COLORADO SPRINGS – At a time when critical U.S. satellites are seen as likely targets for hostile attacks, adding billions of dollars to the Space Force’s budget was a necessary move, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said April 5 in a keynote speech at the 37th Space Symposium. 

“You may have noticed that the Space Force request is 40% above last year’s,” Kendall said of the Biden administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2023. 

“This is not evidence of bureaucratic success,” he said. “It’s a recognition of the importance of the Space Force and the capabilities it provides.”

The Pentagon’s $773 billion budget request has $24.5 billion for the Space Force. That funding also includes the budget of the Space Development Agency, which is being moved from under the Office of the Secretary of Defense to the Space Force later this year. The budget for both Space Force and SDA is nearly $5 billion higher in 2023 than what Congress appropriated in 2022.

Kendall said the extra funding is needed to “transform our capabilities in space to meet our pacing challenge: China, China, China.”

China recently launched what appeared to be a fractional orbital bombardment system that deployed a hypersonic glide vehicle, said Kendall. “This act demonstrated a capability that represents a new and disturbing challenge to strategic stability.”

“The fundamental problem we see is the growing threat to America’s ability to project power to deter aggression, and if necessary, defend our interests and our allies,” said Kendall. Space based systems and services enable that power projection, he added. However, “from direct ascent anti-satellite to co-orbital weapons of various types, our satellites are increasingly at risk.”

In 2023 “we are requesting funds for resilient missile warning and tracking capabilities and, with SDA, the first instantiation of a communications architecture that will support the joint force in any conflict,” said Kendall. 

SDA is building the U.S. military’s first low Earth orbit megaconstellation – a Tracking Layer to detect and monitor missile threats and a Transport Layer to move targeting data and other critical information to users anywhere on the globe. 

“The simple fact is that the United States cannot project power effectively unless our space-based services are resilient enough to endure while under attack,” said Kendall. “Equally true, our terrestrial forces cannot survive and perform their missions if our adversary’s space-based operational support systems, especially targeting systems, are allowed to operate with impunity.”

The funding proposed in 2023 “will allow the Space Force to grow a proliferated, multi-orbit, disaggregated architecture over the next several years,” he added.  

Kendall insisted that China is the United States’ primary rival in space, but Russia is a worrisome threat too. Russia “recently defied acceptable norms of behavior in space and recklessly tested anti-satellite capabilities” creating a large cloud of space debris in low Earth orbit, he said. “Russia has thousands of nuclear weapons and has just demonstrated its lack of respect for the accepted constraints on aggression and for even the most basic human rights.”

He said the Biden administration has made space a national security priority. “The White House continues to communicate the importance of space to U.S. national security,” he said. “The recent 2023 budget request begins the process of ensuring America’s enduring advantage in that operational domain. This budget begins the technological transformation of the Department of the Air Force and will provide resources to balance the current threat with future, more mature threats.”

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...