A GPS 3 satellite atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket sits at Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: SpaceX

WASHINGTON — Soon after the Pentagon’s budget request is submitted to Congress each year, the military services send to Capitol Hill a separate wish list known as “unfunded priorities.” These are items the military would like Congress to fund if lawmakers decide to add more money to the Pentagon’s proposed budget.

Last week the military services and the Missile Defense Agency submitted nearly $18 billion in unfunded priorities for fiscal year 2021, including $1 billion for the Space Force.

“As usual, these lists will have a big impact on the puts and takes the Congress makes to the president’s $705 billion DoD budget request this year,” said Erin Neal, a partner at the defense and aerospace consulting firm Velocity Government Relations.

DoD requested $15.4 billion for the Space Force, the newest branch of the armed forces that resides in the Department of the Air Force. In a letter accompanying the Space Force’s $1 billion list of unfunded priorities, Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond said the Trump administration’s proposed budget “is a great first step towards building the Space Force we need for the future, and we want to continue that momentum.”

The billion-dollar Space Force wish list includes a mix of launch services, satellite upgrades, classified space warfare technologies and training for space operators. The contents of the Space Force list were first reported Feb. 20 by InsideDefense.com

One of the largest single items is $255 million to launch two GPS 3 satellites that already are in production at Lockheed Martin’s assembly line but whose launches have not been funded. The Space Force would use this money to launch the sixth and seventh satellites of the GPS 3 constellation. Two spacecraft are already on orbit and three more are expected to launch in 2020 and early 2021.

The Space Force budget request for 2021 has $1.05 billion for three National Security Space Launch missions but none are GPS. The three funded missions are code named AFSPC-36, AFSPC-87 and AFSPC-112.

Other big-ticket items in the 2021 unfunded priorities list:

  • $149 million for on-orbit tests of the fifth Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) early warning satellite (GEO 5) and for the integration of the final satellite of the constellation GEO 6.
  • $175 million for satellite communications improvements
  • $110 million for new space situational awareness capabilities
  • $30 million to speed up the payload development of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Navigation Technology Satellite-3 (NTS-3)

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...