WASHINGTON — The House Appropriations Committee in a report accompanying the fiscal year 2023 defense appropriations bill warned about schedule and cost risks in Space Force acquisition programs. 

“The Space Force’s ambitious plans for new architectures, programs and mission areas do not appear to be backed up with credible budget projections in the outyears to actually deliver these capabilities,” said the committee in an explanatory statement released June 21. 

The committee on Wednesday will mark up a $761.6 billion defense funding bill, which was advanced by the defense appropriations subcommittee on June 15.

The Space Force’s 2023 budget request of $24.5 billion is projected to increase slightly in fiscal year 2024 and then decline through fiscal year 2027, the committee noted. Given that funding outlook, appropriators caution the Space Force “against starting more programs than it can afford.”

The lack of a credible five-year budget, the report said, “raises fundamental questions about whether any serious analysis or long-term planning has been done to assess the realism and affordability of the entire portfolio of programs.”

Appropriators direct the Space Force to conduct a “rigorous technical analysis matched with executable plans resourced by realistic budgets.” The current plan “does not meet this expectation particularly with respect to aligning priorities within realistic budgets.”

The committee criticized the Space Force’s fiscal year 2023 budget request for failing to clearly lay out long-term cost, risks, uncertainties, and potential alternatives to proposed new acquisitions. 

“The current plan does not meet this expectation particularly with respect to aligning priorities within realistic budgets,” said the report, which directs the secretary of the Air Force to submit a report to congressional committees on the projected cost, affordability and executability of the full portfolio of classified and unclassified Space Force programs.

Appropriators raised red flags about the Space Force’s missile-warning satellite programs, for which the service requested $4.5 billion in the fiscal year 2023 budget.

The largest program is the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) constellation of geostationary and polar orbit satellites. The Space Force requested nearly $3.5 billion for Next-Gen OPIR, an increase of $1.1 billion over 2022 funding. 

In addition, the Space Force is requesting $1 billion to start a new program called Resilient Missile Warning-Missile Tracking system, which combines the Space Development Agency’s missile-tracking satellites to be deployed in low Earth orbit, and a new Space Force procurement of missile-tracking satellites in medium Earth orbit.

“The Committee recognizes that the Space Force is pivoting away from relying on a small number of exquisite, yet vulnerable, satellites to a more proliferated and diverse architecture of smaller satellites in various orbits,” said the HAC report. 

“While the committee supports the intent of the pivot, the Space Force has not provided sufficient information on the expected life-cycle cost of the new architecture, the cost to recapitalize a proliferated architecture every 3 to 5 years, potential risks and challenges in the supply chain, the ability of the Space Force to scale up capabilities to command and control a much larger number of satellites.”

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...