The U.S. Air Force is evaluating how to implement a congressional requirement that it disband its new space operations directorate, service Secretary Heather Wilson said Jan. 5.
“We will comply with the law but there’s a lot of different ways to do it,” Wilson said at a Washington Space Business Roundtable luncheon. “We still have to do strategy, planning, programming and budgeting for space. We still have 80 percent of the mission in space. The work is all there. It’s just a question of how we do it and how we assign people to do it.”
The Air Force announced in June that it was launching the new directorate, led by a deputy chief of staff, to further “integrate, normalize and elevate” its space operations (Defense Daily, June 16, 2017). As of mid-August, the entity, also called A11, had an initial staff of 43 military personnel, government civilians and contractors.
But the fiscal year 2018 defense authorization act, which Congress passed in November and President Donald Trump signed into law in December, threw a wrench into the Air Force’s plans. It directs the service to scrap the directorate and instead institute a more comprehensive space overhaul, including making Air Force Space Command the sole authority for organizing, training and equipping all Air Force space forces (Defense Daily, Nov. 8, 2017).
In other comments, Wilson said that China launched more rockets into space than Russia for the first time in 2016, highlighting the increasingly contested nature of space. Both countries are aggressively developing anti-satellite weapons.
“Now we’re having to cope with an adversary that understands how dependent we are on space,” she said.
While the Trump administration’s FY 2018 budget request proposes a 20 percent funding increase for the Air Force to upgrade its space capabilities, Wilson noted that that funding boost cannot be tapped because Congress has not passed an FY 2018 defense appropriations bill.
Wilson urged Congress to finish its appropriations work and prevent the return of across-the-board budget cuts required by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The Air Force and the rest of the federal government are currently operating under the third continuing resolution for FY 2018.
“The most important thing that we need now is to get a budget,” she said.