WASHINGTON — House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said Nov. 13 that negotiations on the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act are “proceeding reasonably well” but he expressed doubt that the NDAA will include language to authorize a Space Force as a separate military branch.

“It’s still possible but by no means guaranteed,” Smith told reporters on Capitol Hill.

When asked for specifics, Smith said, “I don’t think it would be helpful for me to make predictions.”

The biggest sticking point in the NDAA negotiations is language in the House version of the bill that restricts the use of military funds to pay for the wall that President Trump wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border.

There are other dealbreaker issues. The authorization of a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces is one of them, Smith said. Other contentious matters include extending the “war powers” legislation that authorizes the president to use military force, and allowing transgender people to serve in the military.

Smith said the House and Senate NDAA conference in recent weeks worked on compromise language on hundreds of provisions and “reduced the stack significantly, and we’re down to a few really contentious issues.”

He characterized the Space Force as a “higher echelon” issue that is proving divisive. Both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate continue to have reservations about the administration’s Space Force proposal, said Smith. “There is bipartisan concern on the proposal and bicameral concern about the specifics of that proposal.”

The House version of the NDAA creates a Space Corps and is closer aligned with what the administration proposed. The Senate bill would rename the Air Force Space Command the U.S. Space Force and does not specifically authorize a sixth branch of the armed forces.

Smith noted that the House has been a proponent of a military space branch since 2017 while the Senate had adamantly opposed it. “In their bill they didn’t have the same language that we did. But the president has persuaded them to look at it differently.”

A central concern on both sides is not knowing how much a Space Force will cost and the details of how it will be organized, said Smith. “There are still a lot of people in the House and in the Senate who are worried about it, on the specifics of how it’s implemented, how much does it cost, how much more bureaucracy does it put in,” he said. “These are all things that have to be negotiated,” Smith added. “These are deep concerns that are justifiable, and we have to address those.”

Smith would not predict how long it will take to reach a final compromise on the NDAA. But he was insistent that the House will not support a Senate Armed Services Committee proposal to pass a stripped down “skinny” NDAA. “A skinny bill does not address the issues,” said Smith. “That has no support in the House at all.”

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...