NDAA conference agreement establishes U.S. Space Force, directs major overhaul of space acquisitions

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The NDAA also establishes an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy as the senior civilian in the Office of the Secretary of Defense

WASHINGTON — The leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees on Dec. 9 unveiled the conference agreement they have reached for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020.

The conference report includes language to authorize a U.S. Space Force as an independent military branch under the Department of the Air Force.

“The FY20 NDAA recognizes space as a warfighting domain and establishes the U.S. Space Force in Title 10 as the sixth Armed Service of the United States, under the U.S. Air Force,” says a summary of the report released by the committees Dec. 9.

The language in the NDAA marks a key victory for the Trump administration. In a Dec. 6 deal, the White House agreed to grant 12 weeks of paid parental leave to all federal workers in exchange for the Space Force authorization. The parental leave provision was a top priority for Democrats while the White House has been insistent that any deal should include language to authorize the Space Force.

The House is expected to vote on the compromise bill on Dec. 11. The Senate will take it up at a later date.

Space Force organization

The NDAA provides the Secretary of the Air Force with the authority to transfer Air Force personnel to the newly established Space Force. But it does not approve the hiring of new people. The Air Force Space Command is  redesignated as the U.S. Space Force.

“To minimize cost and bureaucracy, the Space Force will require no additional billets and remains with the President’s budget request,” says the report. The request includes $72.4 million to stand up the headquarters.

The conference agreement creates a Chief of Space Operations (CSO) for the U.S. Space Force who will report directly to the Secretary of the Air Force and become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

During the first year, the CSO may also serve as the commander of U.S. Space Command. The current commander of U.S. Space Command, Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, is also the commander of Air Force Space Command. The NDAA would allow Raymond to serve as commander of U.S. Space Command and Chief of Space Operations during a one-year transition period. The report says the Secretary of Defense may “authorize an officer serving as the Chief of Space Operations to serve concurrently as the Commander of the United States Space Command.”

The CSO will be required to provide updates to the defense committees every 60 days until March 31, 2023, “with briefings and reports on implementation and establishment status,” says the report.

The NDAA also creates a Senate-confirmed Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration as the senior space architect. This position will “provide a renewed focus on the acquisition of space systems” and will chair a Space Force Acquisition Council to ensure integration across the national security space enterprise, says the report.

The space acquisition executive will “synchronize with the Air Force Service Acquisition Executive on all space system efforts, and take on Service Acquisition Executive responsibilities for space systems and programs effective on October 1, 2022.”

The space acquisition executive will oversee and direct the Space and Missile Systems Center, Space Rapid Capabilities Office, and Space Development Agency.

The NDAA also establishes an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy as the senior civilian in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for oversight of space war fighting.

The conference report supports a discretionary topline of $738 billion for the Department of Defense, consistent with the recent bipartisan budget agreement. This includes $71.5 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations funding. In addition, the report authorizes $5.3 billion in emergency disaster recovery for military installations across the country from extreme weather and natural disasters.