Top SASC Democrat sees momentum building for a space force

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Sen. Jack Reed: “I think within a year, next year at this time, we’ll have a Space Force."

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The Senate and the House in their versions of the National Defense Authorization Act have laid out competing proposals for how to create a military space service. But broadly speaking there are no major obstacles to passing an NDAA that authorizes the Defense Department to stand up a space force, said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“We have differences with the House, but we think those differences can be reconciled in the conference committee,” Reed told reporters on Wednesday at the Space & Missile Defense Symposium in a joint appearance with Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.).

Both senators were in attendance at the symposium to show support for the local aerospace industry. They also visited NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center where they were briefed by the center’s director Jody Singer on NASA’s next generation rocket, the Space Launch System.

On the NDAA, Reed noted that the Senate bill passed with strong bipartisan support. “It does recognize and creates a Space Force,” he said.

DoD officials in recent testimony expressed concerns about the Senate bill not providing the authorities and resources that the Pentagon believes are needed to create a separate military branch for space under the Department of the Air Force. The Senate proposal calls for a one-year transition during which the commander of U.S. Space Command Gen. John Raymond also would be the commander of the Space Force. The House version, which establishes a Space Corps, has a four-star commandant in charge.

Reed suggested the Senate will be firm about the need for a one-year transition. “I think within a year, next year at this time, we’ll have a Space Force, and a Space Command, and we’ll be operating in this new dimension with much more cohesion and coordination,” he said.

Another provision unique to the Senate bill is the establishment of a separate procurement office overseeing space. That is important to the Senate, said Reed. “We want to designate a specific acquisition officer for the space corps.” Having a space force is “not just about thinking great thoughts but about buying the systems we need and having someone responsible for that,” he said. “We also want at the Defense Department level to have secretary who is focused on space. That is important.”

Reed, also a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, predicted the space service will get funded by the Senate. The House Appropriations Committee cut the Pentagon’s $72 million request down to $15 million.

“I think they will fund it,” Reed said of Senate appropriators. “There is a recognition of a changing military environment where the U.S. is being challenged in space,” he said. “This is an environment that can’t be ignored. “We have to protect our assets, or we won’t have access to space.”