The Pentagon’s second-highest civilian official presented several recommendations that would help the department build a path to a Space Force during a National Space Council public meeting Oct. 23.

Representing the Department of Defense (DoD) at the meeting, held at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced six recommendations to be provided to the president.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan speaks at the Oct. 23 National Space Council meeting at the National Defense University.
Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan speaks at the Oct. 23 National Space Council meeting at the National Defense University.

They include: the creation of a new unified space command; direction on the legislative proposal for the Space Force; a recommendation addressing the fiscal year 2020 budget for a new space branch; a recommendation outlining an interagency authorities review; the establishment of a joint space development agency; and on efforts to strengthen the relationship between the intelligence community and the Space Force. The National Space Council approved all six recommendations and Pence directed the creation of a publicly available fact sheet and the preparation of a memo to Trump on these recommendations. Further details on those recommendations were not made available by DoD before Defense Daily’s deadline, but many of them were originally laid out by Vice President Mike Pence in an Aug. 9 speech at the Pentagon (Defense Daily).

Pence, who chairs the National Space Council, said Tuesday that he anticipated President Trump will act “in the very near future on these recommendations.” He added that Trump “only asks me about the Space Force every week.”

The council will next meet in early 2019, Pence said.

Shanahan said in prepared remarks at the council meeting that the “most pressing focus” was the creation of a space development agency, which has been previously described as a revamping of the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC).

“We are defining the statement of work, the resources, the mix of talent and many other critical attributes,” Shanahan said. “The space development agency will leverage technology, standards and architectures to enable unparalleled integration.”

The agency’s construction will help establish a budget proposal for the overall Space Force as well as “what new warfighting capabilities we need to ensure our dominance in the space,” he added.

The official cost estimate to stand up a sixth military branch dedicated to space remains unrevealed. Several reports in September detailed Air Force documents that pegged the cost at $3 billion for the first year and $13 billion overall, a number that was considered on the higher end of realistic cost estimates by some analysts.

When asked at a Washington Post event Wednesday whether those numbers were accurate and if so, how conservative lawmakers could be persuaded to fund that budget, Pence said he had “great, great respect” for Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, whose office produced those numbers.

“I would just ask my old colleagues in the Congress, what price freedom? What is the price tag that you place on the security of the United States of America?” Pence said. The vice president served in the House of Representatives from 2001 to 2013, representing Indiana’s 2nd and 6th congressional districts.  

He noted that the current plans for a Space Force focused on consolidating the various personnel and efforts that are currently spread across the Department of Defense in the Air Force, Navy and Army.

“There’s roughly 60,000 people today that work in space security in a variety of different agencies,” he said. The Space Force is also not expected to initially look similar to current service branches, he added.

“It will be a consolidation, we believe, and from there future congresses and future administrations can grow and expand and nurture the Department of the Space Force as they see fit,” he said.

Shanahan said at the council meeting that “Cost is not an independent variable” in the Defense Department’s Space Force assessment. “We must demonstrate prudence and create value,” he added.

Russ Vought, White House deputy budget director, said the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has been working closely with the Pentagon on how to fund the new space department.

“OMB is committed to properly resourcing the Space Force in the 2020 federal budget. OMB is also prepared to support the preparatory elements, primarily the U.S. Space Command and the senior civilian within the office of secretary of defense that are essential to the timely realization of the president’s vision,” he said. “While the proposal remains a work in progress, we have a very feasible path to a lean organizational structure that responsibly employs taxpayer resources.”

The White House “looks forward” to revealing that plan and a budget proposal early next year, Vought added.