Analysts: ‘Unanswered Questions’ For the Cost of a Space Force

A new Pentagon report released Aug. 9 described several potential steps and proposals to build up to President Donald Trump’s desired Space Force, but was scarce on cost estimates.

The Defense Department’s final report to Congress said the department will lay out specific budget numbers for a potential Space Force when it releases its legislative proposal to Congress as part of the fiscal year 2020 budget cycle (Defense Daily, Aug. 9). But Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters last week at the Pentagon that building up a sixth military branch would likely cost “billions.”

Falcon Heavy lifts off from Florida during its first flight Feb. 6, 2018. (Photo: SpaceX)

Falcon Heavy lifts off from Florida during its first flight Feb. 6, 2018. (Photo: SpaceX)

Space analysts agree that even if much of the procurement costs included in a Space Force were simply rolled over from existing areas of the services, the Pentagon would also require several more billion dollars to stand up the headquarters and other services required for a new branch.

The U.S. military already has “space forces,” but they are fragmented out across the services and intelligence agencies, said Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“As DoD and Congress identify which organizations and personnel will transition over to become part of the Space Force, then the existing budget lines for these organizations would transfer over as well,” he said.

A majority of the funding for a new Space Force is thus already in the Pentagon’s budget and would not require new funding, he noted.

However, the budget would be affected if the future Space Force were to include the National Reconnaissance Office, parts of the Missile Defense Agency, or space components in other services, such as the Army Space and Missile Defense Command, Harrison said.

“Until these questions are answered, we won’t know how big the organization will be and what kind of headquarters structure and staff will be needed,” he said. Those new services and support structures will add increase cost, he added.

Some of these additional costs could be offset in part by eliminating redundancies that currently exist across the services’ space organizations, Harrison noted.

Marco Caceres, a senior analyst for space at the Teal Group, noted that the eventual cost also depends on how much of their space assets the Air Force, Navy and other branches “are willing to give up.”

“My gut instinct is that the other services aren’t going to be readily willing to give up what they have,” he added. “But if you’re going to make this work and have it be very efficient, then you’ve really got to put everything that’s related to space under that department. In my experience, that doesn’t happen very quickly or very easily.”

Efficiency will only come if a new Space Force actually improves the space procurement system, Caceres noted.

“All of those [satellite] programs are running well over budget, … and they are all facing delays, he added. “This is going to be an extremely inefficient department given that the procurement for these kinds of programs is very inefficient.

“If a Space Force is to happen, then I would assume you’d want to look at all the efficiencies that exist within the military space sector to begin with, and start to address that,” he added. “Otherwise, you’re just creating another level of bureaucracy and you’re not really doing anything other than just creating more buildings and hiring more people.”





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