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SN Military.Space Sandra Erwin

The clock is ticking for Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and a team of senior Pentagon officials to complete a legislative proposal that fulfills President Donald Trump’s orders to establish a military branch for space.

Shanahan is scheduled to meet this week with Vice President Mike Pence at the White House to go over the outline of the proposal, according to sources. The meeting could happen as early as Wednesday or Thursday. Neither DoD nor White House spokespersons would confirm the date.

A key issue DoD and the White House have to settle is how to write the legislative blueprint so that it satisfies the president’s directive to set up a Space Force as a separate military department. DoD also wants to include other space reorganization items in the proposal that the president didn’t ask for but that the Pentagon believes are important, such as a combatant command for space and a space agency dedicated to the development and procurement of advanced technology.

Shanahan said in a memo in September his goal is to submit the legislative proposal to the White House Office of Management and Budget by December so it could be reviewed and finalized in time for the fiscal year 2020 budget submission. DoD can stand up the combatant command and the space agency without additional congressional authorities but a new space department requires major new legislation. Lawmakers might weigh alternative options to create a Space Force, such as a Space Corps within the Department of the Air Force or a Space Command that has service-like authorities, like U.S. Special Operations Command.

A heated debate in Washington of late has been about the cost of standing up a new service, but there are deeper questions that Congress will want to tackle first, such as whether a Space Force is needed in the first place.

Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters last week that DoD’s goal is to minimize additional costs. “On the Space Force, whatever you’re reading about the costs right now, we’re still costing out.” Mattis agreed with budget analyst Todd Harrison who argued a Space Force would be set up with minimal overhead and funded from existing budget accounts. “It’s simply a shifting of costs. So it’s not an increase,” said Mattis. “But we’re trying to produce what the president wants, which is a Space Force capability.” DoD is looking at “what that takes and what kind of back office or supporting effort” is required, said Mattis. “The deputy is working directly with the vice president.”

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...