House and Senate negotiators have crafted a final version of the fiscal year 2018 defense authorization bill that overhauls military space management but stops short of accepting a controversial House proposal to create a space corps in the Air Force Department.
In a joint statement Nov. 8, Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), the House’s leading space-corps proponents, welcomed the compromise bill, calling it “the first step in fundamentally changing and improving the national security space programs of the Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force in particular.”
Rogers and Cooper, the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces panel, have argued that space management is fragmented and does not receive enough attention in the aviation-focused Air Force.
Specifically, the compromise legislation would end the Air Force secretary’s role as DoD's principal space adviser, and would direct the deputy secretary of defense to assign that job to someone else, according to bill summaries released by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.
The bill would make Air Force Space Command the sole authority for organizing, training and equipping all Air Force space forces. The Operationally Responsive Space Office would be renamed the Space Rapid Capabilities Office, whose leader would report to the command. The Air Force’s newly created position of deputy chief of staff for space operations would be scrapped.
To promote space as a career field, the bill would create a space cadre modeled after the Navy’s elite nuclear power staff.
Lawmakers suggested that they might pursue further space reorganization later. The bill would direct DoD to hire an outside firm to write a roadmap for creating a separate space department, in case Congress ultimately deems such an entity necessary. Opponents of the space-corps proposal argued that such an idea required more study.
Besides addressing space oversight, the bill would authorize total spending of $699.6 billion, including $65.7 billion for overseas contingency operations (OCO) funds. While the total is about $26 billion above the Trump administration’s amended budget request, actual defense spending will end up being far lower if Congress does not prevent the return of federal budget caps required by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
To ease strike-fighter shortfalls, the bill would authorize $10.1 billion for 90 Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35s, 20 jets above the administration’s request. The 90 Lightning IIs consist of 56 F-35As for the Air Force, as well as 24 F-35Bs and 10 F-35Cs for the Marine Corps and Navy.
The bill also would allow economic order quantities (EOQs), or bulk purchases, of long-lead-time materials for F-35s.
In other Air Force aviation programs, the bill would match the $417.2 million request to replace the aging E-8C JSTARS ground-surveillance aircraft with a modified civil jet. But it is unclear whether that program will become a reality, as the Air Force indicated in September that it had begun exploring whether a different approach might be more effective in highly contested environments (Defense Daily, Sept. 12).
The bill would authorize $400 million to allow the Air Force to begin buying a fleet of light attack/observation aircraft. It would also add $103 million to restart production of replacement wings for the Air Force’s aging A-10 attack aircraft.
The bill supports the Air Force’s continued development of the B-21 bomber, whose prime contractor is Northrop Grumman [NOC]. It would also allow the Air Force to buy 17 Boeing [BA] KC-46A tankers, two aircraft above the request.
The House plans to unveil the full text of the bill Nov. 9 and debate the measure on the floor next week. The full Senate has not yet indicated when it will take up the bill.