Pentagon putting final touches on Space Force proposal

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Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan: “To use an aerospace term, ‘we’re on final approach.'"

WASHINGTON — A team of Pentagon officials led by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is putting the final touches on a proposed blueprint for standing up a Space Force as a separate military branch.

“To use an aerospace term, ‘we’re on final approach,” Shanahan told reporters on Thursday. Shanahan and Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin met with a small group pf reporters following a meeting with corporate executives hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association.

The proposal will be vetted by the office of Vice President Mike Pence and the National Space Council before it is submitted to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. “Probably tomorrow it will start to go through the building for coordination,” said Shanahan. Pence is in charge of implementing President Trump’s directive to stand up a Space Force by fiscal year 2020.  Along with the legislative proposal, the Pentagon will have to request funding for the new branch in the fiscal year 2020 budget.

Shanahan said he did not have a precise cost estimate for the establishment of a Space Force. He also did not specify whether the proposal recommends that the Space Force be set up under the existing Department of the Air Force, or as an independent department. Analysts have estimated that creating a separate department would add significant overhead costs and that organizing the Space Force under the Department of the Air Force — one option that has been floated is to rename it Department of the Air and Space Force — would minimize back-office and support costs. The latter model was endorsed by the House Armed Services Committee and the full House last year  in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 but ultimately was voted down by the Senate.

“There were two primary options,” said Shanahan. “We’re now down to one option.” He said he could not disclose what option is in the proposal until the coordination process is completed. Shanahan said he has not personally briefed the president. “I know the president has been briefed,” he said. “He has given us guidance.”

According to DoD sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, DoD would favor organizing the Space Force under the structure of an existing department to keep bureaucratic bloat to a minimum.

If the White House were to insist on a separate military department, the proposal would face strong political headwinds. The incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told reporters on Wednesday that the committee believes space should be given greater importance in DoD but would not support spending more money on a new service bureaucracy.

Shanahan said he agreed with Smith’s thinking. “I spent time with his staff, I have spoken with Representative Smith,” he said. “I think the back and forth will be to explain what is in our proposal. Where I feel really confident is that he and I have the same view about bureaucracy: the less the better.”

Once lawmakers have a chance to review the proposal, said Shanahan, he will be “happy to take the red pen out” and make revisions if they have suggestions on how to reduce overhead costs. “Where we’ve had lots of agreement is on going faster, on getting capability sooner,” said Shanahan . “We want to go big on capability, minimize to the best of our abilities the overhead.” That said, “we need a certain degree of bureaucracy given our size.” Shanahan said he wants the debate to be about “articulating how to deliver capabilities sooner. If we have time, then we can spend time arguing about how many offices and where those offices should be.”