Trump seeks $15.4 billion for U.S. Space Force in 2021 budget

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The $15.4 billion request continues to fund programs that were managed by the Air Force but the budget was developed with strong input from the U.S. Space Force.

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration’s $740.5 billion budget request for national defense in 2021 includes $15.4 billion for the U.S. Space Force, according to documents released by the Pentagon on Feb. 10.

The U.S. Space Force was established Dec. 20 as an independent service under the Department of the Air Force. In the 2021 budget the U.S. Air Force transferred $15.4 billion from existing accounts to the Space Force.

The $15.4 billion request continues to fund programs and activities that were managed by the Air Force but the budget was developed with strong input from the U.S. Space Force, said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond.

“I personally worked on this budget very closely in both of my hats as commander of U.S. Space Command and chief of the Space Force,” Raymond told SpaceNews Feb. 10.

“The mechanics of this budget was such that the money was still in the Air Force because we hadn’t stood up the Space Force yet,” Raymond said. “But we shaped this budget.”

The $15.4 billion does not include about $800 million in personnel costs which for now remain in the Air Force budget because the Space Force does not yet have a separate accounting system, said an Air Force spokesperson.

Approximately 16,000 Space Force personnel — except for Raymond, the chief of the Space Force — are airmen who previously were part of the Air Force Space Command and have been assigned to the Space Force. An estimated 6,000 airmen will be asked to leave the Air Force and transfer to the Space Force over the next year after administrative issues are sorted out.

“Assignment” to the U.S. Space Force is similar to Air Force personnel being assigned to combatant commands or the Joint Staff. According to DoD budget documents released Feb. 10, the standup of the Space Force will continue through fiscal year 2025.

Because of the projected personnel transfers, Air Force active-duty ranks in 2021 drop from 511,000 to $505,000. The 2021 budget funds 553 personnel to stand up the Space Force headquarters. DoD projects the headquarters will grow to 1,800 people by fiscal year 2025.

The U.S. Space Force “will continue to rely on the Air Force for foundational and infrastructure support, except in performing those functions unique to the space domain or central to its independence,” said the budget documents.

The $15.4 billion Space Force includes:

  • $10.3 billion for space research, development, testing and evaluation of technologies and weapon systems. The RDT&E request is larger than the $9.8 billion that Congress appropriated for 2020.
  • $2.4 billion for procurement of satellites and launch services. The amount is the same Congress appropriated in 2020.
  • $2.6 billion for space operations and maintenance. That is $300 million more than what Congress enacted in 2020.
  • Approximately $100 million for war-related satellite services and space operations

The Air Force in its 2021 military construction budget requested $88 million for an upgraded space operations facility at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. It also seeks $20 million to begin the construction of a space control facility for the Air National Guard at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.

Big-ticket items in the Space Force budget:

Missile warning satellites – The RDT&E request includes $2.3 billion for the next-generation overhead infrared (Next-Gen OPIR) early warning satellites. The Air Force started the program in 2018 as a replacement to the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS). Congress appropriated $1.4 billion in 2020 for Next-Gen OPIR. The 2021 budget includes $160 million for the Wide Field of View, a 1,000-kilogram geosynchronous satellite the Air Force will launch in 2020 to advance research in space-based missile warning.

Space launch – The budget seeks $1.05 billion in 2021 for three national security launches. The Air Force in 2020 got $1.2 billion for four launches. Procurement of launch services are usually funded two years prior to launch. The budget includes $561 million for launch-related RDT&E which funds the cost-sharing rocket development program known as the Launch Service Agreement.

Global Positioning System – The budget proposes $628 million to acquire two GPS 3F (GPS 3 Follow-on) satellites. Congress in 2020 appropriated $395 million for one satellite. The budget has $1.1 billion in RDT&E funds for the development of additional GPS 3 Follow-on satellites, upgrades to the GPS Operational Control System and the integration of newly developed GPS user equipment.

Satellite-based communications – The budget proposes $789 million for satcom RDT&E. That includes post-launch activities for the sixth and final Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) classified communications satellite. AEHF-6 is scheduled to launch in 2020. The RDT&E request also supports the development of a new family of secure tactical communications satellites and hosted payloads, and development of a new Wideband Global Satcom (WGS-11). There is $68 million in the budget to start a service life extension program for two Multi User Objective System (MUOS) narrowband satellites which are operated by the U.S. Navy.

Space money in secret budget

Now that there is an independent Space Force, structuring a long-term budget for the new service “will be one of the hardest things we have to figure out,” said Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff and an early proponent of a Space Force.

Speaking Jan. 29 at an Air Force Association event, Hyten noted that one of the arguments in favor of a separate Space Force was that space programs were not adequately funded by the Air Force. There was a perception that the Air Force “was not taking care of space,” he said.

Transferring the Air Force’s space money is just step one, Hyten said. A more complicated issue is that most of the national security space money is in a secret account that is technically part of the Air Force’s budget but is “passed through” to intelligence agencies like the National Reconnaissance Office.

“A significant portion of space budget is not in a place where you can see it,” said Hyten. “That’s a problem, explaining that to the American people and a problem for Congress to understand the full expenditures and explain that to their constituents. … We have to move some of that stuff out and be able to explain it.”

Nearly 20 percent of the $207 billion Air Force budget request for 2021, or about $38 billion, is passed through.

“The Air Force has no control over it,” retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Power Studies, told SpaceNews. “If these agencies are not going to be part of the Space Force, then this pass-through money must be separated from the Department of the Air Force to ensure accurate understanding of actual resource allocation,” said Deptula.

According to DoD budget documents released Feb. 10, “Funding related to the National Reconnaissance Office will not transfer to the U.S. Space Force.”

In an interview with Air Force Magazine, Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett suggested that moving the pass-through account to the Space Force would be considered.

Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told reporters on Friday that such a move is highly unlikely.

“It’s not a DoD decision,” he said. “They have to get through the Office of Management and Budget and congressional appropriators,” Harrison said. “I don’t expect we’re going to see that move.”

Harrison said it is “interesting that Barrett proposed moving it to the Space Force budget. It seems to implicitly acknowledge that it’s space funding, which I don’t think they’ve acknowledged before.”