The former number-two civilian at the Department of Defense (DOD) said on Monday he is wary of how the Pentagon could divvy up funds for President Trump’s proposed Space Force.

Robert Work, who served as deputy secretary of defense from 2014 to 2017, warned that the prospect of developing a full new branch dedicated to space could ultimately create more issues than are already present, especially when it comes to budget allocation among the services.

Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work speaks during a panel discussion on the White House's proposed Space Force Sept. 10. Photo: CSIS
Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work speaks during a panel discussion on the White House’s proposed Space Force Sept. 10. Photo: CSIS

The Pentagon has not yet revealed a potential yearly budget share for a proposed budget share, nor have officials put out how much it could cost to move all its space assets and offices under one roof. Shanahan has previously said the move could cost “billions.”

The department could try to merge all of the current funds and resources being allocated to the space mission and capabilities, and consider that to be an initial budget share, Work noted during a panel discussion at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. But pulling those resources from each branch could lead to a “very, very interesting intramural firefight on exactly how much resources would be devoted to the top line of the new service,” he added.

“The department, quite frankly has … had trouble and continues to have trouble” deciding how much to allocate to each branch for assets that are required in all areas, such as terrestrial satellite terminals, he noted. “That’s why we really have to be careful: Will creating a separate … space department solve that issue, or will it create other problems that actually are worse?”

Any proposed new funds will also have to compete with desired boosts for capabilities in other military domains. While several lawmakers have already expressed support for a new Space Force, “there are as many congressional proponents for spending more on cyber as there are in space,” Work said. “There is a very vibrant shipbuilding caucus that thinks we ought to be spending more money on ships.”

Work said that he supports the Pentagon’s proposed roadmap to carve out new commands and agencies to enhance its space capabilities, even as he called the prospect of a new, separate Space Force “an open question.”

He commended his successor, current Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, for a list of feasible steps the Pentagon could take to beef up its space architecture that were included in the department’s final memo to Congress, released Aug. 9. Those include: creating a unified combatant command dedicated to space; setting up a new space development agency for acquisition; and bringing all space operators together in a similar unit to Special Operations Command. These steps could help the DoD prepare to stand up a separate Space Force branch by 2020, according to the report.

These proposals “are very, very good steps, but they’re not as disruptive as going immediately to a … service with a secretary and its own staff,” Work said. For example, the Pentagon could take what is currently Air Force Space Command to build a unified space command and use the Space and Missile Center (SMC) as the basis of a new space development agency, he added.

The White House and congressional members have pushed for the United States to develop a more concentrated structure for acquiring and maintaining its space systems as some stakeholders see the country lagging while peer adversaries such as China and Russia boost their own capabilities in the domain.

Work defended the Pentagon’s track record in investing in space capabilities and infrastructure, stating, “The Department of Defense never ignored space.”

That being said, “we’ve got to get better, absolutely, and I think we will,” he added.