WASHINGTON — The newly created Space Development Agency has laid out ambitious plans to develop new satellite constellations for military communications and missile defense. For now, many of the agency’s efforts are temporarily on hold until Congress approves funding and decides whether to establish a Space Force as an independent military service, said Mike Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering.
The federal government is currently funded with a stop-gap continuing resolution that expires Dec. 20. All agencies are being affected by the congressional impasse over the fiscal year 2020 budget, but not having a full-year appropriation is especially damaging to the SDA and to national security programs more broadly, Griffin said Dec. 3 at a space industry conference organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Projects are being delayed are some may be prevented from happening at all, he said. “Budget battles of any kind are an enormous problem for the national security community,” Griffin insisted. The SDA is one of the many “casualties of our current situation,” he added. “It slows us down and in some cases prevents us from doing things.”
The SDA was created in March specifically to help modernize the military’s space architecture so it can be more resilient if anti-satellite weapons were used to disable or destroy U.S. spacecraft. The agency has authority to “work outside the existing acquisition system,” Griffin said, so it can move faster. The immediate priorities are to develop a mesh network of low Earth orbiting satellites to provide secure communications, and a constellation of surveillance satellites to track advanced hypersonic glide weapons that China and Russia are developing.
Griffin said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that “we need to reform our space architecture.”
But in the current political climate it’s not clear how fast SDA will be able to move.
The possible establishment of a Space Force, if Congress agrees to create it in the National Defense Authorization Act, could mean more uncertainty for SDA as it would be moving from Griffin’s shop to the new branch.
Griffin said turning over the SDA to the Space Force is “the right thing to do” even if it means he has to relinquish control and power over how the agency is run. The current director of SDA, Derek Tournear, reports to Griffin.
“I’m not interested in what organization does the work as long as the work gets done,” said Griffin. “Our plans are consistent with the SDA’s continued life under the Space Force.”
As far as the budget situation, he said he could not predict the outcome. “I don’t know what we’re doing short term, I have no idea about long term budgets.”