WASHINGTON — At the conclusion of its last meeting of 2018, the National Space Council agreed to send President Trump a set of six recommended actions to initiate the process of establishing a new military branch for space.
None of these proposed actions come as a surprise as they have been openly talked about for weeks.
First is the creation of a new unified command for space command to be named U.S. Space Command. Second is a legislative proposal that the Pentagon will submit to the White House. Third is a budget request to fund the new service in fiscal year 2020. Fourth is a review of agencies’ authorities to ensure space commanders are empowered to take action if necessary. Fifth is the establishment of a Space Development Agency to oversee technology investments. The sixth recommendation is to strengthen the relationship between the intelligence community and the new service.
The recommendations will be part of a new space policy directive, SPD-4, that will be sent to Trump’s desk for approval in the coming weeks.
Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the council, made almost the entire two-hour meeting on Tuesday into an advocacy session for why the Space Force is an imperative that cannot wait.
He noted that congressional authorization by law is required to form a new military branch, and insisted that President Trump will work to make sure the legislative language to create a Space Force makes it into the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020.
Before the council meeting at the National Defense University, Pence talked about the Space Force at a Washington Post event, and explained why the president considers it a burning issue. He said Trump became especially alarmed to learn that Russia and China three years ago consolidated their space activities into a single branch. Pence also did not rule out future deployments of weapons in space if circumstances warranted it.
The president is determined to make the new military branch a reality, Pence reiterated at the council meeting. “He asks me about the Space Force every week.”
Since Trump ordered the Pentagon in June to start organizing a Space Force, efforts have been under way to bring it to fruition, Pence said. “As we say in Indiana, ‘We didn’t let the grass grow on this one.’”
Among the senior officials in attendance at the National Space Council meeting was Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who is leading the space reorganization.
“It was not easy to do this,” said Shanahan. “But we are moving out.”
He called the legislative proposal a “significant lift” and said it would be completed in the coming weeks. Shanahan said his “most pressing focus” was structuring the Space Development Agency, “defining the statement of work, resources and mix of talent.”
According to an early draft of the DoD legislative proposal that SpaceNews obtained, the Space Force would include a Department of the Space Force and a service component, the U.S. Space Force. A key mission of the new service will be to develop “domain specific expertise on the proper employment of space power for the DoD, and will serve as the DoD’s proponent of and advocate of space power.”
The Space Force initially will not absorb the strategic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission of the National Reconnaissance Office. But DoD would propose creating a “Space Force Element NRO” to coordinate activities between the two organizations, according to the draft proposal. The Space Force would be formed primarily with personnel from existing organizations, including Air Force Space Command, Navy Space and Warfare Systems Command, Naval Satellite Operations Center and the Army’s 1st Space Brigade. Its headquarters would be a “lean” organization although the details were not in the draft as they are still being worked out.
One portion of the council meeting was a Q&A with a panel of experts, including former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Doug Loverro, who was been an active proponent of standing up a new service.
Loverro said he worries that the Space Force will turn into a partisan fight. “It’s not a partisan issue and I hope it doesn’t become one and we lose the chance to do this now, while at peace, not when the adversary has the upper hand.”
Mark Sirangelo, former vice president of Sierra Nevada Corporation and now a resident entrepreneur at the University of Colorado at Boulder said “consolidating under a common banner will send a message that we’re serious. We do best when we’re unified as we did in creating the Air Force.”
Some words of caution were offered by retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James McLaughlin, former deputy commander of U.S. Cyber Command. He warned to not create confusion about what missions belong to a U.S. Space Command versus a Space Force military branch.
U.S. Space Command could be set up as a functional combatant command that also has some service-like responsibility like U.S. Special Operations Command or U.S. Cyber Command. In that case, “why do I need a service?” he asked. It has to be delineated that the functional combatant command fights wars on behalf of the United States while the service is in charge of organizing, training and equipping forces. “I think you undermine the need for a department if you try to create a combatant command with service-like authorities,” McLaughlin said. “It creates confusion.”
McLaughlin said he would support having an assistant secretary of defense for space. “As a cyber guy I would have loved to have a single focus oversight office in the office of the secretary of defense.” Again, he cautioned about having too many organizations potentially stepping on each others’ toes. “We have to be careful about these three entities not overlapping, and drawing clear lines.”
McLaughlin served on the 2001 Rumsfeld commission that called for changes in military space organization. The commission did not recommend a new service but an internal realignment in the Air Force, he said. The thinking was that changes inside the Air Force eventually would lead to a new service for space. “We missed a generational opportunity,” he said, “we did not implement the realignment of the Air Force. We did not create strong OSD oversight. We never started a journey toward a department,” he said. “We’ve made progress, but well short of what’s needed. A Space Force would be the most effective path to meet today’s serious threats,” he added. “We need to do everything possible to make this a bipartisan issue and one that resonates with Americans.”