The possibility of the House voting favorably to stand up a new Space Force branch under the Air Force in the fiscal year 2020 budget is not inconceivable, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) said March 20.

Cooper, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Forces subcommittee, said the committee is “on track” to come to agreement on standing up the Space Force this year, during an event at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (left) speaks with Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Forces Subcommittee March 20, 2019. (Screenshot: CSIS)

Two years ago, then-Strategic Forces Subcommittee Ranking Member Cooper joined the subcommittee chair, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), in sponsoring a bill that would stand up what was then called the Space Corps. The effort passed the House but was cut during conference negotiations; however, Cooper noted Wednesday that the bill passed 60-1 in committee – “that very rarely happens.”

The proposed Space Force legislation released by the Pentagon in February comes “about as close to our original House bill as you could get,” he said. Still, the House Armed Services Committee will draft their own proposal, he added.

HASC Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said March 13 that he will work with Cooper and new HASC Strategic Forces Ranking Member Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) “to come up with a proposal for emphasizing space that doesn’t involve creating a whole new bureaucracy.”

“What I don’t like about the proposal from the White House is it’s too expensive,” Smith said during the McAleese Annual Defense Programs Conference in Washington, D.C. The proposal stated that the Space Force would cost $2 billion over the next five years to stand up the new branch.

The Defense Department included $72 million in the fiscal year 2020 budget to stand up the initial Space Force headquarters at the Pentagon with about 20 people. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said during a later keynote at CSIS Wednesday that the Space Force would contain between 15,000 and 20,000 military and civilian personnel and have a budget the size of U.S. Special Operations Command.

Cooper confirmed that the HASC members would likely take up their own legislation, although he declined to say where changes would be made at this point.

“You can quibble about this element of bureaucracy or that, but the key principles, I think, are there,” he said, adding, “We need to be acquiring state-of-the-art technology and putting it on orbit in record time, and … I mean faster than the” National Reconnaissance Office.

Cooper credited President Trump’s August 2018 declaration to stand up the Space Force for reinvigorating the idea among lawmakers, and noted that more members at this point are aware of the threats to the U.S. government’s space infrastructure and the need to invest in it. While he acknowledged the future is hard to predict — and there’s still the Senate hurdle — “After the 60-1 vote … I think the prospects could hardly be brighter” to get a Space Force passed in the House, he said.

Additional Reporting by Dan Leone.