Pentagon makes strong pitch for Space Force as NDAA 2020 markup nears

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Kitay: DoD wants space to “remain free from conflict. However, we must be prepared to meet and overcome any challenges that arise.”

WASHINGTON — In some of the most strongly worded remarks to date, Stephen Kitay, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, argued on Tuesday that the United States needs a Space Force as a separate branch of the armed forces to protect the space-based infrastructure that supports the civilian economy and the U.S. military.

“The scope and scale of the threats to our space systems is at an all time high and expanding,” Kitay said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Kitay has been a central player in pitching the Pentagon’s Space Force proposal to congressional committees. Before he came to the Pentagon, Kitay served as a professional staff member on the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Service Committee, and was one of the architects of the Space Corps legislation that the House proposed in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018. The proposal was stricken from the final version of the NDAA due to lack of support in the Senate.

Anti-satellite missiles are being deployed by China, Kitay said. “Why do we care? Because our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines depend on space. Our national leadership depends on space and space underpins our $19 trillion economy and the American way of life.”

Actions in space “will directly affect the outcome of future conflicts or crises,” said Kitay. If the military were to be denied use of satellites, troops in the field would be at risk and national security endangered, he added. “This is why we need a Space Force. The world is changing and the military needs to change with it.”

Kitay insisted that DoD has to completely change how it views space. “We have to transform our approach to space not only as a support function, but also as a war fighting domain in its own right … a domain where we must deter aggression, be prepared for competition and be ready to defend against hostile actions should deterrence fail.”

DoD wants space to “remain free from conflict,” said Kitay. “However, we must be prepared to meet and overcome any challenges that arise.”

Standing up a new branch of the military is a “significant move,” said Kitay. “What we’re proposing to Congress is a new armed force, something we haven’t done in over 70 years. We believe that the time has come where we need to structurally posture ourselves consistently with the role of space in our national security.”

Why is a separate military branch needed to do this? “A service allows us to elevate, unify, and focus our efforts on this unique domain,” he said, adding that a service will ensure attention is given to space regardless of personalities.

During a Q&A session after his speech, Kitay acknowledged that there are still many questions and concerns that Congress have about the Space Force proposal. One of them is the cost and the idea that DoD is creating bureaucratic bloat by standing up a new branch.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time on Capitol Hill discussing the proposal,” Kitay said. “As you might imagine they are doing a lot of oversight on this topic because it is a big move for our nation.” DoD is proposing to put the Space Force, with an estimated size of about 15,000 people, under the Department of the Air Force to minimize the administrative costs.

He said the Space Force will not be measured by its size but by its impact on national security. “We’re not talking about sending marines into space or physically putting people there,” he said. The change is about the role of space in the future of warfare, Kitay argued. “We have to fundamentally look at it a different way.”

Kitay’s strong pitch comes just weeks before the Senate Armed Services Committee begins its markup of the NDAA for fiscal year 2020. During a committee hearing April 11, members sounded skeptical about the need for a Space Force and challenged Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to explain why additional bureaucracy in the Pentagon is needed to protect satellites from enemy attacks. A key question that officials struggled to answer at the hearing is what exactly is wrong with what the Air Force is doing today that requires DoD to move in a different direction.

A senior defense official told SpaceNews on Tuesday that Shanahan’s take on the hearing was positive, despite the negative headlines. “Congress is asking good questions, we are having constructive conversations about how do we compete against Russia and China,” the official said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Leading up to the NDAA markup, the official said, Shanahan believes there’s momentum in favor of the Space Force proposal. The Trump administration has asked Congress to authorize a Space Force in the 2020 NDAA.

Congressional leaders so far have offered few hints on which way they might go. HASC Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) has suggested that his committee might tackle the military space reorganization in a separate bill rather than in the NDAA.