Total cost of a Space Force is hard to pin down

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SN Military.Space Sandra Erwin

A number of lawmakers have said they will oppose the Trump administration’s Space Force plan because of its high cost. This will be no doubt a contentious debate in the next Congress, especially with so many price tags floating around.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson laid down the first marker in September with her $13 billion five-year estimate. Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has been more vague. In August, he said a Space Force would cost “billions” and last week he talked about “single digit” billions, suggesting he was projecting a budget that would be lower than Wilson’s. A DoD spokesman told SpaceNews that Shanahan would not disclose the specific numbers until the House Armed Services Committee has a chance to review them.

Fresh numbers were thrown into the mix Monday by Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Harrison several weeks ago criticized Wilson for gold-plating her estimate to make it unpalatable to lawmakers. His analysis, however, is hard to compare with Wilson’s blueprint because Harrison took a narrow view. He only costed out a space service whereas Wilson included a space combatant command and space superiority activities that, the secretary argued, will be needed to defend U.S. space systems from Chinese and Russian aggression.

Harrison laid out a menu of options for a new service, ranging from a Space Corps to a Space Force-Lite and a Space Force-Heavy. You can read the details there. His numbers are much lower than Wilson’s because he assumes most of the Space Force personnel and resources will be transferred from existing accounts in the other services.

What one gets from all these numbers is that there is no cheap solution to standing up a Space Force. As Harrison noted, the size and budget of a new military service for space depends on how broadly its charter is defined and which existing space-related organizations it would incorporate.

Also making the rounds in the Pentagon is a secret report by the Center for Naval Analyses on the cost of a space service. Congress in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act ordered DoD to hire an independent think tank to analyze the issue. According to sources, CNA’s numbers for the cost of a new service (not including Space Command) are consistent with Wilson’s estimate.

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