Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Credit: HASC

WASHINGTON — House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act proposes adding $75 million to the Pentagon’s budget for “tactically responsive space,” a program that funds small-satellite launch experiments and demonstrations.

Smith on June 20 released his version of the NDAA, or chairman’s mark. The bill authorizes $772.5 billion for the Defense Department, in line with the Biden administration’s $773 billion request, but less than the $817 billion proposed by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The House Armed Services Committee will mark up its version of the NDAA on June 22. 

Smith in the 2023 NDAA directs the Space Force to consider new ways to acquire national security space launch services. And he continues to press DoD to fund a program known as “tactically responsive space” — a catchphrase for rapid access to commercial launch vehicles that can be rapidly integrated with payloads and launched during a conflict or a crisis to replace a damaged satellite or augment existing constellations. 

The Space Force last year demonstrated a tactically responsive launch mission called TacRL-2. A satellite launch that normally would have taken two to five years to plan and executive was accomplished in 11 months.

The HASC wants the Space Force to step up these efforts and shorten the timelines for launching small satellites in preparation for conflicts when adversaries might target U.S. constellations. Smith’s bill directs the Space Force to figure out processes and contracting arrangements with providers so space missions can be quickly turned around. 

“The Chief of Space Operations should formalize tactically responsive requirements for all space capabilities” that the Defense Department performs, the bill says. 

Congress in recent years has added funding for tactically responsive launch — $15 million in 2020, $50 million in 2021 and another $50 million in 2022. A group of lawmakers is pushing to increase funding to $150 million in 2023.

A HASC staff member suggested $150 million would be excessive as DoD is “still working through some of that money” that was added last year. 

“Jumping up to $150 million this year, we just didn’t see the full justification for that,” the committee staff member said. “But we did think it was important to continue the efforts and that’s why we kind of went with the middle, which is more than was appropriated last year.”

As to why DoD has not formally requested funding for this program, the staff member said: “I think that the Space Force and particularly the Space Systems Command are still figuring out what the breadth of the tactically responsive space program looks like.”

Tactically responsive space concepts have for the most part been focused on the launch piece, looking at small launch providers, the committee staffer said. “But I think that they’re trying to take a larger look at that” to include the timelines for the development of payloads and the integration of payloads and launch vehicles. 

“I can’t speak to why they are not funding it in the program line like we have been the past several years,” the staffer said. “Perhaps they think that we will just continue to do that.”

The HASC chairman’s mark says the Space Force “should consider adding a corresponding budget line item for ‘tactically responsive space’ to fund areas beyond launch that would contribute to responsive space activities.” It also asks for a report, “including a detailed budget plan for launch activities and all other efforts needed to enable tactically responsive space capabilities.”

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...