WASHINGTON — The House Armed Services Committee in its version of the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act — passed after midnight Wednesday by a vote of 60-1 — pushes forward with the reorganization of military space forces. The proposal sets the stage for further debate over the coming months as the HASC language moves toward a House vote and a House-Senate conference this fall.

The committee swiftly approved the recommendations of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee on military space reforms. One is to establish a subordinate unified Space Command under U.S. Strategic Command. Another provision calls for the secretary of the Air Force to establish a new numbered Air Force dedicated to space warfighting. The bill also directs the deputy secretary of defense to develop a plan to establish a separate acquisition system for military space vehicles, ground systems and terminals.

Unlike last year’s bill, this one does not mandate the establishment of a separate space corps in the U.S. military. That proposal is on hold pending the completion of an independent study mandated in the 2018 NDAA.

The only obstacle in this year’s push to reorganize space was an amendment introduced by Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee Chairman Mike Turner to delay the creation of a sub-unified space command until after the Pentagon submits the independent study.

Turner was the chairman of Strategic Forces before Rep. Mike Rogers took over.  His amendment would allow the secretary of defense to waive the requirement for the creation of a subordinate unified command if the study provided an alternative that congressional leaders found acceptable.

Rogers and Ranking Democrat Rep. Jim Cooper pushed back fiercely during the committee markup, and Turner’s amendment was rejected by voice vote.

Turner could reintroduce the amendment before the full House vote but he would face tough odds. The Rules Committee would take the HASC rejection into account before allowing the amendment to get to the House floor.

“This committee continues to place a high priority on following through with fixing the significant flaws in the organization and management of national security space enterprise,” Rogers said during the markup on Wednesday.  “We continue to work with DoD on the report, but we recognize Congress has to continue to place significant pressure on the bureaucracy.”

Rogers said he and Cooper “remain committed to laying the foundation” for a future space force. Creating a new numbered air force for space would increase the ranks of space warfighters, he said. A sub unified command “will further normalize space warfighting operations within the department.”

Cooper said the HASC mark “continues our efforts to define space as a war fighting domain.” It is “vital to make space one of our highness priorities.”

The timing of the DoD report, however, raises questions about how the conclusions of the study would shape NDAA provisions. Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters last month that the report would be submitted in August. But Rogers pointed out the deadline is December.

Turner said his amendment was not an attempt to kill the space corps but to make sure the DoD study findings were taken into account. “We’re in the process of awaiting the report we asked for. And we’re jumping  forward in this mark and directing DoD to conduct a reorganization while DoD is studying a reorganization,” Turner argued. “We have not gotten their answer but we’re moving forward anyway.”

Rogers insisted that, regardless of what the final report states, “there’s still things in space that have to be fixed.” If the report recommends creating a space corps, “the transition takes time,” said Rogers. “Some things need to be done immediately, like acquisition, like normalizing forces under Strategic Command. … We need to bring back advocacy in this domain.”

Cooper blasted Turner during the discussion on his amendment. “The gentleman opposed the space force last year. He is trying to oppose it this year again. The gentleman is trying to slow walk the work of the subcommittee,” Cooper said. “We’ve been working with Shanahan, we’re impressed with his work.”

A sub-unified command would mark an initial step toward bringing back a unified U.S. Space Command as it existed between 1985 and 2002. “We need to get back on track,” said Cooper. “This will help America prepare for the threats we’re facing.”

Turner pushed back. “I’m not opposed” to a space force. “I’m for a legislative process. We have not had a hearing on a unified command.”

Rep. John Garamendi jumped in to argue against Turner’s amendment. “We have had seven hearings on this. They all made the same point: We’re not prepared to defend this nation’s space assets in part because we’re not organized to do so.” Turner’s amendment “will delay the implementation of a sub-unified command.
We need to organize our military to defend space assets.”

Other highlights from the markup (courtesy of the consulting firm Velos) on proposals that won approval:

• An amendment by Rep. Doug Lamborn provides training and career development for the civilian and military members of the Air Force’s space cadre.

• Another Lamborn amendment on the transfer of commercial imagery responsibilities from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency to the National Reconnaissance Office calls for the recognition of the need to maintain warfighter capabilities, reliable performance and quality support. The amendment also identifies commercial synthetic aperture radar imagery as a useful capability in all weather environments.

• An amendment by Rep. Donald Norcross requires DoD and the Air Force to designate a coordinator for commercially hosted payloads.

• An amendment by Rep. Robert Bishop expands the scope of a mandated report regarding the industrial base for large solid rocket motors to include motors of any size.

• An amendment by Rep. Duncan Hunter directs the secretary of the Navy to provide a briefing on validated requirements for currently deployed satellite communications terminals, and a plan for quickly fielding commercially available, secure, lightweight, satellite communications terminals.

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...