The Pentagon is on the right track in its efforts to reorganize its sizable space infrastructure, but it is unclear whether the proposed Space Force can be stood up by 2020, and how it will be paid for, analysts said.
The Defense Department, together with the White House, revealed Aug. 9 a proposed roadmap that would ultimately lead to creating a sixth military branch – the Space Force – by 2020. In its final report to Congress, dubbed “Final Report on Organizational and Management Structure for the National Security Space Components of the Department of Defense,” the Pentagon proposed four goals to immediately pursue: establish a space development agency to rapidly build and field critical capabilities; create a Space Operations Force that would operate in a similar vein to U.S. Special Operations Forces; develop a legislative proposal to present to Congress on how to provide service and support functions to a new Space Force; and launch a new combatant command dubbed U.S. Space Command.
The Pentagon can pursue these goals without congressional approval, and aims to complete them by 2020, according to the report.
Bill Ostrove, a space market analyst at Forecast International, a Newtown, Connecticut-based marketing and consulting firm, called the proposed changes “a good start to resolving some of the issues over space operations and space acquisitions.”
“The Pentagon lacks a centralized strategy for space acquisition, he added. “Creating a space development agency could help start the process of centralizing acquisitions. Having a long-term strategy could help keep costs under control.”
It’s not immediately clear whether the proposed new sectors – including the combatant command and space development agency – will feed into the presumed future Space Force, or exist outside of it, said Brian Weeden, director of program planning for the Secure World Foundation in Washington, D.C.
Individually, the new structures “do make some sense, although the devil is always in the implementation details,” Weeden said. “The larger struggle I’m having is seeing how all of them together is going to create something that is more efficient and [has] less overhead than what we have now.”
The key challenge for the creation of a Space Force going forward will be its budget, Weeden noted.
“How is this separate service … going to be able to go toe-to-toe with other forces for more money, particularly with the signal from the Pentagon and Congress that there won’t be increased spending next year and beyond?” he said. If defense spending is to remain flat or even decrease in years to come, as department officials have recently alluded to, “then additional funding for Space Force will come at the expense of the other branches,” he added.
The stated goal of achieving the four efforts that do not require congressional approval by 2020 will be a tough deadline to meet, Ostrove said.
“2020 seems very ambitious to pass a major restructuring, especially in the current political environment,” he said.
Weeden said the timeline could be possible if the department plans to “rebrand” existing assets. For example, the Air Force recently unveiled “SMC 2.0,” a restructuring of the Space and Missile Systems Center that is meant to help streamline decision-making within the center and emphasize prototyping and commercial investment to rapidly develop and field critical systems.
“If that gets relabeled as the new space development agency, then I guess from a political standpoint you can say it was implemented by 2020,” Weeden said. The new combatant command was already directed by Congress in the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, and so that may be more feasible to stand up in the desired timeframe, he added.
Ultimately, the Space Force’s future depends on Congress. House members, particularly Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), respectively chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, have expressed strong support for a reorganization of space, Weeden said.
But the Senate has remained lukewarm on the subject, he noted. Even if the Republicans were to retain their majority after the November midterm elections, “it’s not a guarantee they would support a separate service,” he said. Should Democrats gain control of Congress, “I think odds are good that they would block it, just on partisan grounds because it was proposed by Trump,” he added.
Industry is expected to be supportive of the roadmap, Ostrove noted.
The main effect on industry will be the creation of a space development agency, he added. The Defense Department has not finalized any plans for the future of its space assets, including the replacement of its secure communications networks or its space-based infrared surveillance missile defense satellites, he noted.
“With a new structure in place – including a combatant command, civilian leadership, space development agency, and space operations force – the DoD may be in a better place to begin to develop a strategy and start working with industry to develop the systems,” he said.
That's not to say there won't be winners and losers, Ostrove warned. “If the DoD ends up leasing more capacity from commercial communications satellite operators, that could hurt manufacturers” and vice versa, he said.
Representatives from Boeing [BA] and Lockheed Martin [LMT] said in emailed responses that they welcome the Trump administration’s continued focus on space policy and related issues, and will support government leaders as they work to implement the Space Force.