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HOT TOPIC: Congress reopens government for 16 more days. Funding military by CR ‘immoral’ says HASC Chair Thornberry

President Trump

The federal government shutdown only lasted 69 hours but it was enough to stir anxiety across the defense industry. In a deal struck Monday, Congress passed its fourth continuing resolution since late September to keep the government funded at last year’s levels. While the White House is due to roll out of its fiscal 2019 budget proposal Feb. 5 — three days before the latest continuing resolution expires — the Pentagon and its contractors are still dealing with the messy reality of trying to plan for next year while there is still no budget for the current year.

The federal appropriations process has been broken for nearly a decade, so the Pentagon now assumes its annual budget will be at least three months late. This year, a five- or even six-month delay seems likely. “That is enormously disruptive,” former Pentagon procurement chief Frank Kendall said Monday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “CRs are baked into our plans for the first three months of the year, but not six months … The single best thing Congress can do for the industry is a normal budget process.”

With another deadline looming Feb. 8, the Pentagon could be facing yet another short-term CR just 16 days from now.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said in a statement that U.S. troops can be certain of one more paycheck before the current CR expires, but they deserve more. “We owe them the certainty that they will have all the training, equipment, and resources they need when they go into harm’s way.” Congress for a long time has “failed to provide certainty of any kind to our military,” Thornberry stated. “That is immoral, and it has to stop.”

For the defense industry, even this brief shutdown send a bad signal, said Andrew Philip Hunter, a CSIS senior fellow and former Pentagon procurement official. “It’s not the signaling that the strategy suggests,” he said referring to the National Defense Strategy that Secretary Jim Mattis unveiled on Friday. The document calls for the U.S. military to prepare for a “great power competition” against China and Russia. In this political environment, Hunter said, “it seems to me that there are strong disincentives for industry to actually invest in the things that the strategy says that we want.”

In the space industry, the three-day shutdown was enough to create some disruption. SpaceX had to put off testing firing its Falcon Heavy rocket at Kennedy Space Center after the 45th Space Wing furloughed civilian workers. Meanwhile, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency had to cancel a small-satellite workshop at the agency’s campus in Springfield, Virginia, because of the disruption caused by the shutdown.

No shocker: Space industry hit hard by military spending cuts

The defense spending downturn that started in 2010 was tough on the space sector, according to a new study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Pentagon contracts for space systems dropped from nearly $10 billion in 2009 to just over $6 billion in 2016. Especially steep were cutbacks in space research and development contracts — from $6 billion to about $3 billion.

Even though military spending collapsed between 2009 and 2016, it was not all bad news for the defense industry. Some segments, like ship and aircraft manufacturing, saw fluctuations but came out OK. Others, like ground vehicles, are in free fall.

In the space industry, there were some unique circumstances. Much of the Pentagon’s spending on space activities shifted from actual products — buying rockets and satellites — to launch services. Over the post-Budget Control Act downturn, contracts for space products plummeted by 56 percent, R&D fell by 47 percent, but during that same period, annual average service contracts grew 258 percent. That happened because in 2013 the Air Force renegotiated its agreement with United Launch Alliance under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program to acquire launch services.

Pentagon moves forward with NDAA space reforms

As SpaceNews was the first to report last week, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan will be taking on the duties of space adviser that previously resided with the secretary of the Air Force. Shanahan’s actions were part of the implementation of Section 1601 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018.

Meanwhile, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson moved forward with a plan to create a three-star position that would directly support U.S. Space Command. The post would be “vice commander of Air Force Space Command,” and would be based in the Washington — not in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Air Force Space Command is headquartered.

How does SecDef Mattis view space conflicts?

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announces the 2018 National Defense Strategy. Credit: DoD
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announces the 2018 National Defense Strategy. Credit: DoD

The United States, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said, is in a “great power competition.”

What that means for the U.S. military — including its space forces — is captured in the title of the 2018 National Defense Strategy that Mattis unveiled Friday. The document, as captured in its title, lays out a strategy for “Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge.”

“Space is like any other domain of war,” Mattis said Friday.

In space, the United States has to become so strong to make it obvious to adversaries that they would have “no benefit to be gained” from attacking U.S. systems, Mattis said. “What that means is that we have to have capabilities to deny them what they want to achieve.”

Capabilities in this case are not traditional military weapons but space systems that are resilient to attack. “It’s not about what you might think, guns in space shooting at each other,” Mattis said.

To deter enemies, the military has to make it hard, if not impossible, for them to interfere with the services U.S. satellites provide. “For every satellite up, we’ll have a hundred more that could launch as fast as they’re taken out,” he said.


Mike Griffin promises strong DoD leadership in technology


Former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, the Trump administration’s nominee for the position of undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the world today “demands that we reassert our technological leadership.” U.S. adversaries are, he said, are “leveraging nearly universal access to technology and exploiting our own scientific and technological advances to threaten our deployed forces, our allies and the national and economic security of our nation.”

Griffin said the Pentagon currently faces the “most technically challenging future defense environment we have seen since the Cold War.” A top priority in his job will be “protecting the technological edge of our U.S. forces.”

Griffin is expected to be swiftly confirmed.

As undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, Griffin would be dual-hatted as chief technology officer of the Department of Defense. The CTO will be the primary adviser to the secretary and the deputy secretary for all things technology.

ICYMI: Air Force declares SBIRS mission a success

A U.S. Air Force Atlas V rocket lifted off Jan. 19 carrying the SBIRS GEO Flight 4 satellite. Credit: ULA
A U.S. Air Force Atlas V rocket lifted off Jan. 19 carrying the SBIRS GEO Flight 4 satellite. Credit: ULA

After a successful launch Friday night, the U.S. Air Force announced it had made contact with its new missile-warning satellite, the SBIRS GEO Flight 4. The new satellite will join three others in geostationary orbit, as well as hosted payloads on satellites in highly elliptical orbits, to monitor missile launches worldwide. Two more SBIRS satellites are under development by Lockheed Martin for launch in the early 2020s. The billion-dollar spacecraft are equipped with powerful scanning and staring infrared surveillance sensors. SBIRS GEO Flights 1, 2 and 3 were launched in 2011, 2013 and 2017.

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Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...