Senate Armed Services bill shakes up management of Air Force space acquisitions
WASHINGTON — In proposed legislation that establishes a U.S. Space Force, the Senate Armed Services Committee includes several provisions intended to hold the Air Force more accountable for the performance of space acquisition programs.
The committee on Wednesday released the full language of its version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. The SASC voted on May 22 to move the legislation to the full Senate. The committee’s NDAA is expected to be on the Senate floor later this month.
The bill takes aim at the Air Force’s organization that oversee space procurements. It converts the current principal assistant to the secretary of the Air Force for space to a Senate-confirmed post titled principal assistant to the secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration. And it realigns the Air Force space portfolio from the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition to the principal assistant for space acquisition and integration.
The job of principal assistant to the secretary of the Air Force for space is currently held by a political appointee, John Stopher. Under the SASC proposal, the job responsibilities would be expanded considerably, and the president’s appointee would have to be confirmed by the Senate.
The addition of “acquisition and integration” to the Air Force space adviser’s duties reflects the committee’s concerns about space procurements being managed in isolation and not coordinated across multiple agencies. The official in this new position would oversee all acquisition and integration of Air Force for space systems and support the commander of the U.S. Space Force. This official also would serve as the senior acquisition executive for the Air Force for space systems and all major space acquisitions.
The committee directs the secretary of the Air Force to transfer to the principal assistant for space acquisition and integration the responsibility for oversight of acquisition projects for space systems that currently are overseen by Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition Will Roper.
The “integration” part of the job includes overseeing space projects done by the Air Force Space Rapid Capabilities Office, the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center and the Defense Department’s Space Development Agency.
The Air Force secretary’s assistant for space acquisition and integration also would chair a Space Force Acquisition Council whose members would include the undersecretary of the Air Force, the assistant secretary of defense for space policy, the director of the National Reconnaissance Office, the commander of U.S. Space Command and the commander of the U.S. Space Force. The council will “oversee, direct and manage acquisition and integration of the Air Force for space systems and programs in order to ensure integration across the national security space enterprise.”
If this language is enacted, the secretary of the Air Force has to report back by March 31, 2020 on how these provisions are being implemented.
U.S. Space Force
The committee revealed on May 23 that it would support the Trump administration and authorize the establishment of a Space Force under the Department of the Air Force. But the SASC set some specific conditions the Pentagon would have to comply with, and the organization it proposed is leaner than what the Pentagon wanted.
In the language released June 12 there are new details about how the SASC would go about standing up the U.S. Space Force.
• The Air Force Space Command is disestablished and is re-designated as the U.S. Space Force.
• The head of the U.S. Space Force will be a four-star officer with the title of commander of the U.S. Space Force. The Pentagon’s proposal called the leader the chief of staff of the Space Force.
• The commander will be appointed for a four-year term. The commander’s duties are the organization, training, and equipping of the space forces of the Air Force.
• During the first one-year transition period, the commander of the Space Force can serve concurrently as the commander of U.S. Space Command. After one year, the secretary of defense will recommend to congressional defense committees whether these posts should be held by two different officers.
• During the one-year period, the commander of the Space Force may participate in meetings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff if the chairman approves. At the end of the one-year transition the commander of the Space Force will be a sitting member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
• The SASC allows DoD to form the Space Force only with military and civilian personnel of the Air Force, including elements of the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve. The secretary of the Air Force can transfer infrastructure and assets to the Space Force.
• The committee does not authorize any additional military billets or the employment of additional civilian personnel in connection with the establishment of the Space Force. It also rejects the Pentagon’s proposal to appoint an undersecretary of the Air Force for space. But the SASC agrees to revisit the issue in six months.