Wilson is leaving simply because she was offered a job she couldn’t refuse.

Sources said Wilson was approached in November by UTEP about the position after the university’s president Diana Natalicio announced her retirement on May 22. A search advisory committee was announced August 30.

WILSON’S ROLE Stopher said Wilson was a central player in efforts to “meet the President’s intent to establish a sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces.” Because of her leadership, he said, “this proposed new branch of service will fall within the Department of the Air Force.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...