WASHINGTON — The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved an $831 billion defense spending bill for fiscal year 2024 that recommends about $1 billion in cuts from the U.S. Space Force’s $30 billion request.

The SAC said many of the recommended cuts are due to schedule and performance issues — concerns that also were raised by House appropriators last month in their version of the 2024 defense spending bill.

The Biden administration requested $30.1 billion for the U.S. Space Force in fiscal year 2024. According to estimates from the consulting firm Velos, both the Senate And House appropriations committee bills propose just over $29 billion.

The cuts in the SAC bill are spread across dozens of programs in the RDT&E (research, development, testing and engineering) and procurement accounts. The committee trimmed $356 million from RDT&E programs, and $679 million from procurement programs.

In a report accompanying the bill, the SAC said that, despite these cuts, “the Committee continues its strong support to the Space Force through resourcing its top unfunded priorities, fully funding the Chief of Space Operations’ training initiatives and offering assistance in other key classified areas.”

The recommended program adjustments, the committee said, “are non-prejudicial and based purely on the cost, schedule and performance factors that were presented to the committee.”

The administration’s proposed 2024 budget is the Space Force’s largest ever. 

A boost for commercial space services

Senate appropriators included several provisions in the defense bill that seek to encourage greater use of commercial space services.

The SAC included $121.4 million for commercial satellite services, or $47.9 million more than the Space Force recommendation. 

The committee also added $40 million for a pilot program to demonstrate the use of commercial imaging satellites in support of military operations. 

“The Department of Defense will have to partially rely on new space capabilities that can fulfill traditional Title 10 intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and target tracking missions as a replacement for existing airborne assets,” the SAC said.

Appropriators said the “commercial marketplace has matured to a place that can provide services directly to both the intelligence community and the Department of Defense … Receiving data in a tactically relevant timeline is essential to the success of a mission.”

The SAC added $10 million for a demonstration of space-based monitoring over the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility.

The funding will be used to “leverage commercially available space-based sensors to provide electro-optical, infrared, and synthetic aperture radar capabilities.”

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...