Independent study raises red flags about Space Force as a separate military department
WASHINGTON — In a study mandated by Congress, independent analysts were asked to develop a plan to establish a Space Force as a separate military department. In a summary of their final report, analysts from the Center for Naval Analyses cautioned that there are many possible ways to design a Space Force, but ”we cannot definitively know before it is implemented that any design will produce the expected benefits.”
According to an unclassified executive summary of the study obtained by SpaceNews, CNA would recommend creating a department from existing portions of the Air Force, Army, Navy, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The study says the Space Force also should have centralized procurement of commercial space products and services such as imagery and satellite communications, the study proposes.
Most of the contents of the CNA report are classified. The executive summary is labeled “unclassified” and some of the charts were redacted. CNA proposed designing a Space Force with a “lean headquarters” but that still would require 400 additional staff and resources such as information technology, business systems, training and education, outfitting and rebranding, and expert advice from private consultants — at a cost of up to $4.5 billion over five years. This estimate is slightly lower than the one produced by Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in September. She projected costs of $13 billion over five years for both a Department of the Space Force and for U.S. Space Command, with the department accounting for about half.
CNA estimated that about 70 acquisition, research and development programs would be transferred to the Space Force, giving it a budget authority of $29 billion.
The CNA study is one of the space-related reviews mandated in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. It directed the deputy secretary of defense to contract with a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) without close ties to the Air Force to “develop a plan to establish a separate military department responsible for the national security space activities of the Department of Defense.” CNA, the sole FFRDC for the Department of the Navy, was selected to develop the plan.
The study said a Space Force would have 16,000 to 19,000 combined active duty and military personnel. By comparison, the smallest military service today, the Marine Corps, has 186,000 active-duty troops and is organized under the Department of the Navy.
Because of the small size of the Space Force, lawmakers and experts have argued that the new branch should be organized under the Department of the Air Force. The Pentagon reportedly also favors that option. The CNA report noted that by explicit NDAA mandate, it focused exclusively on a plan for a separate military department.
Some of the recommendations from the executive summary:
• Space Force responsibilities should include space-based reconnaissance activities currently conducted by the National Reconnaissance Office. “We recommend the transfer of NRO activities to the new department.” But analysts acknowledged some intelligence community activities may not be supportable by a military department. “We suggest further coordination between the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.”
• CNA would not recommend consolidating Missile Defense Agency programs under the Space Force. “That would introduce seams into the complex systems engineering process,” the study said.
• The study suggests satellite terminal acquisition should not be consolidated under the Space Force. Unlike satellites and ground stations, terminals have service-unique requirements such as operating environments and engineering specifications. It recommends following the processes used for GPS terminals: The Space Force would define overarching system interfaces and interoperability requirements but individual services would procure their own terminals.
• CNA would not recommend that the Space Force take on base and installation responsibility, or personnel support and accession functions. It should use existing locations and support from current service organizations.
• The study suggests the Space Force should have an Office of Industrial Engagement and Policy, a Space Innovation Center, and a Space Systems Command as an acquisition command.
CNA noted that for the new branch to be successful, the Defense Department would have to change many “typical DoD practices.” A Space Force, for instance, would benefit from personnel reforms such as flexible career progression, the elimination of up-or-out promotion requirements, and improved continuing education opportunities. Acquisition processes also should be changed to limit the number of review and delegate decision authority “as low as practicable.”
The report warned that standing up a new military department “is not without risks.” The CNA proposal “focused on providing the groundwork for improved performance,” the study said, “but we acknowledge that each design choice will have consequences, some unanticipated.” Analysts said they were aware of “concerns that the organizational change required to create the Department of the Space Force will, for some amount of time, distract DoD from the job of space warfighting at a time when the need for focus on space warfighting has never been greater.”
In the executive summary’s final paragraph, CNA noted that even though “our design tends to minimize unnecessary disruption, we concede that some degree of instability in the short term is likely. It is clear from our analysis that there is room for improvement in the performance of national security space objectives.”