Trump signs defense bill establishing U.S. Space Force: What comes next

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"Today marks a landmark achievement as we officially inaugurate the newest branch or our military, the U.S. Space Force," said Trump.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Dec. 20 signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. The bill creates the U.S. Space Force as the sixth branch of the U.S. armed forces.

Trump signed the NDAA flanked by top defense and military officials at a ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.

“Today marks a landmark achievement as we officially inaugurate the newest branch or our military, the U.S. Space Force,” Trump said. “This is very big and important moment.”

The NDAA authorizes the establishment of the U.S. Space Force as a separate military branch to reside within the Department of the Air Force, the same way the Marine Corps is organized as an independent service in the Department of the Navy.

“Today is an historic moment for our nation as we launch the United States Space Force,” Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett told reporters Dec. 20.

The Space Force is the first new military service created since 1947, when the Air Force was born from the U.S. Army Air Corps.

“Our reliance on space-based capabilities has grown dramatically and today outer space has evolved into a warfighting domain of its own,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Dec. 20. “Maintaining American dominance in that domain is now the mission of the United States Space Force.”

The Space Force authorization marks a huge political victory for Trump, who started championing the idea of a space service in early 2018 and directed the Pentagon in June 2018 to figure out a plan to make it happen.

“The president’s vision has become a reality with overwhelming bipartisan and bicameral support from Congress,” said Barrett.

The NDAA cleared the Senate Dec. 17 by a vote of 86 to 8, and the House passed it Dec. 11 by a margin of 377 to 48.

Getting Congress to go along with the Space Force authorization took significant cajoling from the White House, especially on the Senate side that had been skeptical from the beginning. The House was onboard as the House Armed Services Committee was the original proponent of a space service and unsuccessfully tried to pass a bill in the 2018 NDAA to establish a Space Corps. The Pentagon, the Air Force and the Senate at the time were adamantly opposed but all came around after Trump took up the cause.

To get Democrats to vote for the NDAA, Trump went along with one of their top priorities to grant federal workers 12 weeks of paid time off after the birth or adoption of a child or to handle family health emergencies

The $738 billion NDAA authorizes $635 billion for base Pentagon spending, $23.1 billion for Energy Department nuclear weapons programs, $71.5 billion for war operations and $5.3 billion for emergency disaster recovery for military bases. It gives military troops a 3.1% pay raise.

The NDAA authorizes the establishment of the U.S. Space Force but the service will take months and years to form.

What happens effective Dec. 20, 2019:

  • The Air Force re-names the Air Force Space Command the U.S. Space Force. AFSPC is disestablished.
  • As many as 16,000 military and civilian personnel from Air Force Space Command will be assigned to the U.S. Space Force. Congress did not authorize the hiring of new people.
  • Air Force Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, the commander of U.S. Space Command, will serve as the first Chief of Space Operations (the chief of staff of the Space Force) who will become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by December 2020.
  • The Office of the Chief of Space Operations — aka the Space Force headquarters — will be stood up at the Pentagon over the next 60 days and initially staffed with about 40 people who currently are assigned to the Space Force Planning Task Force, led by Maj. Gen. Clinton Crosier. The goal is a staff of about 200.

Congressional deadlines loom

  • The NDAA requires by February 1, 2020, a “comprehensive plan” for the organizational structure and anticipated funding requirements of the Space Force through Fiscal Year 2025.
  • DoD has to submit to Congress within 180 days a personnel plan for the Space Force, including how military members and civilians will be compensated and trained. Also within 180 days a report is due on how DoD will integrate space capabilities with the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and U.S. Space Command.

Acquisition reorganization

  • The NDAA creates a new Senate-confirmed position of assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration (a re-designation of the existing post of special assistant to the secretary of the Air Force for space policy).
  • The space acquisition and integration position will serve as the service acquisition executive of the Department of the Air Force for space systems and programs.
  • Congress directed the standup of a Space Force Acquisition Council. Neither the assistant secretary for space acquisition nor the acquisition council were in the original DoD proposal.
  • The council will report to the secretary of the Air Force and include representatives from the Space Force, the Air Force, DoD, the National Reconnaissance Office and U.S. Space Command.
  • The space acquisition executive will oversee the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), the Space Rapid Capabilities Office and the Space Development Agency which is currently under the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. The SDA has to transfer to the Space Force by fiscal year 2022.

Things that will take time

  • Raymond told reporters Dec. 20 that the establishment of a Space Force “truly launches us into a new era.” However, there are still “thousands of actions will have to take place” over the coming months and years.
  • “The uniforms, the patch, the song, the culture of a service, that work will continue,” Raymond said. “We’re not going to be in a rush. That’s not something that we’re going to roll out on day one.”
  • Communicating to the public the importance of the Space Force to national security will be a priority, he said. Raymond is aware that the Space Force is mocked and called a “Space Farce” and he thinks that is a problem. “This is not a ‘farce,’” he said. “This is nationally critical.”

Will there be ‘spacemen’?

  • How the members of the Space Force will be designated will be debated for some time before the service settles on a name.
  • For now, the new branch will be formed with airmen assigned to serve under the Space force. A new name will be given to members of the Space Force eventually. “We want to develop our own identity,” a senior official said. “We don’t want to say on day one ‘they’re going to be called x.’”
  • Eventually, airmen will be asked to permanently transfer to the Space Force. The estimated 16,000 people who will be expected to transfer include 3,400 officers, 6,200 enlisted personnel and the rest civilians.
  • Because of its small size, the Space Force will continue to rely on the Air Force indefinitely for support and overhead functions but will have its own recruiters and trainers. Graduates of the military academies of the other services will be allowed to commission into the Space Force.
  • The actual transfer of airmen to the Space Force will be a laborious process that will require standing up a new personnel and compensation system. Each airman individually will have to volunteer to be separated from the Air Force. Officers would have to be reappointed and enlisted personnel would have to be re-enlisted to serve under the Space Force. Civilians would not be affected because they would continue to work under the Department of the Air Force regardless of whether they’re on the air or space side.

What about the Army and the Navy?

  • The NDAA does not allow DoD to assign any of the Army’s or Navy’s space-focused units to the Space Force. The Army is of special importance because it has a large cadre of space operators and experts estimated at more than 2,000 people.
  • Barrett said the plan is to eventually bring them on. “Naturally the Amy and Navy will be partners,” she said. “Over time they will be fully engaged.” She said Army and Navy officials have been involved in the planning and rollout of the Space Force. Barrett also wants to figure out a plan for National Guard and Reserve units to serve on the Space Force.

How much money will the Space Force have?

  • Congress approved $40 million for Space Force operations and maintenance in the fiscal year 2020 appropriations. That is less than the $72.4 million requested by the Trump administration, although Barrett said Dec. 20 that the funding would be enough to get started.
  • Most of the money for the Space Force will be transferred internally from the Air Force’s budget. In a Dec. 2 memo, a copy of which was obtained by SpaceNews, Barrett requested the following transfers to the Space Force for fiscal year 2020: $9.3 billion from Air Force space related weapons systems and operations, $1.4 billion from weapons system sustainment, $275 million from major command support, $26.3 million from education and training, $95 million from headquarters spending. Barrett said the personnel costs associated all these programs also will transfer to the Space Force.